Yoga Makes Sex Better! 5 Top Reasons to Practice and Teach.

Via on Jul 12, 2011

Why is yoga powerful, why do we practice, what should we teach?

As I prepare to teach the Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind teacher training in Venice, Ca. and 5-day retreat to Esalen with my favorite friend and colleague Hala Khouri, I find myself asking the above questions.

The standard answer usually starts with – “Well, Patanjali says….” But I am not so sure Patanjali’s Sutras speak directly to the experience of modern American yogis. I mean, how many yogis do you know who are engaging in long hours of concentration meditation, seeking to dis-identify with the world, their bodies and minds and make contact with a transcendent God that exists outside of Nature?

So I want to share my 5 top reasons to practice and teach the powerful transformational discipline of yoga:

1) Yoga can be a beautiful way of getting comfortable in your own skin, coming home to your body, becoming more alive and aware, energized and open to life and love. Rather than seeking to go beyond the body, yoga is for most of us a way to reclaim an awareness of the body itself as sacred.

2) Yoga makes sex better! Yeah, you heard me – I said it… Yoga systematically makes us more aware of our sensations and trains us in the art of using breath to open into our experience rather contract away from it or attempt to clamp down and control it. This makes us more available to the dance of intimacy, plethora of sensations and waves of pleasure that can turn sex into a mind-blowing form of embodied spirituality – or just make it more satisfying and rich, which as far as I can tell is really the same thing..

3) Yoga gives us time and space to connect to our inner lives. Sensations, emotions, the accrued layers of stress and anxiety, questions we carry about our choices, actions, intentions, desires – all can be meditated upon as we use the ritual of breath and movement to focus the mind, connect to the heart, listen to the body and reflect upon how we really want to live our lives.

4) Yoga can be fantastic physical therapy. In both a healing and preventative way, yoga can be used to promote healthy flexibility, strength, and range of motion. Practiced with intelligence and taught with anatomical knowledge, yoga just works!

5) Yoga can be an integrative vehicle for self-healing. More and more information from science and psychology demonstrates the healing benefits of yoga and meditation. Somatic psychology research and new data from neuroscience show the importance of mindful present attention and body awareness in rebalancing the nervous system, processing through unresolved emotions in the brain and healing from trauma stored on the body. This is real transformation.

In addition to the deep human need to come together with community and engage in meaningful activity around a shared intention, to connect and experience together in safe spaces that allow us to open up and grow and heal and see ourselves reflected in our tribe, the above five reasons to practice and teach are central to what I feel makes yoga powerful – what do you think?

Oh wait, what’s that? You are wondering why the emphasis on sex in the title of this piece… Perhaps it is merely sensationalist?

Well,  if you think about it: healing traumas, keeping your body healthy, strong and flexible, being in touch with your inner life, and being comfortable in your own skin all make you more able to be present in your own body and connect with empathy, intuition, passion and playfulness with your partner’s body. Seeing as how our sexual nature is a core (and I would suggest innately spiritual) intimate aspect of who and what we are, all of this indeed makes sex better. In turn better sex is an expression of healthier relationships in a more integrated, open, authentic and ecstatic human life!

We also haven’t even touched upon the exquisite transformational possibilities of learning to work with what are traditionally thought of as Kundalini kriyas in the kinds of prolonged full-bodied sexual, emotional and deep physical release that make even a non-theist Buddhist cry out “Oh God!”

I’ll save that for my next article…

{A quick note for those thinking of taking the Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind training: don’t worry, Patanjali will get his due, but alongside the beautiful tantric Radiance Sutras, training in Buddhist  meditation and tools from somatic psychology and brain research…}

About Julian Walker

Julian Walker is the founder of http://www.yogateachergradschool.com/ where he supports new and established yoga teachers in living their dreams through business development. He is a writer who has been teaching yoga since 1994, and co-teaches the Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind Yoga Teacher Training in LA with Hala Khouri.Julian's writing is featured in the book 21st Century Yoga available on Amazon.com. www.julianwalkeryoga.com

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97 Responses to “Yoga Makes Sex Better! 5 Top Reasons to Practice and Teach.”

