Yoga is Performance Art.

Via on Feb 16, 2011

by Matthew Remski

PLEASE NOTE. No actual human beings were harmed in the generation of this post. Their internal realizations remain intact and pristine. Only their photographic and aural images have been deconstructed for evidence of the manufacture of authenticity.

I sometimes feel like a bullshitter while teaching asana, or advising a client, or lecturing. I’m not talking about those moments of heart-fart when my attunement goes south, and I feel the Big Blank of disconnection. I’m not talking about hearing myself, as if on a sound stage, repeat the same instruction that was useful long ago but now holds no juice for me.

I’m talking about a deeper structural flaw in the very transmission of yoga: being hyper-aware that I am consciously articulating knowledge or emotion that I don’t presently feel in my bones, and I’m trying to make it sound good. That moment when I know that my words are completely inadequate to describe my delightful or orgasmic or baffled memory of knowledge, but I keep speaking anyway, because people are looking at me, asking me to speak, because my speaking seems to soothe them, because my speech is occasionally interesting to me, because speaking is my paycheck.

All teaching includes showbiz, of course: an ambivalent shadow play of what you think you know and what you think someone needs or will be entertained by, all subconsciously designed to conceal your doubt. This will not leave me. As your fellow human I was born to dissemble, to be split between internal and external voices, private and public, real and ideal.

But the teaching of yoga is even more performative, because it needs to communicate the feeling of states that the teacher is not in.  It wants to transmit the thrill of that spontaneous growth that the teacher must ironically put on hold to describe. Teaching yoga asks that I communicate empathy when I’m not in it, or even when I’m roiling in confusion, or blank with apathy.

Does the showbiz make me inauthentic? No. It is a mark of my humanness. Like everyman, I’ve been performing the role of myself since the mirror-stage day I realized there could be a difference between how I felt and how others saw me. yoga 2.0 tells me: it’s alright, this is natural – know you’re performing, accept that you’re performing, hone your performance, love this stage.  A quick survey of modern yoga shows us that performance does not obstruct yoga’s authenticity, but is its very medium. We all preen for perfect posing.

The age of the photograph seals the deal. How have we conveyed internal states in the age of the external image? By staging our images precisely. Yogis become strange idols before the lens.

sri yukteshar as jesus-zombie

Take this tinnotype of Sri Yukteshwar from somewhere around 1910. He glares past the lens with ferocious intent. His robes are perfectly swaddled. The tigerskin looks brand new – still stiff from tanning, it seems. But did he really meditate with an open-eyed glare on a dais smaller than his lotus-span? Is he in his private room? Or is he getting ready to give satsang?

Most importantly: is he aware of the camera? The cross-shot angle wants to suggest no. But we weren’t born yesterday, buddy! We know that not ten feet away, there’s a man under a curtain in front of a clunky glass-plate machine mounted on a tripod, probably igniting a flash-bomb that pops out those hot-spots on his left shoulder and crown-of-head.

(We can leave for another post the question of whether old Yukti, the stylist, and the photographer were aware of his uncanny resemblance to the Jesus-face in the Shroud of Turin – the 1898 photo of which had recently circulated through the world. That post will talk about the elision of christian and yogic iconography through the darkrooms of the late Victorians. Stay tuned.)

i see showbiz in your future, Yukti

Reconstructing Yukteshwar’s set can only go so far before we push the evidence. But what we do know right now is that we have been trained to canonize saints through assessing what they appear to be doing. He is performing darshan, eternally, mesmerizing our wish to embody the invisible. His body carked it in 1936, but his image, his pomo soul, still burns in our cloud.

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Performance has always governed the yoga scene. There are costumes, hairstyles, ashes, body paint, feats of memorization, absurd postures. Beside every guru is a dresser carrying his shawl. And anyone who has tried to learn vedic ritual knows that the puja is pure theatre. You even apologize to your audience (the deities), if you screw up the choreography.

Archaic mythology is spiked with the visually-confirmed exploits of saints: starvations, mortifications, battle scenes, heroic journeys. It has never been enough for us to simply hear about the ideas of Virtue. We have to see someone doing it to believe it can be done. But our inner conflict is this: being dissemblers ourselves, we know that we cannot fully trust what we see. So the icon exacts a steep price: that we suppress our doubt. Which is why icons become hateful and oppressive when our doubts are pricked and overflow.

