The Eight Limbs of yoga 2.0

Via on Mar 3, 2011

by Matthew Remski with Scott Petrie

Acknowledging What We Bring to Yoga

It was a sultry summer night in Toronto, way way back in ‘09.  Queen of Sheba Ethiopian restaurant, down on Queen West. Scott and I were sitting with Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer (of Guru Papers fame), plotting out the next three days of Yoga Festival Toronto, to which we’d invited them.

After dinner and beer, Diana leveled her laser-gaze at Scott and I and turned suddenly fierce.

“Why should I read Patanjali?” she demanded. “He wasn’t writing for me. He didn’t read Betty Friedan, or Simone de Beauvoir. He never saw modern warfare, or computers, or porn. Why do I care what he thought about anything? I’m not a historian. I’m a yogi.”

Our jaws hit the table. The pint glasses rattled. And another piece of the 2.0 puzzle came into focus.

In one withering gush, Diana had shown us the difference between the ideal and the real, between history and creativity, between history and the transhistorical. In all of our years, we had yet to run across a practitioner ballsy enough to assert that the meaning of yoga is owned by each practitioner, and created within each age and its zeitgeist. She liberated us from our unexamined reverence for the unknowable past.

Diana had also shown us the agenda behind our own reading strategies – how through 20 years of combined study and teaching we had not been able to look carefully at what we were really doing and why. We were reading and learning about and receiving oral instructions in ancient texts under the assumption that, if we squinted hard enough, if we sharpened our Sanskrit just a little more, or if we attended one more lecture, we would get it.

Get what? Some ancient and virginal gem that postmodernity could not help but to cover over with its shit.  We would “get” whatever Kaliyuga was trashing. We would “get” the secrets of long-dead saints, and be liberated from our pomo-alienation. This had never happened, but we were hopeful, and well-trained: a failsafe recipe for despair.

We were holding an attitude that wants desperately to recover something of eternal value from an archeological dig that can never end. But in order to do so, we were unconsciously forfeiting our unacknowledged love for and dependency upon the wonders of present culture.

the nowhere boys, tired of uncertainty, seek out the glow of the Everywhere Man

I realized that to wish that Patanjali holds some ultimate truth for me (rather than insight into yogic technology and worldview that worked for a select few humans in circumstances quite different from my own) is to tacitly decide that what is most useful to my life and practice is not intimate or close at hand, and that my empty culture has failed me. But culture cannot fail anyone, anymore than a plot of earth can fail what naturally grows upon it. I am my culture, alienated or not.

The wish comes from disenchantment and the exhaustion of angst. It reminds me of John Lennon dreaming up “Nowhere Man” after a night out drinking in depressed Liverpool –  “He’s a real nowhere man / sitting in his nowhere land / making all his nowhere plans for nobody.” Is it any wonder that he jumped into Mahesh Yogi’s well-swaddled lap?

But we’re not nowhere-people. We’re not starting from scratch. We are not blank slates for the sages to write upon. Like it or not, aware of it or not, we are approaching yoga through wonderful worldviews, hard-won by generations of empaths: the Enlightenment, rationalism, liberal democracy, humanism, scientific materialism, dialectical materialism, phenomenalism, existentialism, psychoanalysis, feminism, postcolonialism, anti-racism, intersubjectivity, and now, 2.0 wiki-ness. These are the sweat-equity truths that we hold to be self-evident, volatile and shifting though they may be.

We will read Patanjali through these wonderful, kaleidoscopic lenses. We have no choice. To pretend we don’t is intellectually dishonest. Intellectual dishonesy binds the emotions up tight.

_____

Three Postures for Reading Old Things

Diana alerted us to the several postures we can adopt when reading archaic texts such as the Yoga Sutras, compiled by the authorial convention we call Patanjali.  These range from the exegetical, which takes the attitude that the text is self-sufficient and self-explanatory, to the hermeneutical, which asserts that the text is a co-creation of its terms and the shifting ways in which it is read by its various stakeholders.

photo of the author composing this post

Posture #1 is that we presume that the text was written by an enlightening being (much as the Bible might be thought by Evangelicals to be written by God and typeset by Jesus), and that it is perfect in every way for all times and for all people. It is a read-only document. You are beholden to read it perfectly, while knowing you never will, because you cannot understand God, after all. It is a pristine book in your grubby hands, and you better not smudge the pages. Oops — too late!

Most contemporary yogis can junk this posture, for while some might maintain that a given text was written by an enlightened being, virtually nobody would claim it to be universally and eternally perfect and relevant. Those who do so marginalize themselves in the yoga world, and frankly stain the rest of us with dogmatism. They will eternally and fruitlessly attempt to reform the present to suit their idealization of the past.