  1. kim stetz says:

    yes, as a teacher and practioner i couldn't agree more. however, easier said than done to be with that special someone. it's pretty much torture knowing these things and not having someone to share with. boo hoo hoo. worlds smallest fiddle playing for me. ; ) thanks for writing.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      hey kim – yeah i think this is a common complaint! we have to figure out how to get more men into yoga, and i think part of the key to this is emphasizing the REAL benefits not just paying lipservice to the pious woo-woo stuff that makes yoga seem to airy fairy for most dudes….

  2. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    seeing as comments are thin here – i though tot repost the controversial dialog that this post triggered on my FB page:
    (you can see it here too: http://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=… )

    James Portocarrero Oh the nonsense that we westerners have done in the name of yoga.. God please forgive us.. for wanting this sensual nonsense when we could have eternity.

    Julian Marc Walker classic. thanks!

    Julian Marc Walker i should have said yoga makes Group Sex better hahaha! that would be more "eastern":
    http://eehard.files.wordpr​ess.com/2009/03/khaj

    Melissa Williams DUH

    James Portocarrero Kama (materialistic living which includes sex) is one among the four paths suggested in Hinduism to merge with Brahman or to escape from rebirth (Moksha). Many scholars think these sculptures were meant to explain the ‘Kama’ aspect to people.

    A closer study of Hinduism will reveal that sex was never a taboo during the ancient period. Some believe they were meant for sex education and there is nothing unnatural for temples to have them. In fact, the sex sculptures are all seen outside the Hindu temple along with other sculptures depicting materialistic way of life.

    James Portocarrero The spiritualist has nothing to do with attraction to the mundane body.. In Vedic times the spiritual class of people only engaged in sex as an act of procreation, knowing full well that attraction to the sack of flesh and sinew that is the body is a spell of Maya, and only produces negative karmic reactions and continued death & rebirth in material planets.

    Julian Marc Walker thanks! the fact that 99.9% of american yogis are not hindu means i think it is good to ask ourselves what is actually going on in our own equally relevant and powerful experience, no?

    James Portocarrero It's not a matter of hindu or non hindu, it's a matter of truth or non-truth. The famous sage Adi Shankaracharya wrote in his Bhaja Govindam: "Upon seeing the full breasts and slim waist of a young woman, do not succumb to the spell of illusion. Just consider in your mind again and again that these are simply a transformation of flesh, fat, etc."

    Julian Marc Walker oooh lovely example of of anti-body dualistic religious thinking! thanks…. i am going in a quite different direction.

    James Portocarrero Dualistic in what way exactly?

    James Portocarrero Yes your direction is going straight downwards into the material world.

    Julian Marc Walker your depiction of the body as something disgusting, illusory and unspiritual and the true purpose of yoga being some kind of disembodied realization of eternity.

    James Portocarrero The dualistic thing is to enjoy sense gratification separate from the Non-Dual God, who has nothing to do with such animalistic matters of the flesh. The truth is that one who is enticed by sex is little higher then the animal.

    Julian Marc Walker thanks james you have given a wonderful and obviously well-researched example of fundamentalist yogic thought, please be on your way now.

    namaste.

    James Portocarrero It's to transcend the animalistic drives that keep us ensnared with this body. It's not that you become disembodied, but you engage your body one hundred percent in the real, and that real is everything that promotes engagement with the absolute truth, with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, devotional service.

    Melissa Williams James, I find that very offensive

    James Portocarrero I find what you all have said to be very offensive as well

  3. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    James Portocarrero Julian, you think that you are not fundamentalist also but you are engaging in a type of fundamentalism which is no different then what I am engaging in. Instead of actually arguing points of quoting from Shastra you just say ohh you are being fundamentalist.. this is always what you types want to do when presented with the cold hard facts.

    James Portocarrero Sex is a process of animal life, not of spiritual life.

    James Portocarrero It's not possible in any way shape or form to practice real Yoga while being victim to your impulses for bodily gratification through sex. So whatever it is that your doing, is just advanced materialism.

    James Portocarrero blah blah blah

    James Portocarrero You are just a hippy

    James Portocarrero stop calling what your doing yoga

    Julian Marc Walker i am so glad you came along sir, because usually people criticize me for making a straw an out of adherents to classical yoga philosophy – your comments are just right on the money from this particular perspective, and illustrate perfectly the pressing need to move beyond such religious zeal and anti-humanist religiosity.

    again i offer my gratitude – but am not interested in engaging in any kind of debate with you on the matter.

    peace.