Questioning the authenticity of Tara Stiles or John Friend because they clearly know they’re on stage is a subliminal rejection of ourselves, our own performative condition. Do we call them frauds out of self-defense?

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Let’s check out Yogananda – or rather – the semiotics of Yogananda’s image. First: his mystic side-gaze. He’s looking past your imperfections, dear viewer, towards your ultimate reality:

you not lookin at me? you not lookin at me?

But Yogananda can rock the engaged look as well. Here he is, hitting his mark, flashing his spiritual Blue Steel. This one hits this ex-catholic right between the eyes. Jesus still wants me, it tells me, body and soul. The fact that Yogananda’s image is probably meant to push that tender button belongs to that future xtian/yoga post. Again, stay tuned.

yogananda remembers jesus
jesus anticipates yogananda

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In the 20s, the talkies come in, making the performance of yoga audible, but according to the enunciation of the Victorian stage and early modern poetry. Check out Sivananda’s soaring and blustery oration:

YouTube Preview Image

Compare with Yeats (especially after minute 6, when he rips into “Innisfree”).  It doesn’t matter what Yeats and Sivananda are saying: the intonation is a performance of the authentic. If you were not a native English speaker, you would still think: these guys Know Something.

YouTube Preview Image

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But the power of the haloed portrait and the old-timey wax-cylinder recording don’t have legs in the TV age. So along comes Sri Chinmoy, who showed his spiritual prowess by getting ripped and staying ripped, and organizing Feats of Yogic Strength for general televised consumption. (He inherits the venerable lineage of Indian National physical culture, as propogated by Rao and Yogeshwar and Kuvalyananda – read Mark Singleton if you haven’t already!) Here he is, on a velvet satsang lounger, surrounded by Japanese-y blossoms (or maybe a painted theatre-flat!), pumping iron along with that thousand-yard stare. He clearly didn’t listen to his stylist about the old-man Florida shirt. Ouch.

Sri Chinmoy, pumping the Self up. The bar is 8 pounds, each bell is 50: adds up to 108. He was known for 108 reps at a time. He was a pioneer in the industrial-age mala.

Every Thursday before my vedic astrology class I eat lunch at a delightful Chinmoy-folk restaurant in Toronto that I highly recommend for both its vegetarian sampler and indophile kitsch. There’s one TV hovering over the dining room, silent, playing an endless loop of Chinmoy doing chinups, Chinmoy running the mile, Chinmoy lifting chimps and small children with pulleys, Chinmoy playing his flute (glad it’s silent!), Chimnoy swimming across Tokyo harbour pulling an armada of boats with his teeth. Oops. That’s me remembering Jack LaLanne from an infomercial. But I do kind of expect Chinmoy to start selling a juicer or a tofu press. I sit there and munch my papadums and wonder WTF is going on.

Of course Chinmoy’s claims at physical prowess are laced with the bullshit of the showman. As the wiki-bit describes, he asked that photos of his weightlifting exploits be doctored for “clarity”. Then he got busted by a kinesiologist.

But is this really such a surprise? The guy claimed to lift 7000 lbs with one arm!  The claim demands that it appear to be so, or else his direct spiritual uplink is sketchy. So why not photoshop? We’re representing enlightenment after all – something that can’t be seen – through a visual medium. To screw things up even more, the Enlightened have declared that the visual is illusory. They’re saying: I’ll show you Who I Am That You May Believe, but put on these special glasses, will you? Maya is the hoax, after all.

yoga 2.0 is saying this about yoga and performance: there’s little difference between Yukteshwar pretending he’s in samadhi and Yogananda pretending he’s Jesus and Chinmoy pretending to lift a Volkswagon and Adi Da pretending to melt the ego with his eyes and Tara Stiles using her dancer’s body to perform asana and Bryan Kest using jockalect to remasculate the simpering yoga-voice and Seane Corne sounding like an evangelist and Sai Baba manifesting ash out of his ‘fro. Performance is performance: it neither confirms nor denies authenticity. It is simply the language of our multi-mediated and visual-primary consciousness. We will definitely be conflicted about it. Perhaps probing that conflict is a new path of jnana yoga.

Who would public yogis be without spectacle? Is there any chance at all that they would be as visible, or, to mind-bend a little more – that they would be as able to manifest as wide a range of the invisible things they cherish?

