by J. Brown
I have this tendency to be overly provocative, sometimes to a fault. I have managed to temper this but, as discussed last month, changing old patterns requires continued attention.
The title of this post is a perfect example. You see, I really wanted to call it “F*** Union with the Divine” but I decided to exercise my better judgment. Indulging in my taste for irreverence is immensely satisfying; however, incendiary language can easily put folks off and the intended sentiments are lost in my fancy for stirring the pot.
That I have matured only so far is evidenced by the fact that I still can’t resist finding a way to get it in here anyways. At least, I didn’t drop an f-bomb straightway in the title, asterisk-coated or not.
I have traced my relapse back to an email I recently received from Yoga Journal Magazine. The topic of the newsletter was Bhakti Yoga and the opening paragraph stated:
“It’s ultimate goal, like any other form of yoga, is self-realization and union with the Divine.”
I can accept that Bhakti Yoga, as defined classically, may have an ultimate goal of self-realization and union with the Divine but to assert that all other forms of yoga also subscribe to this notion is not only inaccurate but perpetuates a view of yoga that runs contrary to my understanding.
I suppose the editors at Yoga Journal Magazine are not reading as deeply into their newsletter copy as I am, nor do I fault them for using catch phrases to sell magazines. All the same, when yoga is made out to be an abstract thing that has no bearing on people’s real lives, it kinda pisses me off.
When I’m dealing with health insurance companies, real-estate markets and babysitters, don’t talk to me about union with the Divine. For people living in the world, it is not useful to think of yoga as some gargantuan undertaking that has the power to bring about a grand realization or transform us into something we are not already.
To suggest that such things are to be striven for, in today’s culture, generally amounts to self-abuse more than realization and defining a singular Divine inherently casts a disparaging shadow over the glory that is our mundane existence.
An important distinction needs to be made: Monks do yoga practice for different reasons than moms and dads.
I got lots of life stuff going on right now and I know that I am not the only one. A beautiful thing about sending out these intimate bits is that people who read them get to know something about me personally and when I see them at the center and ask: “how’s it going?” they often feel license to give me an honest answer.
We all got jobs and apartments and relationships that require a lot of effort. Getting all that going in a good way is the yoga of a house-holder. I have belabored a consideration of dualistic and non-dualistic frameworks for yoga (see The Steps We Take and Discernment is Vital.) Instead, I will state my point here plainly:
The ultimate goal of yoga is to be well and appreciate life. The breathing and moving exercises we do are nothing more than a way of easing discomfort and encouraging conducive perspective. In turn, practice also tends to facilitate intimacy, strengthen relationships and make life more enjoyable. This practical application of yoga has always existed and ought not be obscured by zealots or profiteers.
Of course, this is just my opinion. Others may disagree.
J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy in Practice, Yoga Therapy Today and the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. Visit his website at yogijbrown.com.