    Julian Marc Walker you know what – you just keep going james – you are very, very helpful to my cause!

    tell us more about the problems with western, hippy, humanistic, sex-positive perversions of the true yoga, please!

    Julian Marc Walker gosh – i wonder if you actually read the article or are just flying off the handle because you saw the words "yoga" and "Sex" in the same sentence?! :)

    Marya Summers Thanks, Julian, for putting the voice of sanity and balance in yoga. Yes, we are spiritual beings…in physical bodies. To deny the beauty of the physical body and its sensations — both pleasurable and painful — seems like a denial of the gift of life. I'm not quite sure why people like to seize on ONE yoga text or perspective as THE authority on it. Maybe it's too scary to live without absolutism.

    Julian Marc Walker word.

  4. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    John Allen Gibel Julian, the next step for you: http://www.youtube.com/wat​ch?v=qD35GbPQDC8 ;)

    Julian Marc Walker oh certainly not!

    Robin Barnette Great article Julian Love it!

    Arrash Irani James, that doesn't strike me as a very healthy or useful way to relate to your own body or the bodies of others.

    It is quite common to meet another person as an equal rather than a threatening object that stimulates "animalistic urges" which, according to your beliefs, are to be suppressed using a mental device that evokes the grotesque.

    You can acknowledge sexual attraction and still interact with that person without objectifying them or constraining your view of them into the role of a one-dimensional cartoon where their only valuable contribution is distorted, transactional sex. It's hot having good conversation with a girl you're attracted to. Oh and totally normal, healthy and awesome too. Give it a shot.

    There's a big, green field in the middle between your extremes.

    Julian Marc Walker the thing is i respect james because at least he is being consistent and truthful in following the actual religious injunctions of his tradition. in this way he is like other religious fundamentalists in that he actually allows us to see the teachings without them being candy coated or watered down…

    from the point of view of classical yoga everything he is saying is correct – and if you look at his page he appears to have the credentials to back this up!

    this makes my point for me about the need to not only think critically about yoga "scriptures" but also to keep creating a contemporary, humanistic, integrated, relevant philosophy for yoga today.
    y

    Leila Currah Nicely said, Arrash.

    Robin Barnette Wow!!! Julian you sure did strike a cord…. Come on James Really?? Did you even read the aticle?

    Leila Currah I don't respect James for that.

    Leila Currah ‎..although it is elucidating.

    Arrash Irani That's a big danger of philosophical/theological/​metaphysical thought. You can have an entirely self-consistent, sophisticated, systematic body of ideas which have no correspondence to reality whatsoever.

    Arrash Irani Or worse, they partially correspond and partially do not. I believe these are called "clusterfucks" in the Oxford dictionary, but I could be wrong here…

    Nathan Nambiar Good article and intense debate! I hope James finds happiness with his beliefs.

    Leila Currah Great article, Julian!

    Yoga has helped me immensely to get comfortable in my skin, has improved my posture, flexibility and strength, given me space to feel, helped me to become more self-aware.. and in so doing, made it possible for me to be more emotionally present, sensitive, and loving during sex. I think my husband appreciates this! :)

    Word to the wise: suppressing your sexuality often leads to perversion.

    Leila Currah Nice to have a few adults on board in this conversation.

  5. Denise says:

    I loved your article. I think James illustrates the hang ups we in the West have about sex. Yoga itself isn't sexual. Humans are. Perhaps the issue is the word sex. Maybe James wouldn't be experiencing a meltdown if you had said intimacy. Somehow the penis and vagina being brought into the conversation clouded your valid point for some people. Regardless, their issue, not yours.

  6. Denise says:

    I loved your article. I think James illustrates the hang ups we in the West have about sex. Yoga itself isn't sexual. Humans are. Perhaps the issue is the word sex. Maybe James wouldn't be experiencing a meltdown if you had said intimacy. Somehow the penis and vagina being brought into the conversation clouded your valid point for some people. Regardless, their issue, not yours.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      agreed – but those hang ups are present in the classical yogic texts james is referencing too!