The authenticity problem is not about branding or set design. It’s about human beings having eyeballs. If we could sniff John Friend up close and personal and used that data alone to form relationship with him, a. most of these questions would dry up, and b. his kula would be limited to those within a two-yard a radius of his flesh. Maybe four yards after a good backbend class.

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Perhaps the strangest but most common performance in the history of yoga occurs when the classic ascetic withdrawal from society must be staged and performed for us householding bottom-feeders for it to be meaningful.

Scott laid out the scene over lunch. A yogi resolves to become Enlightened. He dons his robe and walks up the mountain. The villagers watch him go. They gossip about him over bhang and chai. Then someone sees a star rise over his cave. Stories start up. Someone who saw the star is healed of bunions. Then someone suggests the yogi must be getting hungry. Somebody else says No, he’s given up food, and lives by Spirit alone. A third says Screw it – it would be a great good deed to feed the yogi – I’m going! So he takes a dosa up the mountain trail. And some ladoos. Maybe some lassi. He tries not to snack on the way.

When the food-devotee gets to the cave, the yogi greets him and gratefully shares the food. The nettle tea was getting old, after all. In return for the food, the yogi, of course, dispenses some nuggets of wisdom. Thus: performance of knowledge is born. Whatever that guy knew two weeks before when he was washing dishes down in the village is nothing compared to what we think he knows now. But we have to climb up to his theatre to hear it. Soon, tickets are sold, in the form of literal tickets, or through the various hazing activities endured by all nouveau-ascetics.

What is critical in the economy of yoga-knowledge is the performance of his solitude. But the lonely yogi is never truly alone. You’re watching him. From afar. Your gaze sanctifies him. Your gaze puts him in a perfect bubble that you dare not burst. But he cannot sanctify you. His separation from society, his robe, his reputed wisdom: these but serve to expose your inadequacy. He’s showing you something you cannot be. That’s different from sharing together what you already have.

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yoga 2.0 says: we’re all performing yoga. We have to, because we have eyes. And now mirrors. And now cameras. And now webcams. And now stock photo sites. And of course porn, which drives nearly every aspect of our visual technology forward. From the moment of the mirror-stage, we have felt the split between internal and external states. In yoga media, we try to mend the split. We fail. We must fail. And it’s no big deal.

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Flash-forward to now. Check out the behind-the-scenes machinations of a Yoga Journal cover shoot.

No different from any fashion trip. And how else could it be? What makes us cringe, except our failure to accept our own participation in the multiple layers of performance? What makes us icky, except our wish to disappear from this economy of seeing and being seen?

Or do we rebel against the performance of yoga because we hate being bodies?

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Now I’ll really spin out into what may seem like left field. The yogi who is performing what must always remain concealed is using the body to play with the erotics of knowledge. Take Sadie Nardini’s EJ bio pic:

come hither, to thine mat

The left eye calls to me all bedroom-like, but the right eye is more ashram. The gaze teases, but the hands hold intention. There is sass, but calm. Elfishness, but curves. She’s ahead of me. She invites me onward into the Sedona vista, where unknown horizons of consciousness crack open. I imagine we’ll be barefoot in the sand there. I bet she has Larabars in her yoga-mat bag, and that they’re squishy in the desert heat and they’ll dribble down my chin when we share them with sticky fingers… Her image leads me to an arroyo consummation, just as Yogananda’s mug leads me to a cave of samadhi.

Sadie’s is definitely a more effective use of yoga-media than Yukteshwar’s. But we can’t blame him for not anticipating that the zombie-Jesus look would lose traction.

Of course, I’m not in love with Sadie Nardini, whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting in the flesh, with or without Larabars. I’m in love with the image. And I know I have no idea how the pic and the person align. And that’s exactly the delightful friction in yoga performance, and it always will be.  Her full personhood is separated from her image, which can only allude to it. The extent to which she works this split is important to her performance of yoga, and perhaps important to her capacity to connect to others, which is very strong indeed. Accepting her performance, speaking openly about her conscious branding, she exudes transparency, and yogis smell the sweet absence of bullshit.

the logo requires a perfect pose frozen in time

But some of us are literally enslaved by the image. Who can forget that creepy story of somebody watching B.K.S. Iyengar in his late seventies greeting a photographer at his ashram in Pune. The guy wanted pix for some magazine. The old man flared his nostrils and started to rip into full natarajasana without warming up. He struggled, tottered, turned white, fell out of the pose, waved the photographer away, and lay down in savasana. The great master probably had a minor coronary, all because he couldn’t stop himself from performing the asana which, we should note, is at the heart of his empire’s logo. This was a shaky moment for the brand, we might say. But it was totally in character for the guy whose showman guru made him perform as a teen yogi for the doyennes of the Mysore palace both brahminical and political, and even, one fateful day, for Yogananda himself.