Posture #2 is quite common these days: strip down the archaic texts for parts that resonate with present personal or cultural needs. Quietly junk the crazy stuff, like Patanjali’s pada #3, where he teaches mind reading, bodily invisibility, levitaton, and the possession of the bodies of others. Next — create the illusion that your extractions prove some sort of archaic genius that resonates unchanging truth through the ages – truth that we have somehow forgotten. Create a spirituality of “basic messages”, as in: “the basic message of Buddhism is [fill in the blank]”, where the blank equals whatever it is you’re really keen on right now. This is intellectually dishonest. Doing a comb-over on the bizarre and contradictory history of yoga is no different from tacitly suppressing the fact that the Old Testament produced beautiful psalms and the Book of Job, but also featured a genocidal god who advocated slavery, as well as killing family members who adopt other religions. (See the ever-cheerful Sam Harris for more.) When we don’t read the whole, we lose sight of the most fertile paradoxes of history.

ruthlessly snipping the unacceptable

The intellectual dishonesty of #2 casts long shadows over both our confusions and our virtues.

Anyone who ignores the fact that “tapas”, for instance, has always implied a plethora of body-hating mortification techniques that we would currently view as pathological may well fail to interrogate whether any of these dark urges lurk in the shadows of present usage. We may have softened our definition of tapas to say: “vigorous effort”, but that won’t necessarily protect us from the echoes of self-hatred the old word retains.

The shadow cast over our modern virtues occurs through omission – today we generally value the fact that our saints no longer starve or flog themselves, as the old schools of tapas might command. When anybody today starves or cuts themselves deliberately, we encourage them to seek help for their mental health. Clearly we have made progress in the realm of healthy self-perception and self-care. (As well as in human rights, equality, and the germ theory of disease.)  Can we throw ourselves a bone, here?

Another problem with #2 is that it assumes a findable difference between culture, intention, and meaning, and that intention and meaning can be extracted from culture. The #2 reader can even openly acknowledge what she doesn’t like in the archaic text from her present cultural perspective, openly identify with meanings she does like, and then discard the disagreeables as “cultural”. But often she’s ignoring the fact that she’s reading through her own culture and intention, to find and evolve her own desired meaning. You can’t junk the influence of caste or the glamorization of war within the entire meaning of the Bhagavad Gita, for instance, without also throwing out the influence of liberal humanism and Gandhian ethics upon your own reading of the text. Nobody is free from culture – not even sages. To imply that meanings in a text are indeed free from culture is but a thinly veiled embroidering of reading posture #1, because such freedom would imply eternality of meaning, and we all know that eternal meanings must come from the pen of God. (As opposed to meanings we create together.)

And what’s the result of #2? We get modern readers who must overlook or apologize for the dreadful barbarism of our predecessors to bestow ultimate meaning upon their rare moments of lucidity. Is it tragic? Is loving the decontextualized poetic excerpts of archaic texts like continually eulogizing a violently alcoholic father for the few words of comfort he offered you one night, so long ago?

The subtext of #2 always seems to be: “Look at how brilliant the sages were. They really had it nailed. How have we forgotten such wisdom?” But Diane Alstad’s point throws it down: we’re actually the smartest ones standing, the smartest folk available to us. It is our modern intelligence, after all, that allows us to extract the rose from the shit of history. And perhaps our own poetry is even more valuable, because it comes from a world of effort towards human rights, democracy, and intersubjectivity. We would do well to shake off this transhistorical inferiority complex, this paralyzing anxiety of influence.

we gaze at ourselves through history

What reading strategy can work for us now?

Reading posture #3 involves understanding the context, authorship, original audience, the history of readership and publication, the agendas of translation and distribution, and the variety of possible reading strategies – as well as one’s own subjective response to a text. It consists of critiquing a text according to its broadest possible valence, and then suggesting a continuance of exploration – through questions rather than claims – that best meets the moment. Posture #3 says: “We don’t know what this text ultimately means, and we never will, because ultimate meanings are unfindable. But we do know what happens when people read it through their time and place. We can track its impacts and associations. And we can say how it makes us feel, knowing that this is subjective. So now: how do we read it? More importantly — how do we use it?”

The irony is: posture #3 transforms the text into what those in Posture #1 want it to be – something alive, and if not eternally true, then surely eternally provocative of evolution.

We arrive at the question: what do we value in our 2.0 relationship with Patanjali? How do we read, and think, and practice? This post is the first of a series of 33 articles on the eight limbs: two for each of the yamas and niyamas, and two for each of the other seven limbs. Plus this intro. We may not publish them consecutively, because we’ll surely need to mix things up as we go – commentaries on Gagayoga are time-sensitive, after all!  We’ll treat each of the limbs twice in order to demonstrate a central tenet of the 2.0 project: the most effective research is a dialogue between theory and experience. We’ll use the first post to lay out theoretical language, and the second post to ground that language in our personal (and other-attenuated) experience.

