Friday, September 30, 2011

Yoga Commodification

So I like yoga a lot, that's pretty clear. And I certainly acknowledge that wanting to find peace etc will make me buy stuff from time to time. Yesterday friend sent me an article about the commodification of the true self that pointed out the sales aspect of yoga to me in a new way. Basically, instead of, say, lipstick or new clothes making you feel better and happier and more like the you you want to be, well, yoga and poses and meditation are the lipstick or clothes.

I guess the real commodity is the same as it's always been: anything that will help relieve you of your feelings of inadequacy. There is a catch-22 here, of course, in the sense that usually we have to be told by the manufacturer that we have some inadequacy, then we internalize that inadequacy as true to us, and then we commit to purchasing something regularly for the rest of time to help relieve that inadequacy. Hooray advertising!

So, yes, in one sense yoga is a commodity that plays upon human dissatisfaction, creating a culture of consumers with the promise of an improved self. There are lines of yoga clothing and lots of workshops and stuff to buy and oils and incense and beads and whatever. In another sense, well, aren't we all ever just trying to grow? And do new things and expand our minds and experiences? And we need to know about stuff and participate in the world and read the newspaper and some books and check out fliers and do all of that, too, right? How can you differentiate "buying in" to make yourself feel better from "growing as a person" to make yourself improve?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

More on Yoga Sutras n Stuff, Feat.: God

At Yoga Sutras discussion group we're up to the aphorism on god - so far the system has described what yoga "is" (the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind/freedom from identification with those fluctuations), and all the different kinds of mental wanderings one can experience (a bunch), and then how to work hard at yoga (by practicing both dedication/perseverance and non-attachment/dispassion), and then some of the good stuff that happens with that (various types of samadhi, aka oneness with the Seer), and the types of effort/personalities that achieve varying stages of oneness (basically success is proportionate to effort) . . . and then, most fascinatingly, the god stuff.

The god stuff, in a nutshell, states that whilst hard work and climbing the ole workaday mountain to enlightenment are the usual road to samadhi, another, more efficient and effective road to liberation is to surrender everything to god.

The nice thing in some of the Sutras commentaries is that there is room in the term Patanjali uses for god to let it apply to anyone's deity/prophet/high power (Jesus, Krishna, the Universal Intelligence, etc). Um, please note that scholars and commentators differ in their approach, and I'm singing my own song here so let's roll with it. So anyway contemporary practitioners can "surrender" to whatever higher power gives them the very bestest sparkly magicals. On a personal note, this to me is most tangibly experienced in the tingle underneath the skin and the swirling many-colored darkness behind the eyes. I think I can "surrender" to that. I have a little trouble with the more abstract part of it.

I guess it's the word surrender that I have the most trouble with. What does that mean? God I think I can comprehend - all knowing source of all great big awesome neat thing. Sure. And I've heard the relinquishing stuff before - give over to god, relinquish everything to god, take absolute shelter in god - but what does that mean?

The usual way that people submit themselves to god, it seems to be, is through prayer. What's that? Well, in discussion group, my dedicated, regularly-attending pal identified three types of praying: one, journal/talk-therapy prayer (hi god, here's what went on today and what I'm thinking about); two, request prayer (dear god, please gimme a better job and make peace on Earth and help me deal with my crazy sister); three, gratitude prayer (wow god, thank you for my safety and access to food and the experience of community and my proximity to a good grocery store and the miracles of popcorn and breathing and babies and flowers).

The one that I feel gets me closest to understanding the surrender part is the gratitude prayer. It seems effective for connecting one to a sense of wonder (popcorn really is a miracle, I'm serious, NASA for kids has a great entry HERE), and of humility for one's blessings (safety, nutrition, political freedom). It's still pretty vague for me, but the "something is bigger than me" part comes from general wonder. Wow, I love the tingle under my skin, where does it come from? Golly, the sun is sooooo huge! Did you know that if you put a seed in the dirt and let it hang out it can grow into something pretty big and frequently delicious, what?!

So that's how that makes sense to me at the moment. I had one other glimpse of effectively connecting with a feeling of surrender to god in another class where a teacher was talking about it (the same day that discussion group was covering it, fate!), and it was still feeling pretty "Huh?" to me. But then we were doing something sort of hard in class, and he said something like, "see how we forget to take shelter when things are hard? And we could just surrender to god right now." That made some sense, too. I'm having trouble articulating why, but it did make sense at the moment.

Anyway fun to think about.