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Slowly, some of us are becoming self-reflexive about the performance of yoga, and what it discloses about us.  My friend Senem posted this recently:

YouTube Preview Image

This is the performance of vinyasa with steel rods in the spine. Amazing to see. This is how performance unites with empathy.

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One of my favourite pictures of a contemporary yogi is this shot of my friend Michael Stone.

The venue is some modern studio: drywall, an IKEA baseboard. The blue suggests a swimming pool, which is amplified by what looks like a glass table which in turn looks like photoshopped water. The picture smells like chlorine. While the set is urban-ambivalent, the dias is battered and out-of-place. It looks like it was pulled out of a train station in Mumbai. The fake glass/water (will it crash or splash?) picks up the swimming-pool theme, suggesting all watery meanings of subconscious, generation – but also stagnancy? A flood in the modern yoga studio? The yogi is ascetic and grizzly, with whiskers you might find dipping into beer in a Latin American union hall. The gaze is primarily blank, but hints at a slight bemusement, a touch of who cares? and a pinch of no-big-deal. The pose itself is impressive and evocative. I look at it and hear an inner voice say: “If I look up, it will be from under my own leg. My gaze will pass through my earth element. I paw the sky with my foot; I’m a man of a very weird now, trying to see more clearly.”

The only muscularity in the pose is in the forearms, which makes me think there’s a little teeth-gritting going on. Part of him wants to smash something. I like that. He’s wearing 90s grunge/skater shorts from the Sally Ann. They have a velour sheen. There’s no cheesy tiger skin. Somehow he evokes – consciously and unconsciously, seen and unseen –  an ineffable contradictory internal life I think I share with him, in some shimmering way.

It’s a great performance. It unites us.

photo by ek park. author is wondering how he looks

matthew remski is an author, yoga and ayurvedic therapist and educator, and co-founder of Yoga Community Toronto. With Scott Petrie he is co-creator of yoga 2.0, a project in writing (one book done, eight more in the sushumna-chute) and the embodiment of all things post-dogmatic.

p.s. — Do you have any experience with yoga and performance that you’d like to share?

About yoga 2.0 lab

Matthew Remski is an Ayurvedic practitioner and Yoga Teacher Trainer in Toronto. His latest book, Threads of Yoga, is gathering international acclaim. He's teaching this online course starting 1/7/14. It's currently full, but there is a reduced-tuition option for auditing. The 12 weekly lessons will be available online for six months following the course. Participants receive a 130-page manual of notes.

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45 Responses to “Yoga is Performance Art.”

  1. Esther Liberman Esther says:

    There is so much to unpack in this article. Thank you for the provocative, skillful analysis of the role of performance in teaching. Your observations speak to so much more than just yoga instruction and your close readings of teacher photographs are especially interesting.

    • matthew says:

      Thanks Esther, although I feel like I'm just scratching the surface! I regret not inviting readers to dialogue about their own performative experience — I should update it in…

  2. Ramesh says:

    Matthew, many deconstructive gems here. I think that these kinds of deconstructions have their place as a critical counterbalance to the holistic meta-theories of yogic abstraction that I often love and also find deeply relevant to my spiritual life. So let;s embrace and be aware of the greatness and limitations of both.