  7. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

    Very nice and I couldn't agree more! Mindfulness and awareness improves everything! Thank you, Julian!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Assoc. Yoga Editor
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  8. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  9. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    fair question thaddeus! thanks…

    my point is this: close to 10% of the american population practices yoga. most of these yogis are being taught yoga by teachers who have been taught patanjali as the authority on what yoga is and why we practice.

    however: 1) the actual experience that these yogis are having has very little to do with patanjlai's central dualism http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/06/patanjalis… and a somewhat ascetic concentration meditation based quest to attain to a dualistic vision of god. the experience most yogis are having in the american yoga experiment has more to do with body awareness, community experience, psychological healing, and what amounts to a more tantra-esque embrace of life.

    2) there are also multiple texts and perspectives within yoga itself, of which the patanjali sutra is but one voice. i am not saying patanjali is useless, nor i am i refuting the problems you diagnose in our modern world – or that patanjali has a prescription for those problems.

    what i am doing is making a distinction between anti-body, anti-sex, monastic, ascetic, dualistic, authoritarian yogic ideology and what is actually going on in the yoga explosion happening across america. for me there is a kind of split personality that many yoga teachers are pushed into wherein the foundational metaphysics of patanjali are learned by rote as the "philosophy" of yoga – but the experience of practicing asana in 21st century america has in fact very little to do with this set of ideas.

    we are not hindus. we are not ascetics. we are not practicing long hours of concentration meditation. we are still practicing yoga.

    yoga is i think a living tradition. what i have always loved about yoga and meditation is that they have an almost scientific ability to engage us in an inquiry that keeps evolving.

    like it or not yoga is evolving too in it's east/west integration – and this is a good thing, and we have plenty of fascinating, juicy, rich philosophy and psychology around us that integrates tantric ideas, buddhist ideas, somatic psychology, neuroscience, physical therapy and so on…

    besides this whole purist stance on what is "really yoga" is baseless through and through – it is like americans who are against immigration! as if they didnt come here from europe… i remember a time 15 years ago when the debate in the yoga community was whether or not vinyasa flow classes (which probably make up 95% of what current american yogis participate in) were "really yoga" – and even a yoga journal letters section drama in which pattabhi jois wrote a letter censuring teachers like bryan kest for teaching power yoga….. i guess we moved on from that one!

    patanjali borrowed from samkhya and the buddha – and may indeed have been several different authors. one of the reasons there is not as much mention of asana as we might expect is that some scholars think that formulation of asana as we know it happened much later and was heavily influenced by danish gymnastics. tantra scholar stuart sovatsky says that yoga was much more organic and ecstatic/shamanic before the british colonization, after which the indians formalized the practice on wood floors with distinct positions to make it seem ore like european ballet….

    so who gets to say what is "really yoga?" is it sivananda, ashtanga, iyengar, vinyasa flow, restorative, classical, tantric, do we go back to the shamanic roots, it is not 'really yoga" unless we are eating the fly agaric mushroom widely thought to be the some of the vedas, is it not "really yoga" unless we engage in the intense practices of the fakirs driving spikes into our flesh, is not "really yoga" unless we cover ourselves in ashes form the funeral pyre, is it not "really yoga" unless we agree with patanjali that god and nature are separate, and with john above that sex is animalistic and distracts us from our spiritual purity?

    it's all in a state of flux and i for one think that the integration that is ALREADY happening between east and west, ancient and modern, spiritual and psychological, philosophy and science is a GREAT thing…. i am also happy to leave the religiosity, anti-human transcendentalism and dogmatic metaphysics behind.

  10. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    question: if we do not agree with certain religious perspectives form certain yogic texts are we to say that we are not practicing yoga unless we give them lipservice?

    • Russ says:

      When transmitting it to others, I would just say, "this is the tradition", rather than either reinterpreting it for them (and watering down or misrepresenting the tradition) or pretending it is a belief I subscribe to (Hypocrisy, not saya).
      I'm an atheist, a materialist, and practice ashtanga yoga, but I don't feel that there needs to be a conflict; yoga works whether you believe in it or not :)

      • Russ says:

        *satya not saya

        • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

          what about the idea that it is a living tradition – that the "tradition" has it's roots in certain metaphysical beliefs and cultural constructs, but is a self-evolving process that transcends culture and religion and is becoming something new as it shapes us and we shape it…?

          what if we teach the roots of the tradition as well as a critique of it and encourage real philosophical inquiry – along with an investigation of what we are doing now and why?