The 8 limbs have been canonized in modern yoga culture as inviolate and perennially useful. This can lead to rather shallow readings, in which the abstract ideals are used to window-dress a dreamy and dissociative world. Inhale — of course we’re all non-violent…  Exhale — of course we cherish the truth… Inhale — of course we don’t steal things… Exhale of course we treat our sexuality sacredly… How we wish things were so clear!

yoga 2.0 says that the 8 limbs are indeed useful, but only after close and careful reading that brings the worlds of Patanjali and postmodernism into sharp relief. This is already occurring as we go about our lives and practices. Now it simply has to become conscious.

We’ll round up this blog with an outline of what is to come: how we propose to study the Astanga system in the light of today. We’ll pose the seed questions and observations here, and unravel them over the next several months.

We’re not historians, as Diana said. We’re not curating museum exhibits behind glass. We’re not caretaking the rotting relics of saints. We’re not interested in books that resist the compost-pile of new thought. We’re yogis, and we’re growing in our garden. Our eight limbs are sprouting new runners of radiant complexity. May this stream of articles force some spring flowers.

____

Overview of the Eight Limbs according to 2.0

Ahimsa (non-violence)

– Patanjali borrows this and the other four yamas from the Jains. But it meant something very different to them than it does to us. The Jain meaning implies “non-contact”: a withdrawal-attitude towards relationship that limits one’s karmic contamination. How do we continue to use ideals of non-violence to avoid necessary and often confrontational contact within present culture?
– Have yogis failed to understand the visceral distinction between pacificism, which eschews the very energy of violence, and the non-violence of activism, which throws itself, often aggressively, against oppression?
– Is ahimsa a yama (constraint)? Is it an avoidance? Or is it really a niyama (vow)? Can it become a promise to defeat oppression?

Satya (truthfulness)

– What can this mean in a panoptic age of performance? What can this mean when you can comment on this very blog anonymously, or through an avatar? Who are you exactly in this world of many functions and appearances? How do we understand truthfulness in an age in which irony is a premium social currency?
– What does truthfulness mean in the age of science? Is truth constructed from evidence, or from experience? What truth claims made by yogis can be subjected to scientific inquiry? If they can’t withstand science, do we believe them? Or will we be forever tortured by the certainty that the polio vaccine now works flawlessly, but meditation has mixed and unverifiable results?

Asteya (non-stealing)

– This is meaningless to us without folding in meanings of ecological balance. How is our extractive culture giving back to the earth?
– What do you actually own and what do you actually steal?  What justifies theft for you? Will you fuel your car with gas that was won in a war?
– What about intellectual property? Is there such a thing?

Brahmacharya (celibacy)

– Give us a break!  What could this possibly mean now, amongst householder practitioners, in the era of birth control, after the sexual revolution, after feminism, after pro-porn feminism (whatever your stance on it), in which sex is an activity of personal pleasure, a political statement, and the sexual body is both a playground and battlefield of identity?
– How does brahmacharya support monogamy? Does monogamy work?
– Restraint of sexual energy is far less important than the exploration of sex as a means of contact in a disconnected and disembodied world.
– Is vanilla sex the new brahmacharya amongst modern yogis?

Aparigraha (non-grasping)

– To the Jains, this was a vow of poverty, which is interesting in a world of excess.
– “We don’t need non-attachment, for this is impossible. We need better attachments” – Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad. Discuss!
– The biggest challenge to human grasping right now is the dawn of the wiki process, in which knowledge and resources are collaboratively generated. Is keeping anything proprietary now a form of grasping?
– Are we truly moving beyond the age of authorship? How long can an authored product (i.e.: John Friend’s Anusara system) survive this wave of collaborative creativity?

Sauca (purity)

– Archaic, ascetic, scholastic, and modern Vedanta yogas are obsessed with purity – extracting the essence, the lotus rising from the mud, etc. But we’re all much more into mixing it up now. 2.0 is a blender for the incorporation of wholeness.
– The drive to purification suggests that embodiment itself is a liability. This can be a very nasty worldview.
– The drive to purification may encourage bodily dysmorphia. Sauca may be a root of disordered eating.
– Purity obsession culminates in the antiseptic coldness of modern medical space.
– Extracting the pure from the impure may be a subtle encouragement towards social alienation: rising above others.

Santosha (contentment)

– What can contentment be in an ever-changing, hyper-active world?
– Can we be content within our hyperawareness of global inequities?
– Discontentment is underrated: it’s actually the root of evolutionary change.
– Discontentment can be the experience of being awake in a world filled with suffering.

Tapas (Heat)

– An old-timey paradigm of heroism that seeks divine forgiveness and celestial reward through self-separation and self-abuse.
– Through austerity, the individual separates herself from not only ego function, but the ego-functions of others. What would collective austerity look like? Isn’t this what we need to deal with our ecology?

Svadhyaya (study of scripture)

– This originally means exigesis of sacred books. But we’re in an age of hermeneutics. See above.
– Our tools for self-inquiry are manifold. Check out our last post about video editing as sadhana. Books are a dying medium.

Isvarapranidhana (giving yourself to the divine)

– Really? As opposed to giving yourself to others? Or to this world?