    As for your deconstruction of shrii yuktesvar you really do not have a a clue as to what the circumstances were. I can deconstruct it my own way thus: many yogis of his stature sat on tiger skins; old ones; i have seen it numerous times with my own eyes; his dress does not look especially staged or groomed; quite ruffled and typical of swami life; i have seen many yogis with eyes rolled back in similar fashion, some were in samadhi, some were just in a deep state of concentration, some were possibly pretending; I have no idea how these observations pertain to shrii yuktesvar's case; but I doubt he is pretending. it is equally plausible that the stage was not set; that he was in samadhi and a photographer happened to be nearby; just like the various photographs of Ramakrishna in samadhi, which are more credible as they come with supplemental stories in over a dozen books about what took place when the photographs were taken, etc.
    All this aside–deconstructing reality is a highly personal, critical, intellectual, often cynical endeavor, those are the limitations as well as the value in deconstruction stories like these. In that regard, I see the relevance of placing the superficiality of some of Tara Stiles' performances next to the guru who conjures stuff and knowledge out of "thin air." The only difference perhaps, we know more about how Ms. Stiles does her performance than the guru–who could be a total fraud or the real deal. Tara Stiles seems to be comfortable being a commercial yogini–like it or not.

  3. dreamarie says:

    i have always been appalled by the seeing world. i've never wanted to be completely seen and i think its for the performance aspect – a slight delay from experience that either occurs for the performer or viewer. sartre has gruesome descriptions of looking at and being looked at that i relate to in some chilling way. as a child, i would dance where my parents could not watch, as a young woman and even now i wear clothes that distort my frame and hoodies that attempt to say "i'm a male druid 25 AD… expected respect will now be doled…i have no idea what this means but i find it helpful, having a body is great… but having a body that can be watched by others makes me feel trapped – perhaps in the performance their mind could create… and when i teach i try to deek all of the sartre-esque smells of sight, i wear unyogic clothes, try to be a bit shabby without falling into the hipster category, and try to look straight into darkness – into the center of eyes… and i try to speak from memory, spontaneously but also as though singing an old song that i don't need sheet music for any longer, i avoid demonstrating anything i don't have to – especially if difficult seeming… and i consciously try to use my eyes for teaching only. we all may always be performing, but i've found this attempt to negate it helpful in calming my vata and building love between students, if perhaps it still is my slightly less aware performance. i wish no yoga photos were necessary… anyway, i like any picture where the face it not met dead on, reminding me i don't really "know" the person, but have only caught a shadow… thanks for a lovely article

    • rubytuesday says:

      This is beautiful. I think your classes are probably incredible, and I love that you teach from the eyes.. love, love..

      I have an aversion to being seen that stems in part from the deep discomfort of knowing the politics of the body–the layers which we encrust upon those around us, the judgment, how simply by languaging a pose a certain way, practicing a certain way we render ourselves–I render myself, should I say–that much more visible. I wear yogic clothes, and have a very sensual practice, and (for the most part) enjoy being in this divine vessel of a body. But this is mine and I wish I could hide it all from others. Whenever I take yoga classes I hide in the back corner, wishing to be intimate and alone, the etchings and nuances of my practice, spine undulating, a privation not for public performance and consumption. Perhaps it is my awareness that one cannot seem to look a certain way, move a certain way, without inviting assumptions regarding one's intentions, body, vibe. So too in dance I tend to dance my way into (or around and beyond) the corner, content to go into a trance alone, wishing to be apart from the inviting if probing eyes around me.

      Perhaps this is because I was a model, and for years I wished to be invisible despite the eyes constantly probing, assessing, craving? I can never forget people looking, and people seem to remind me that even when I try to hide, I am never fully successful (and I, no great beauty as it sounds; I think it is probably just because I so crave the shadows, that the gaze of others so searingly taunts). Perhaps it speaks to something far deeper in my psyche, a fear of being seen wholly, of being judged, or desired. A desire to be perceived as I am–absent the trappings of movement, appearance, body, performance–rather than according to the prevailing norms in our society which dictate appearance and performance are paramount.

      • rubytuesday says:

        Before class the other day, I overheard a kind woman who has complimented me on my practice commenting in a loud whisper to another woman about my "beautiful" practice. I shuddered, feeling so ashamed. Why on earth do people think it's OK to check other people out in yoga? For me it is something deeply intimate, divine, sometimes very painful.. but despite being in a class, it is not a public experience, it is private. I do not look at others while practicing, and underneath it all, I pray that others will not look at me, but focus on the breath and beauty of their own practice. When leaving class that day, she came up to me and so kindly said loudly that she loves watching me and I am an amazing yogini (which I do not consider myself, particularly on this day when I felt so bloated, tired, sore, not having practiced consistently in weeks). I smiled weakly and quickly left, aware of a deep revulsion at her comment, a shame, and a frustration that still, 3 years later, she is looking at my practice.

