This Just in – Yoga Asanas Not Ancient
This just in your yoga postures aren’t ancient…
Not about them not being ancient…about it being breaking news – it’s actually a pretty well known, and documented historical fact about the practice…so why are we still talking about it?
The other day I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with Christopher Ryan – New York Times Bestselling author of one of my absolute favorite books Sex at Dawn…
If you missed episode 505 of his podcast “Tangentially Speaking”, find it here –
Between discussing my recent hemorrhoid banding procedures, and his first masturbatory experience, we talked a bit about yoga…
(Skip in five minutes and duck out similarly early if you’d rather miss both of the anal anecdotes.)
We talked a lot of story…my own, mostly…
Somewhere between working in war zones in the developing war, and cage-fighting I mentioned that the modern postural yoga practice – the postures – weren’t ‘ancient’.
Christopher gave me a glance, and a second for follow-up.
I get a lot of pushback from this piece of information every time I present it, be it in our Outlaw Yoga Teacher training, at a yoga conference, or amongst amateurs and seasoned veterans of the practice alike…
Fact remains, the scholarship out there around this particular piece of information is abundant and clear – Yoga postures are not ancient.
Heresy! I’ve been called ‘unyogic’ for serving beer at community events, and likened to the ‘dark god of death’ for making people connect with one another before class.
Any practice, discipline, or movement seems to inherently develop a dogma over time as its adherents, practitioners and fans become zealots, either in/expertly replicating a teacher or leader’s example at best, or just regurgitating information as they’ve had it presented to them without question at worst.
Common trope in the teacher/student paradigm, at least…
The physical yoga practice is no different in this sense. And in fact, blind devotion to a teacher can be more dangerous for the unquestioning zealot because of the physical nature of the practice and the way it’s sometimes delivered.
(Course, I suppose the dangers of blindly following bigotry can be as or more severe as doing a wheel when you shouldn’t.)
In The Science of Yoga, William Broad – Senior Science writer for the New York Times, two-time Pulitzer prize winner, and twenty year yoga practitioner – picks apart some of the outdated claims made by semi-contemporary yoga teachers, for example…that a regular physical yoga practice can ‘cure’ conditions as vast and varied as hemorrhoids or psychosis…or, hemorrhoid-related psychosis I suppose.
(Spoiler alert or, perhaps, fair warning – in Chris’ podcast we do talk about masturbating with mayo.)
Here it is again:
I love yoga.
It’s a powerful practice that has changed my life and opened previously unimaginable pathways. Helped me achieve some amazing feats with my body and mind…
But I detest charlatans.
The benefits of a physical practice do not need to be embellished, simply lived and put on personal display…a six-pack, for example, speaks for itself…
So does the quiet patience of the seasoned meditator, or a beloved grandparent…the ability for the truly wise to talk less but say more…
I brought up the well-documented recent historical roots of the modern posture practice in the podcast – Indians covertly readying themselves to resist British occupation. I drew a deliberate parallel to the spirit and practice of Brazil’s capoeira – the martial art disguised as dance and practiced beneath the height of the grass…both martial arts developed with a common purpose and in about the same time period.
Preparation to fight colonialism and slavery, hidden in plain sight.
Would that we embrace this outlaw spirit enthusiastically preparing to fight oppression in all forms that we might be ready to do so when we daily confront it.
The fact that a more workout oriented sun salutation is the only part of the physical practice that resembles anything ancient shouldn’t stop us from embracing yoga as a strike-free form of martial arts – a more peaceful form of practice fighting.
Warrior I…Warrior II… and/or Warrior III occur in sum or part in practically all vinyasa (flow) style yoga classes.
At least in the good ones…
Dr. Mark Singleton – a seasoned yogi and scholar, then at Cambridge – wrote in his groundbreaking book Yoga Body The Origins Of Modern Posture Practice, that the influence of Scandinavian gymnastics in modern yoga was ‘significant’, and that a new emphasis on body image and physical strength (especially as India was preparing to test British resolve in continuing its colonization), was the inspiration for the modern posture practice.
In this information age, I am sometimes still astounded at the people who would simply swallow information as it is dictated to them…blindly following any number of known charlatans into the breach without regard for safety or propriety.
When people like Bikram (a notorious abuser of students and alleged rapist – watch Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator on Netflix) claim to have cured presidents, and originated practices they immediately ping my ‘bullshit’ radar.
Core Power Yoga (CPY) was founded by three men Trevor Tice, Tim Johnson and Brandon Cox. Trevor brought cash and business vision to the table, while Tim and Brandon brought logistical brilliance, and yoga know-how, respectively.
I know Brandon and his yoga background personally…he trained with Baron Baptiste and Bikram Choudhury, brought the two styles under one roof, and attempted to strip them – largely – of their respective dogmas.