Asana (posture)

– We’re moving quickly from the goal of attaining a “comfortable seat for meditation” into a rediscovery of the body in a post-industrial age.
– Asana today is used to gain power and self-confidence. Nowhere is this more evident than within women’s physical culture.
– Asana is now therapy.
– Asana is now hydridized with modern dance and martial arts.

Pranayama (breath)

– It’s much bigger than inner spaciousness and mental calm. We must now recognize the breath as being that which returns us to air, space, and environment. Pranayama can balance our technology; it can be our antidote to text. As David Abram writes in Spell of the Sensuous: “Only by training [your] senses to participate with the written word [did you break your] spontaneous participation with the animate terrain.  Only as the written text began to speak would the voices of the forest, and of the river, begin to fade.  And only then would language loosen its ancient association with the invisible breath, the spirit sever itself from the wind, the psyche dissociate itself from the environing air.  The air, once the very medium of expressive interchange, would become an increasingly empty and unnoticed phenomenon, displaced by the strange new medium of the written word.” (p.254)

Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal)

– We’re actually experts at this these days, given how much we must filter. At the same time, electricity expands the sensual sphere. When the power goes out, we are shocked into sensory withdrawal.

Dharana (focus)

– In the old-timey version we’re interested in the concentration of individual focus. Now our primary challenge is to create collective focus: to concentrate the power of public awareness.
– In the wiki-world, attention is focused by the hive. Viral memes draw the communal gaze. Very few of us are choosing objects of concentration without the influence of others. Focus seems to be increasingly governed by group-mind. When a youtube video cracks a million views, for example, the collective conscious has cohered a certain level of concentration, for which we have no name, as of yet.

Dhyana (concentration)

How exactly does this differ from dharana, first of all? It’s not at all clear. Looks like Patanjali just really wanted eight instead of seven. We’ll think of some kind of 2.0 take on this one. Suggest something!

Samadhi (absorption)

– The first step when speaking the unspeakable is to loosen the language – to find synonyms. Coherence. Deep happiness. Communion. Release. pulsepulsepulse.
– The old-timey way promises integration with consciousness. But we’re probably more interested in integration with each other. How can the peak experiences of our lives be shared?

As always – your feedback and comments are food in our yogging begging-bowl! Discuss! Take the ball and run!

photo by ek park. author looking for lost meaning in the southwest corner

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.

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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56 Responses to “The Eight Limbs of yoga 2.0”

  1. I find your writing so thought-provoking and compelling. I couldn't be more with you on posture #3. As someone who thinks about yoga quite often through the lens of the body and body image, I especially appreciated your points about tapas, such as this: "We may have softened our definition of tapas to say: “vigorous effort”, but that won’t necessarily protect us from the echoes of self-hatred the old word retains."

    I also appreciate the comparison you made between the Sutras and other religious and/or canonical texts. That really resonated for me as I grew up in a family of Biblical literalists (who were actually more like posture #2 than #1 than they'd like to believe) and have been negotiating my beliefs around that for years and years.

  2. Great blog, guys. But I can't help but wonder:

    What if a person is into Yoga for the precise purpose of escaping his tendency to over-intellectualize everything, to get back to direct experience without the extreme left-brain analysis required by option #3.

    What if he still enjoys this uber-intellectual approach to life, and is comfortable engaging in it when it comes up, as it does here, but for whom Yoga is an escape from and an expansion beyond the restrictions of hyper-analysis.

    What if a person believes that Yoga itself, from earliest times, prescribes "different strokes for different folks", in a way that would embrace all three of you options above, and not deride and reject the other two just because of one's own hyper-intellectual preferences.

    What if one is not a scholar, but has studied Feuerstein and others enough to know that these same options you cite above were also the same options that were debated at the time the ancient texts themselves were written?

    What if someone felt that your insistence on your own dogma of finer and finer analysis violates your own pronouncement of yoga 2.0 being the end of dogma?

    Affectionately,

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
    Join Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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    • And also, what if said individual just happened to have read your intriguing book yoga 2.0 on Tuesday and is wondering how you reconcile the exhortation to deeper and deeper analysis in option #3 above with the determinedly anti-intellectual, even explicitly anti-book (scrolls are minimally ok, though), return to our direct experience / direct action shamanic roots, ansana as a return to (or at least a reminder of) our pure animal instincts, themes of yoga 2.0?

      (I think I actually think I know the answer to this one–yoga 2.0, at least as it's introduced and described, is itself an advocacy of contradiction and inconsistency and an embrace of diversity of thought and debate. Am I right? Which is probably, and hopefully, the answer to all my questions above as well.)

  3. kathik says:

    wow, thanks for this.

  4. [...] The Eight Limbs of yoga 2.0 | elephant journal. [...]

  5. Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter and also to "Featured Today" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  6. athayoganusasanam says:

    Obviously this self-proclaimed "yogi" Diana sees no use for Patanjali's sutra, as she sits there drinking her beer and getting indignant about her feminism.
    If a yoga practice is not rooted in shastra, it is the product of ego – pure and simple.