        But I am not so sure that I can blame my discomfort here solely on a culture that valorizes performance and suppleness in the human body, not so sure that I can say my fear of being seen is in any way–better than anyone else's desire for the same. I sense that my fear is just that–a fear, and one to be worked with, coaxed, so that one day I can be seen and with humbleness and gratitude thank those who compliment me, rather than resenting their wayward gaze for invading my imagined spatial integrity.

        Certainly as a yoga instructor I have stepped into this, fully aware of the maelstrom inherent, that we are a fulcrum for desires, fears, judgments, perceptions projected upon us–not only our voice or our words, but our bodies ripe for analysis. What a beautiful opportunity it is. And dreamarie, what a meditation, to invite students inside their own practice, and onto their own mat, deemphasizing the cult of the asana (which just builds more craving/grasping and accompanying suffering) and refocusing inside. If only more classes were such.

  4. Tamara says:

    This made me laugh out loud!~ very entertaining, well written, great points, and interesting! thank you!

  5. Brilliant essay, Matthew. What a gem of an addition you are to our Elephant Yoga community. I'm breathless from the great writing.

    As for your P.S. call for examples of Yoga performance, here's my unabashed contribution to the genre:

    Flamenco Yoga Fusion: with Satkirin Khalsa.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
    (Join Elephant Yoga on Facebook)
    Follow on Twitter

  6. dan says:

    That Yukteswar “pretending” pic reminds me of a young Anandamai Ma http://www.anandamayi.org/photos/pages/014.html . Her husband gives that same weird piercing stare in http://www.anandamayi.org/photos/pages/006.html and http://www.anandamayi.org/photos/pages/008.html . Ramesh is on the money saying that deconstructing is by the beholder’s eye and whim (Why not Stone’s laughable sincerity?).

    With these earlier pics especially devotion, orientalism, and the “dirty yogin” should be considered, as branding, exoticism and “healthy living” with the modern.

    Does “2.0″ pretend everything because it is into finding excuses to cling to some identity, or because it’s just more virtual? ;)

  7. Padma Kadag says:

    Not a Tiger skin…Sri Yuketswar is sitting on…Leopard.

    We must remember, and I do not think this detracts from your thesis, that saints and yogis of tantra and trantric Buddhism often would pose with posture and gaze for a photo to emulate their yidam or deity of yoga. As those deities have appeared to them in visions and/or as sacred art. We all should know that any gesture from the likes of a saint or yogi is a mudra limitlessly representing an aspect of that limitlessness.

    • matthew says:

      Hey Padma — thanks. Good point. This would be a very conscious form of performance, no? My understanding of generation phase of Tantric Buddhism is that such emulation is the core sadhana. This is a whole other article, clearly!

      • Ramesh says:

        Beautiful observations, Padma. A tiger skin is striped, and a leopard skin is spotted, as the one Yukteshvar is sitting on. And the point about a yogi's gaze being a mudra captured what i found missing in the article–a balance between deconstruction and integral holism. We need both in this world! Both the profane and the sacred, bot sweet saints and tough, intellectual deconstructionists like Mathew. And at the end of the day, I know he has both qualities!

      • Padma Kadag says:

        Mathew…I enjoyed your article for it's perspective and sheer originality. Your comment, "conscious form of performance" would be interesting to build on. The Yogi, Guru, Lama, and Saint at the rare right time with a mere gesture can show you the nature of your mind. Emulating one's personal deity through mudra can be very effective. I believe that the Yogi understands that some will perceive his or her's pose as pantomime. Yet if one disciple or ordinary observer should recognize that which is being emulated then that yogi has accomplished something great. But yes, I completely understand how this kind of "spectacle" would be found humorous or an interesting study. Those such as Sri Yuketswar and HH Dudjom Rinpoche posed formally very consciously.

  8. Ramesh says:

    Thanks for the honesty, Carol! Love it!

  9. VK says:

    I would be interested to hear what you have to say about your own picture, Mathew. Or even the one of yourself and Scott. ‘ two men seemingly boyish, pretending to be jovial and warm. A little fake but otherwise welcoming. ‘

    I think you can word it better. Go!

  10. jennpun says:

    Your words always do your thoughts justice. I always appreciate your wit, realism, and insight in yogic matters. Awesome ylog, keep it up.