  11. kelly says:

    Julian Walker says “its all a state of flux” but what he seems to mean is “I don’t want to define yoga because it poops on my business; putting a name to what I do puts me in the same category as people I accuse of being cult leaders.” He pushes American Yoga.
    American yoga is paying someone to tell you what to do so you get more fit and healthy, and the stuff for sale that support the enterprise- it is cash not devotion not Love, certainly not the yoga of patanjali or the other sages of old, it is conquest and reappropriation, Truth “finally done right”. Ascetics are despised, because they violate the comforting ideals of family and control, now pushed by antitheists and p$ychologists with their “new” death-sex-body religion. “Real” yoga, real freedom is always available to the sincere; those who recognize the center, who contain the flux, see many.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      no so kelly! :)

      i dislike asceticism because it is anti humanist, dualistic and an expression of religiosity that seeks to find the sacred somewhere other than out humanity.

      i dislike asceticism in the judaeo-christian-islamic traditions as much as i do in the hindu-buddhist. i am an equal opportunity humanist!

      if i wanted an other-worldy, body hating, sexuality denying, emotion repressing, moralistic religion i could have just stayed home and been a catholic….

      • kelly says:

        “not so” yet you agree, pinning “human” as some ideal- with only sex there is no love,with only body, no bliss. Any way it can the sex-body-death cult says stay at home, bear constraints and and serve what hates, remain without freedom in the wasteland of rotting flesh, ban energy from reaching out to the limitless energy. Your other comments say this- you are not after freedom but a smooth ride, the colonialist “finally Truth done right”.
        Not all ascetics are dualists, yet bound by the family, its constraints, this is always dualism and one without center, which is the problem- the sun and the moon spin, but around what?

        • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

          yes embracing our humanity is an ideal for me – finding the sacred in our human experience.

          hmmm if you read the article you will see i am actually emphasizing intimacy, openness and indeed love as part of great sex.

          wow "wasteland of rotting flesh?" – intense! what are you referring to?

          "smooth ride?" absolutely not – real transformational work can be very messy, uncomfortable and painful.

          colonialist – gosh i dont think so – plus the other side of that coin is cultural appropriation and that just doesn't feel authentic to me.

      • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

        oh i am quite happy defining yoga, and for whatever it is worth i have waayy taken the road less travelled here – building a community very slowly of people interested in the kind of inquiry i find compelling and useful…… i would be much further along in business and career had i chosen a more conventional route 20 years ago!

  12. Kelly says:

    Seeking the human being or being human, is not yoga, yoga is for Being. You can call it humanist yoga, but that is being human, admitting the need to lead the cult. It isn’t seeking human that the body-death-sex cult teaches, that is something easily accomplished- kill your brother, that is human nature, jelousy is the human experience. Instead the stay-bound teaches orgasm over the reflecting pool, roller-coaster thrills and pill-to-prosper, not center, your toe touches your ear a vanity exercise, limits on everything especially intimacy (the Beloved is not Love, but a bag), no sound but “finally, Truth done like I like it”, and the base teaching- “there is no enlightenment, if there was I’d be enlightened already,” so Julian Walker must say it is inauthentic to learn the steps of the Dance, to insist that It means exactly what Julian Walker say It does.
    Love is available, Energy has meaning outside meaning, but the life of the materialist is bound to no meaning, to have no center, no expression.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      you go! a fine turn of poetic prose…. your hatred for the body and sex quite evident, your need to make me the villain as well.

      have a nice evening.

      • kelly says:

        I do not limit Love to the body, I do not say stay in your body, I do not hate the body, the body is a tool, a bag of puss and of brilliance, but a bag. Sex can be a tool too, but I do not say only body only sex which is no bliss no love, I do not say this is the limit because I say it is. Julian Walker claims to be the victim, to be vilified, yet does not mind vilifying, showing again the base teaching of the death-sex-body cult- the ego not as a tool, but as the end, the unexceedable limit, a happenstance center where there is no meaning, only “finally, Truth as I like it”

    • dan says:

      "orgasm over the reflecting pool" lol

  13. Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

    I find this discussion interesting, informative, and even important – but I also find the tone disturbingly snarky. Maybe the deeper practice here is learning how to discuss our differences with respect. I would like to think that all schools or yoga could at least agree on the value of that.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      fair enough carol – point taken!