As a student of CPY teacher training, I also know for a fact that they teach students about ‘the ancient nature of the practice’. Perpetuating a falsehood in tribute to a supposed lineage stretching back into history in an attempt, perhaps, to lean on that lineage in order to legitimate their contemporary product.
As Christopher and I talked, I tried repeatedly to turn the conversation back to sex…
Falling in love with a person or practice can have the effect of dulling our higher faculties – we swallow the stories we’re told as truth, and then proceed to live that truth…yoga teacher trainers are no different, learning from imperfect people and unknowingly perpetuating a half-truth into perpetuity.
The one and only thing I demand of our Outlaw Yoga students is to develop and exercise the self-discipline required to question everything.
Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it
Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many
Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books
Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders
Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
– Siddhārtha Gautama
This skill of intellectual-criticism is equally crucial to mastering patience and acceptance as it is to performing the proper push-up.
But…between the two – physical and mental disciplines – which one of them do you suppose wise guys like Patanjali, Buddha or Jesus (physique aside) really gave a shit about?
In the often misquoted and misunderstood Yoga Sutras there is no mention of yoga poses.
What is written in it are the words “Sthira Sukham Asanam”…
Written – it should be carefully noted – by a supposed sage of unknown identity known only as Patanjali.
Translated, the words mean ‘make your posture steady and comfortable’.
On either side of this single line, the pamphlet-sized primer on yoga spends the entirety of the rest of it’s time talking about esoteric practices meant to bring harmony to the mind and spirit.
Instead of forging a new path forward, some schools of thought, including CPY’s and other postural teachers and teacher training programs, choose to fixate on this single line, contorting the words to conform to their own internal dogma – claiming that they relate to the fixed nature of a statically held, modern-day yoga pose – and perpetuating the claim that the postural yoga practice is as ancient as the Yoga Sutras themselves.
In the Bible, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, or any other supposedly ‘holy book’ you can find – and distort – a single quote for just about any belief or practice, from racism and anti-homosexual sentiment, to drinking your own semen.
Seriously, before anyone references the Hatha Yoga Pradipika they should read it cover to cover, and at least drink their own pee.
What the single quote could refer to, by contrast, is keeping your meditative posture comfortable and steady…it could also refer to taking a shit in the morning, staying ‘steady’ as you see the amount of blood left in the toilet from your hemorrhoids…?
Fact is, minus the discovery of additional unknown texts, we’ll never know Patanjali’s intention in this line of yoga ‘scripture’.
But we damn sure do like to spin dogma out of it in the yoga world.
Just remember, yogis, whether you lead or get out of the way, following blindly down a path because someone else told you to is a good way for two people to get lost…
“Be weary of blindly following your neighbor,” I like to tell students who find themselves following along to the person next to them, “they may not have any idea where they’re going.”
“The business of philosophy,” Russian existentialist Lev Shestov once said, “is to teach man to live in uncertainty…not to reassure him, but to upset him.”
That is what an effective Outlaw Yogi does – uses their own inherent intellectual capacity to question everything in the hope that one question can have the power to upset the entrenched – and, inherently unfair – order for the benefit of all…
So before you go baselessly claiming the postures are ancient, or catching your cum in a cup and say ‘bottoms up’ because some boob at a retreat told you the Hatha Yoga Pradipika says to drink it, remember all of those books were written down by imperfect people at a time when information – its reproduction and transmission – was far from perfect…
I’ll eat my hat the day we find ancient cave paintings of people doing yoga postures…in light of evidence and sound scholarship, I’ll consider I’m wrong…precisely because, at the end of the day, consideration costs us nothing…
While we’re at it, I’ll consider deadly fluoride gas is good for my teeth…if you’ll consider it’s bad for your brain…
I’ll consider vaccines rushed to market are safe…if you’ll consider they’re not…
I’ll consider the government is operating in partnership with big business (including big pharma) for our collective best interest…if you’ll consider they don’t give a shit about any of us…
No matter the answer…just do the practice.
That’s the real gift of yoga – it works whether or not you believe in it…it works irrespective of who ‘invented’ it or when…
At the end of the day, even in the most misinformed physical yoga class delivered by the most brainwashed moron it still feels pretty good to move the body, and take deep breaths…
Good luck sorting through the shit, yogis! There’s plenty of it out there…
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Justin “Jud” Kaliszewski is the best-selling yoga teacher and renowned creator of Outlaw Yoga. Author. Artist. Adventurer. Take his class NOW at outlawyogaclub.com and www.youtube.com/outlawyoga. Find his writing and art at www.justinkaliszewski.com and his presence all over the internet – for an outlaw, he’s shockingly easy to get ahold of.