  11. anamika gayatri says:

    your "digital satsang" has proved to be lacking in even the slightest reverence for discernment, let alone truth. so vast are the distinctions between Sri Yuketeshwar and the Sai-s and Adi Da-s of the world, guys! you have no qualifications to write on authentic yoga. in fact, such perpetual verbosity –and arrogance– reveals how little you know, while hinting at the reaons why no true lineage holder would teach you…hence the angst which punctuates your 2.0 advertisement/style.

    but hey, as long as youre chuckling (especially while inserting yourselves behind po'mo western-kiirtan-culture iconography with harmoniums while sweeping away the Indians!) im sure the world laughs with you.
    ha!

  12. jaltucher says:

    This article reminds me of how Krishnamacharya would stand on top of a backbending Pattabhi Jois (founder of Ashtanga Yoga) for up to an hour while giving a talk on yoga. The body is ultimately the artists' greatest tool.

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  22. matthew says:

    Like Ramakrishna (for even eyewitness accounts are not above performance and agenda), he might have been in samadhi, he might have been posing. What matters is that we are meant to think that he was. We are meant to have our reverence provoked. And that creates power. Students of folks like Yukteshwar build entire teaching careers on the reverence such images command. Deconstruction simply asks: what am I believing without due examination? And how does my language and interaction with text etc., atrophy my prana in such belief?

    So for me it's not about who is a fraud and who isn't. The exact point is that I cannot know, given the performative nature of social consciousness. All I really know is how the images of Yukti and Tara make me feel. I personally prefer the latter, but perhaps because she is accessible historically and culturally, and her contradictions are plain to see — they mirror my own.

  23. matthew says:

    For me the greatest gift of the decontructive act — one which transforms cynicism and alienation — that the admission of how power is manipulated through media shakes the ground of what we think we know, and the resulting uncertainty allows new learning to be released. There's a lot of passion in that release, I find. I often tremble when I write.

    Thanks for reading!

  24. matthew says:

    Hey Yogini. I think I see what you're saying — that for you the bona-fide magician delivers the goods as advertised. If magic is magic, you can enjoy it, but when it pretends to signify something else, uh-oh. Am I getting you?

  25. matthew says:

    Sorry! Didn't mean that. I meant something more like "stable" or "known", or "precedented".

  26. Ramesh says:

    Matthew, the holy water came clearly pouring through these two responses… I basically agree and if the article had contained the insightful balance you shared just now, I would have totally loved it all the way through. As Derida intended, deconstructionism if of great value for the reason you mention. incidentally, Yogananada supposedly said that a saint is a sinner that never gives up. For many jaded Western yogis, after seeing so many saints fail, this dictum is a good reminder to us all–we are all, including the great ones, imperfect beings, but many imperfect being have attained inner states of sainthood that may sustain faith in both the saints and ourselves.

  27. matthew says:

    Yay for Yogananda! Yay for Derrida!

  28. dan says:

    Well, ""2.0"" all the way. Do you know anything more about that Yukteswar picture? (I did some looking to no success). For the 1.0 fans, http://yoganiketan.net is a great resource. But what feeling is being expressed? And for the record, I know nothing about Stone, but was just contrasting the glowing made-for-glossy respect with the respected and venerated just sitting and yet pretending. I think you might be confusing performance with expression and communication.

  29. dan says:

    I think Yukteswar is the focus not so much because of the canonization, but because he is supposed to exemplify the yoga n.0, with magical powers and realization off the charts as it were, while the other figures are not said to have “attained” these heights. He wasn’t afraid of controversy (his The Holy Science reworks the yuga cycle), but at present isn’t associated with anything scandalous as Yoganada, Chinmoy, and moreso others unmentioned, Osho, Satya Sai Baba, etc. have been (I might be stretching the yogin label a bit with these).

    If deconstructing is as you say, the viewer is not really seeing the image but what baggage they bring to it, a useful exercise in itself and one that can be brought to any sensory input, but nevertheless a tool with only personal benefits with regard to expressing the analysis of the deconing.

    The “as performance” reminds me of Krisna lila, but to the yogin-photo, I think the images are at best highly inspiring, encouraging one’s own practice, but usually only express the ego of the performer. Though again, eye meet beholder…

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