  7. yogiyesa says:

    Two questions come to mind after readingthis article.
    #1-if you don’t study Sanskrit, how can yourideas and interpretations hold any weight when you’re interpreting text based on other peoples translations?

    #2-if you don’t continually study with a teacher yourself on a regular basis and for a long period of time then you aren’t part of a lineage and making a lot of these ideas up by yourself. Patanjali gave us a map, but if we don’t have a teacher to show us how to read the map, then we only have 1/3 of the equation.

    I agree with the previous connector in that this is overintellectualizing the text before having any experience, a dangerous road to go down.

    • matthew says:

      Thanks for your feedback, yogiyesa! It is true that neither of us are Sanskritists, although we have studied a bit. Enough to know that the aphorisms themselves are not given to easy or succinct translation, and that they are therefore unpacked within oral tradition, which is itself a form of reading and interpretation that is splendidly variable across many lineages.

      To your ad hominem remarks: perhaps we've studied and perhaps not, according to your standards. Perhaps we have experienced, and perhaps not. You can't honestly know. I think this uncertainty will hold true of everyone you encounter who engages with this material. Which means to me that the only tangible issue is the merit and applicability of the presented ideas themselves.

      Thank you again.

  8. danielle says:

    Many of these questions can be answered by studying the text, not just the commentaries and translations. It makes much use of sequential lists, defining terms, easy to understand agrarian metaphors, many ways to live "in the world", and would it claim to be a path, it would be simply a path, not the path. Taking up posture-#3 one likely lands in Taxila some 2200 years ago, and a 2.0 scene, if slower, is easily imaginable, making the sutras a result of information sharing (on the results of personal experimentation), interoperability (designs on how to relate to the various mutual interdependence), user-centered design (techniques for the individual), and collaboration (debate, synthesis) (vis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_2.0 ).

    Alstad's "Why should I read … I’m not a historian. I’m a yogi." reeks of having not read yogic literature, instead just making stuff up to suit her ego, and what this article considers 2.0 to be. It gets its information from skimming, anti-reflection, hedonism and otherwise forcing the subtle to manifest (as 2.0 would have you) and then being pissed it's pissed, taking up posture-#2 whilst posturing as if it had taken posture-#3. Such a 2.0 will only take on efforts and techniques to remove short term (ego based) future suffering, not the long-term, time absent the sutras offer as a possibility. (for instance: "…suggests that embodiment itself is a liability." yet "clinging to life arises even in the wise"; anything propritary is always grasping/clinging; chastity has more to do with cultivating vigor than fucking; tantric practices offer many ways to share peak experiences; nothing new under the sun, etc)

    When He-Man goes back in time, he doesn't give a shit about the consequences killing plants and such will have on the future, he is out to stop Skeletor. The more intense your practice, the quicker the results.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxila http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/monier/

  9. Dreamarie says:

    I like your analysis of 1, 2, and 3 but would also like to suggest 4 which is that the bible, and patanjali are not unified texts. You get at this by mentioning a time specific understanding of the meaning but I also still think its possible to find out what some people were saying. I'd like to recommend the book "The Jesus Sayings" by Rex Weyler, Greenpeace co-founder, where he traces the history and finds the 6 or so things that we know Jesus did say. Like all times, the past was also full of confusion as is our time. I'm not sure that we are the wisest people who ever lived for our technology. We may have more in common with earlier times than we think. Thanks for a great article.

    • matthew says:

      Hey this is a great point — which we should make clear within #3. We should also clarify — we may not be the wisest who have ever lived, but certainly the wisest we have at the moment. Most of the time I think it's less about tech than about basic humanistic advances in collective thought. But in any given week, I'm archaic for at least 3 days, to be sure.

  10. Mahatma says:

    Hi Matthew,

    Its a very modern, and very western trend that installs Patanjali as an authority figure over the path of Hatha Yoga. The siddhas and yoginis that lived before Patanjali’s time already had a fully formed yoga system, and their masters had all the tools and knowledge necessary to guide them all the way to the fullest expression of enlightenment. Real yoga always has been, and always will be inseparable from a close relationship between teacher and student, within which knowledge and experience can be passed down from human to human, and confirmation of attainment is available from the teacher.

    So Pantanjali was a good guy. He put together some good material in his time about how the mind works, but he is definitely NOT an authority on the entirety of Hatha Yoga. If he was, then he simply neglected to write about the rest of the system. Modern yogis need to know . . . there’s more to yoga than what Patanjali told you about.

    There are still yoga schools alive and well on the planet today that hold and preserve the yogic technology to guide practitioners through the complete path from ignorance to enlightenment. These schools hold and present a COMPLETE path. Complete in philosophy, method, and attainment. Patanjali never presented a complete path to the fullest expression of human potential through yogic practice. It’s called “partial knowledge.”