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      at a certain point i start to bite back when being attacked by fundamentalists with ad hominems, accusations of not teaching "real yoga" and vitriolic statements about the disgusting unspiritual nature of the body and sexuality.

      out of curiosity – did you find the article itself snarky?

      • Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

        Not at all – I think that it's great, because it is super-clear and accessible but also makes lots of really important points and raises even more for discussion. But some of the commentators were beyond snarky, and yes, I admit that I feel that sometimes your impatience and frustration seems to boil over in response.

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  15. dan says:

    Strange to me that one so critical of Patanjali, ascetics and the non-rational would teach him, seemingly reluctantly, alongside the Vijnana Bhaiaravi, seemingly enthusiastically… I guess with the right translation anything becomes palatable.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      are you familiar with lorin roche's translation? it is sublime…

      • dan says:

        As he combines a translation and commentary into a poem, it's better called an interpretation and not a translation. What I read at his site I find it a bit cheesy and derivitive, but it is fun and I can see people finding it useful.
        I do find it quite curious that one so supposedly devoted to science apperantly takes such a glowing view of this devotional text, which asks the devotee to focus on some very iffy things (non-space, "the glow of an invisible sun") and dive into them unreservedly, without a list of caveats so long as to make the techniques pointless novelties. Are kundalini and cakras a metaphor in Walker's yoga, or an as yet undetectable facet in a scientific world?

        • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

          my sense is that kundalini and chakras are three things:

          1) a metaphorical way of talking about a powerful experiential process that transcends names and beliefs and is innate to the human body.

          2) an experiential/imaginal way of talking about the nervous and endocrine systems and how the mind lives in the body.

          3) a way of conceptualizing stages of personal development.

          as for the radiance sutras – let me be clear, i have no problem with experiential instructions that guide one into powerful meditative and ecstatic states. this is my daily bread and butter…. i only emphasize science because it is so decried in our community and because claims that in fact are empirical should always be subject to empirical evaluation.

          the correct interpretation of spiritual poetry as referring in metaphorical ways to experiential openings need not ever cross over into empirical claims – and in fact fits perfectly well with our current understanding of anatomy, physiology, neuroscience and psychology.

          the distinction i would make is between metaphorical descriptions of interior contemplative experience vs literal claims about exterior other worlds or beings… my definition of spiritual practice is that it is "the gradual process of becoming more fluent in the language of the inner life." i use a lot of mystic poetry to that end – and rather like my hero joseph campbell does with mythology, i see this material as best interpreted metaphorically, psychologically and as referring to an internal journey.

          sure roche is interpreting – for me the key distinction and contrast i will make with patanjali is that of a classical dualism between god and nature vs a more contemporary non-dual embrace of the natural world and the sense as the dwelling place of the sacred.

          for me what roche has done offers an experiential vocabulary that heightens awareness in the midst of practice and invites one into a sense of the sacred that is immediate, authentic and self-embracing.

  16. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

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  19. harikirtana says:

    The fundamentalist tone of Mr. Portocarrero’s comments notwithstanding, I’m going to suggest the term ‘traditionalist’ as a more apropos moniker for those of us who defer to yoga scripture such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as an authoritative treatise on what yoga is and why one should practice it.

    So, speaking from a traditionalist point of view, although we may achieve short-term sensual gains from a humanist approach to yoga, I think something very valuable is lost if we discard Patanjali’s thesis as irrelevant to “the experience of modern American yogis”. On the contrary, I find the theistic orientation of the Yoga Sutras and other related texts, such as the Bhagavad-gita, to be very relevant to contemporary life in general and contemporary yoga in particular.

    Patanjali is proposing a solution to a problem, suffering, the ultimate form of which is death and its corollaries: pain, loss, and the prospect of non-existence. Humanist and traditional approaches to the problem of death are rooted in their respective assumptions about the nature of life. These respective positions are mutually exclusive world-views. Hence what appears to be life denying from a humanist perspective is life affirming from a traditionalist perspective and vice versa.