    Just remember, there’s more. If you want more, you can find it. You don’t have to re-invent yoga. It was done already. There are plenty of historical figures, who’s lives you can study, who expressed the fullness of the path of yoga. They tread the path already — all the way, and they are human just like us. They reached the fullest expression of consciousness. We don’t have to re-invent the path, or the fruit. We can follow their example.

    Cheers,

    Mahatma

  11. This is excellent and exactly the kinds of questions we need to be asking of yoga. I just started reading Mark Singleton's "Yoga Body" and am learning how little I knew about yoga and how the yoga I practice is really a vert modern phenomenon and a mixing of many cultures (east and west). In a way, that is very liberating and exciting to me!

    THANK YOU!

  12. matthew says:

    From Facebook:

    Niloofar Hodjati
    matthew, i think what is very alive and far from despair or cynicism in your feeling-space does not quite come through to the reader in these recent articles. as a reader i feel the articles seem intent on finding the tiniest spectre of a w…orm in every ladoo, and on insisting, with an almost childish way, on collapsing all our experiences to the same plane. maybe we all need to keep at least one word capitalized, just to remind us of what exists beyond our everyday reach?

    in the context of our contemporary world, where the dominant tendency is towards despair and lack of meaning, we need more of the opposite. and perhaps you HAVE more of the opposite solidly deposited in your feeling-space (through many years of earnest practices which you now recall with a humorous or ridiculous twist?). but the truth of it is that many of us don't, so we can feel no substantial difference between your critique and that of another philosopher spell-bound by the wizardry of his own words and ideas.

    this is all very strange for me to say to you, seeing as your great gift to me has been to help me move beyond my own deep cynicism and despair, and to taste once again lightness, freshness, sattva in life!!!

    ________

    Matthew Remski
    niloo — thanks for the feedback. if i've collapsed experience into a single plane for you, i have failed you, because the opposite is my intention: to see evolutionary potential everywhere, in every discourse, by eschewing the abstract, which has never warmed my feeling as much as food. your second graph calls on the writer to do exactly what he cannot do: be all things for all readers. but i will always try to be more. not necessarily within the same post or series of posts, but in general, over days and years.

    as to our role reversal: to me this makes things complete.

  13. matthew says:

    From Facebook:

    Niloofar Hodjati
    i guess i feel there is a little too much pomo brattiness (comes across as glib) and a little too much warrior zeal (it tramples too readily). while i can see that these qualities might balance the overall body of your work, as single servi…ngs these articles are not balanced in their rasas. a little more care and sensitivity in balancing the rasas IS a lot to ask for, i know–it slows things down and tempers the excitement you are obviously enjoying. but its more responsible and more reflective of your own wholeness.
    on a different note, while we have experience of how the abstract and the universals can devitalize and belittle our more immediate and local experience, do we actually KNOW what the full potential range of our more immediate or local experience is? while i know it is much more profound than we have been led to believe, i for one am not at all sure that it can break out of it's own plane and activate another level or dimension on its own. in other words we may lose as much by eschewing the abstract as we do by allowing it to benumb our sensations. and i have to say that food has never left me as exalted as abstractions have!

    ________

    Matthew Remski
    thanks for the feedback again. the masala will continue to be adjusted towards warmth, insight, passion, rage, disgust, and peace — all while performing philosophy. in 2-3000 words. but if everyone were to enjoy the meal equally, this woul…d be sure sign that it had conformed to expectations, and i would be worried about that. you are so right that abstraction is a much a staple of consciousness as food. it's a question of bias and emphasis. when we are well, we take well-rounded food, but if we are ill, we might take a corrective taste. the problem with a text is that it can be read by the well and the ill in the same cafe.

  14. Wow, what a great discussion. Can't wait for you next blog and for Toronto in August!

  15. matthew says:

    From Facebook:
    Jennifer Hamilton
    thank you all for having this wikscussion. I read the article. I felt like I was reading an outline for a undergraduate philosophy paper – lots of ideas, many of them tangents. Try applying some yoga basics to your writing: foundation, brea…th, bandhas. By this I mean, root your words, leave space for the reader and gather towards your central theme. The jargon of academia is unnecessary. Please veer on the side of analysis leading towards understanding rather than criticism/cynicism. This article made me want to defend the yoga sutras and protect them from 2.0 attackers.

    _____

    Matthew Remski
    Jennifer — Thanks for the feedback. You're right on that the post is indeed tangential: for the most part simply iterating ideas for future posts (33 planned), and setting those proposed ideas within the framework of reading strategies. It… cannot be comprehensive, nor move towards a central theme. Open-ended inquiry is its own theme.

    I'm interested in your advice as well. How can root my words better? How can I leave more space for you as a reader? And what is jargon, and what of it would you have me remove?