    Mutually exclusive world-views defy reconciliation and instead call on us to engage our power of critical thinking to ascertain which view makes the most sense to us. Personally, I find that the traditional premises of karma, samsara, and consciousness as a precedent to rather than a product of matter constitute a more sound and complete philosophy than humanism. Making the argument in favor of my position is obviously far beyond the scope of this comment, but the internal logic of traditional yoga illuminates coherent grounds for following a path of reasonable renunciation, for endeavoring to control rather than indulge the senses while constructively engaging with the world. When we dismiss the methods Patanjlai proposes, particularly those presented at the commencement of chapter two, without considering his underlying premises for recommending them, we risk loosing the benefit of Patanjali’s insight into the nature of the human condition and the rewards of the intersecting paths of grace and action that his treatise offers.

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      what if one is a yogi and meditator but not a theist or dualist?

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      what if one is a yogi and meditator but not a theist or dualist?

      • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

        what if yoga has myriad benefits with regard to anatomy, awareness, healing trauma, and transforming the brain and this is enough without claims of eternal life and hindu cosmology?

      • harikirtana says:

        Traditionally speaking, atheistic non-dualist yogis merge into Brahman, which the theists see as the glowing effulgence of the Supreme Person, Bhagavan. Brahman, Paramatma and Bhagavan are qualitatively one and the same. The same substance is realized as impersonal Brahman by the students of the Upanishads, as localized Paramatma by the yogis, and as Bhagavan by the devotees. Less advanced students of either of the above schools sometimes argue in favor of their own respective realization, but those who are perfect seers of the Absolute Truth know well that the above three features of the one Absolute Truth are different perspective views seen from different angles of vision.

        • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

          what about those informed by neuroscience, somatic psychology and buddhism who find hindu metaphysics unconvincing?

  20. harikirtana says:

    "Whatever state of being one remembers when they quit their body, that state they will attain without fail." – Bhagavad-gita 8.6

    • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

      i am about as impressed by that quote as i would be by a quote from the bible about not being able to attain eternal life except trough salvation in jesus.

      religious claims about spiritual practice as a way of ensuring certain rewards after death are all equally meaningless to me.

      • harikirtana says:

        The quote only says that we go where our hearts and minds take us. It doesn't make any assurances about anything other than that when you leave your body, you go somewhere. Just because a book makes a statement is not enough reason to accept it; it either resonates with you or it doesn't.

        Pithy references to Yoga scripture aside, one thing that traditional yoga philosophy has going for it is inclusivity. Yes, it’s literal and it recognizes natural hierarchies as opposed to contrived equalities, and yes there are restrictions and observances that require some austerity on the part of the practitioner, but there’s no more of a denial of the material benefits of yoga than there is a requirement that yogis live in caves. Neuroscience and somatic psychology are, again, founded on paradigms that are contradictory to the causative assumptions of classical yoga, but if your objectives are material benefits like healing trauma and expanded awareness then that’s fine. I think that such empirical approaches to yoga offer short-term fixes rather than long-term cures (assuming samsara as opposed to a singular lifetime), but everything, including material science, can be used constructively in the cause of yoga.

        The thing I respect about your position is that you’re not trying to have it both ways; many modern yogis don’t notice the disconnect between classical yoga philosophy and the dominant paradigms of modern empirical culture, don’t think about how karma and the big bang don’t really fit neatly together to form a consistent world-view. Where I respectfully disagree with you is on the need for the creation of “a contemporary, humanistic, integrated, relevant philosophy for yoga today.” I think there’s still plenty of relevance to be found in classical yoga philosophy and plenty of ways to integrate it into contemporary life. What’s lacking is comprehensive understanding and appropriate application. It’s for this reason, along with a few others, that I agree with you: modern yogis should apply a higher degree of critical thinking about traditional yoga scripture than is currently the norm, though it appears we anticipate different outcomes for such applied intelligence.

        Thank you for stirring up such a nice discussion and inspiring my small contribution to it.

        • Julian Walker yogijulian says:

          what if i do not buy hindu metaphysics based on mind/body dualism anymore than any other religious notion of being able to "leave the body?"

          ummm i think what you are referring to as "material benefits" are the only benefits we can really talk about… are you saying a single human life span is short term?

          i appreciate your respect and really nuanced, well-informed and kindly expressed position too.

          i am saying that mythic literalism, mind-body dualism and any traditional religious worldview is not particularly relevant today or integrate-able with what every other discipline tells us about reality at this point. i think this means that in today's world, all traditional religious worldviews have to create irrational, psychologically defended, faith-based compartmentalized beliefs that by definition cannot be reconciled with reality and keep spirituality delusional.

          i appreciate your intellectual curiosity and honesty.

          thanks!