  16. matthew says:

    From Facebook:
    Bogos Kalemkiar
    Matthew I will stand you a beer anytime…I am sixty years old, lived two years in India, visiting ashrams and so-called holy men, and I understand and laud your critique…it is time that all this so-called spirituality was turned on its h…ead and skewered…there is a paradigm shift taking us in dimensions undreamt of in Patanjali's time which I am sure he would be blazing the trail for today. Don't let the naysayers get you down, Matthew…like I said, beer anytime…and at this time of year a warm beer if you like it that way.

    _____

    Matthew Remski
    Bogos: bottoms up. But even in England they are chilling the kegs now — the Guinness is coming out frosty. Maybe a pilsner in the park in July. Cheers.

  17. [...] post is number two of 33 on the subject of “Eight Limbs in the 2.0 Age”. #1 gives an outline of our general inspiration and approach (– check out the comment-thread as well to get a sense of how we invite and facilitate interaction [...]

  18. Ramesh says:

    Matthew,
    there has been a healthy debate about the Yoga Sutras in India for centuries. It is also noteworthy that the Yoga Sutras built upon not only the jains (as in the yamas and niyamas) but also on tantric practices, as all the limbs are practices, not just theory as in the sutras.. In Tantra Brahmacarya is not interpreted as celibacy but as its literal meaning informs us; to see/feel brahma everywhere. Carya means to move, so we move with or in Brahma, we embody the sacred, we are in the midst of the sacred. That is tantric brahmacarya. The celibacy part is one interpretation, not the whole story, not even traditionally.

    Also, dhyana, as I have been taught and practice it, is a result of dharana (concentration). Dhyana is the state of flow in meditation, it grows out of dharana as a spontanioous experience of inner flow (dhyana). There is focus in dhyana but dhyana happens in deep spntanious absorption of mind that leads to the death of thought in samadhi…. so these limbs are intertwined and work together and end in samadhi…. that's the non-2.0 practice of mine, anyway….moreover these lessons, and I am not just spouting dogma, are not taught well or at all in the west, since very few knows how to practice them–that is one reason why the whole western sutra project is so intellectual and theoretical. Astnaga Yoga is practice, but where is it taught–hardly at all and not in most yoga studios. You cannot read about dhyana and get it anymore than reading about a painting and claim you have seen it, or even painted it.

  19. [...] month ago, we published our introductory piece to our ongoing series in the 2.0 reading of Patanjali. Since then, 55 comments have been appended to that post. Scott and I have been puzzling over one [...]

  20. [...] or Santosha (sometimes spelled Samtosha), is one of the niyamas (observances) given in the Patanjali’s eight [...]

  21. [...] books, which are my own air and water. One subject, though, that many of them remain dense about is yoga. This ancient school of thought and path to enlightenment is tossed into the pile of “new age [...]

  22. [...] post is number three of on the subject of “Eight Limbs in the 2.0 Age”. #1 gives an overview of our general approach and method. #2 and #3 address ahimsa [...]

  23. [...] c) interrogates the meaning of the Yamas and Niyamas in the context of today’s world; and [...]

  24. [...] post is number five in our series: “Eight Limbs in the 2.0 Age”. #1 gives an overview of our general approach and method in our review of the Patanjalian legacy. #2 [...]

  25. [...] (a continuation of our 8 Limbs 2.0 series) [...]

  26. [...] is not relevant to modern practitioners. I know this sounds crazy, but these claims are out there (elephant journal? No doubt). In my opinion (call me harsh, I don’t mind), it is their arrogance that causes these [...]

  27. [...] The eight limbs of yoga, at first, seemed dogmatic to me. However, after years of study and practice, these great principles have come to represent the launching pad for great freedom of my mind and body. [...]

  28. trueayurveda says:

    Matthew,
    Pretty cool that you can take something that has been timeless and twist it to your own perspective of the world. ayurveda must be Vata pitta and kapha diet plans for you as well because to actually do what those dirty old texts say isn't what the world can do today. If you look at the world thru an ayurveda lens you can see the embalance that you have just laid claim to and defeated ayuveda and yoga both from what they truly are and what they are built on and for. Asana because we are rediscovering the body…. what? It is therapy? What? That ain't yoga. Specially when "they" as you know, don't even know what vayu, vata, or prana is and does. C'mon man seriously?

  29. [...] makes you realize that you do not have to feed it. This is the essence of mindfulness, and what the eight limbs of yoga are all about. The eight fold path helps us quiet the mind and bring peace within us, which is the [...]

  30. Candice Garrett Candice says:

    Ahimsa: to what degree am I creating harm to myself and others? What are the qualities of my thoughts and actions?
    Satya: am I living from a place of authenticity? Do I see/accept things as they are?
    Brahmacharya: elephant had an excellent article that gave me new perspective on this interpretation, it was called "to walk while chewing on the divine." Are all my actions geared toward a higher purpose?
    Asteya: Do I use other's time or energy in a way that is selfish?
    Aparigraha: unattachment. Can I be okay with the good and the bad? Am I hung up on my ideas, my needs and wants?
    Santosha: contentment. See aparagriha, they are two sides of the same coin. Inner critic has a lot to do with this one.
    Sauca: in what way am I contaminating my body and my mind? for instance: Abstaining from violent, graphic and scary movies and media.

  31. Candice Garrett Candice says:

    Pranayama (I realize this is out of order, sorry) : breath awareness. We've been listening to breath from the time that we were in the womb. It has much to tell and even more to show.
    Dharana: focus. for most people, on the breath. A way to tie the mind to an idea and avoid being distracted by the constant inner dialogue or self story. A work in progress, you're stil distracted but keep coming back to the focus.
    dhyana: when you stop being distracted by the story.
    Samadhi: you realize that things are not as they seem. There is no separation, the idea of separation is false. Look at chemistry, we are all atoms, the idea of a chair is unexplainable. Why a chair? Why a dog? A person? Because there is intelligence behind it. It is to know that intelligence. I am not there yet, my interpretation might change when I get samadhi, but for now, that is it.

  32. Candice Garrett Candice says:

    crap. I'm going to have to write an article on this. :)

  33. matthew says:

    What a great list! Talk to Bob — he'll set you up for an article.

  34. Yes, Candice, please do.

  35. danielle says:

    I did try to address Alchard’s question, though with poor results. It is based not so much on the text itself, or how we approach it, but on how we (egos at full power) see ourselves as somehow fundamentally different, if not outright better than what “they” came up with back then. Our war, poverty, Self, self, suffering, distractions and pleasures are somehow different from theirs? Has neuroscience and pillin’ it given us any real contentment? Did gender escape Patanjali’s mahavrata because the “no girls allowed” sign is… implied where again? Are there no yogins who are historians? An X-in probably would be wasting their time studying things about X if they have surpassed the text (a professor reading into-tos), or have fully accomplished all X has to offer (no example comes to mind).

    He-Man, going back in time after Skeletor, does not worry about effecting his future, intellectualizing each act as one deleterious to his future and so prohibiting himself from his aim: protecting time from Skeletor’s always destructive acts. This is in a way perhaps a part of Alchard’s question (why should we stop to study just one thing when our pursuit is so much grander), but if we are seeking to end future suffering and don’t read maps (though perhaps not perfectly accurate, certainly a valuable, venerated take is worth a look- or are all the readers of a text we haven’t read stupid?), ones designed by us for us, are we really seeking or just assuming we are.

  36. matthew says:

    I do think that consciousness evolves, and quite quickly. It would be an arrogant stance if it were exclusionary, and we assumed discontinuity with the past, but part of our study has shown that past thoughts, concerns, contexts are embedded within the present. The mp3 player contains wax-cylinder technology, for example. As for the ending of future suffering — I'll leave it to He-Man. A fantastical aim requires a cartoon super-hero!

  37. matthew says:

    The other considerations — who's version or path is complete, what ancient people accomplished, who has the authentic truth here and now — these are matters that lie at the intersection of faith and subjectivity, and not our direct topic of study.

    But it would be very interesting to explore with you what it takes to be able to say with certainty that a yogic path is complete, and that some people one has never met (i.e. in historical memory) have definitely attained perfect qualities.

    warmly,
    Matthew

  38. Hi, Hilary. One of the reasons I love these guys so much is that they encourage and enjoy your kind of hard-hitting no-holds comments. They dish it out strongly and like responders who do the same. I find it exhilarating myself. Thanks for joining in.

    I believe this is the essence of yoga 2.0. That's why I've become a quick fan and will be in Toronto in August to wrangle with Matt and Scott and others in person at the Toronto Yoga Festival. Will you join us?

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
    Join Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  39. Best movie ever. I can end this discussion right here and now. Let's just forget about Yoga and switch to Mozart:

    Yoga and Mozart

    I’ve decided to dispense with Yoga
    And just listen to Mozart all the time.

    It gives me the same sense of wonder.
    It fills me with the same infinite cosmic joy.

    It collapses my entire being into the present moment
    Where the music is divine
    I am divine
    You are divine
    The whole world is one and divine.

    I’ve decided to dispense with Yoga
    And just listen to Mozart all the time.

    But then again
    Why not have both?
    For are they not one and the same?

  40. matthew says:

    Thank you — that makes me feel very well-probed. And you definitely have earned your own reading posture. Maybe we'll call it "HL drishti" — honouring authorial psychology.

    In our typography, the exclamation point can attempt to disguise annoyance, or convey joviality. But my Sanskrit teacher taught me that the exclamation point in Devanagri actually represents the yogi in sirsana, turning his world on its head.

    !

    Sleep tight and best, M.

  41. matthew says:

    Thank you Bob.

  42. Hilary Lindsay Hilary Lindsay says:

    I couldn't agree more. Lovely simplicity. Where intellectual sparring uses words as armor against what would be a sincere desire to communicate, one can be relieved to embrace the unspoken truth. I have been down this road before. It is not unfamiliar territory; all of it. Life is for learning.

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