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  24. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    i do hear what you are saying thaddeus.

    i have no problem with feurstein's quote about an authentic self – and you might notice he makes no mention of other worlds, transmigrating souls etc…

    i think the ideas behind why we engage in transformational disciplines (and indeed on what an "authentic self" might be) have evolved over time – this was true in india with the various schools of thought from samkhya to advaita to tantra to buddhism and on and on, and it is true today.

    paying lipservice to one of those schools of thought chosen to be the authority on what yoga is, and then having it be in the background of an expression of a practice that has little to actually do with those seems odd to me.

    you say quite rightly that neither you nor i can claim to know what is really going on in each yogis practice – but my point is that patanjali is talking mostly about concentration meditation and some guidelines for how to live a mindful and ethical life. he also talks a lot about god. my sense is that for most yogis there is much more going on at the level of an enjoyable embodied experience of breath, awareness and community – and that imposing the dualistic ascetic religiosity of patanjali onto this makes very little sense – and for my money actually closes the door to a deeper, richer, more relevant inquiry into the nature of transformation.

    my sense is that americans became fascinated with yoga as part of a counter cultural movement towards discovering interior meaning and personal growth outside of the narrow strictures of judaeo-christian religion. certainly for me – i have never been looking for a new religion. i am not interested in having a religion at all – i am interested in a practice that allows me to live fully, love deeply, think clearly and connect to myself and others in meaningful ways. i care as much about being liberated from the material realm as i do about going to heaven when i die – which is to say not at all, because neither represent anything real to me.

    for me, and i think for many people, yoga and meditation have been so appealing because they require no religious faith – they are about working with your own body and mind.

    the context in which we work with our bodies and minds using some of the tools form yoga has evolved and transformed. personally i find the notion that i am doing these practices with faith in them liberating me from the material plane quaint, outdated and beside the point.

    the practices still do what they have always done – they deepen awareness, balance the nervous system, are great for the muscles and joints, give us space to cultivate compassion, mindfulness and insight, and activate some very powerful neuroendocrinal energies……. but do they manifest paranormal abilities? no. do they inevitably lead to an embrace of hindu metaphysics based on direct experence? i don't think so.

    for me the metaphysics and ascetic dogmas of some thinkers in the broad and rich tradition are actually distinct from the practices. my sense is that the practices actually transcend their religious and cultural context and as such are universal…. we can now use the universal language of science to make sense of what they actually do in terms of brain, body, nervous system etc – and can integrate more recent insights about psychology, trauma, sense of self etc that have come along way since patanjali and the buddha – brilliant as they were.

    everything evolves, human knowledge keeps deepening and for me one of the great obstacles toward a pragmatic, integrated and grounded spirituality is the romanticizing of any ancient tradition as if it had a monopoly on truth, was a doorway into the supernatural, and somehow contained secret knowledge that we have fallen from in our worldly ways….

    dualism is still dualism.

    ascetic ideas are still ascetic ideas.

    namig these clearly and asking ourselves what we actually think of them today is i think good practice too!

  25. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    being skeptical of paranormal powers until there is a shred of evidence for them is in fact the opposite of dogma – and it is cheap and cynical rhetoric designed to give cover to unfounded beliefs to suggest otherwise!

    hahaha savior in a test tube – funny! :)

    perhaps i am not being clear: human beings all have the same basic anatomy. the practices work whatever your metaphysical persuasion; they do what they do at a level that is now understandable using science. science is a universal language in the sense that it gives us experimental data that is true or false regardless of who is looking, what their culture or religious beliefs may be…

    the real thing is human life and experience in the actual universe we live in – i accept no substitute in the form of literalized myth and transcendentalist fantasy.

  26. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    using religious terms like"dogma," "fundamentalism" or "faith" to characterize valuing scientific method is a cheap piece of cynical rhetoric and has the added disadvantage of being incorrect.

    a shred of evidence would be any paranormal or supernatural claim ever having been demonstrable under conditions where it was not possible to cheat, and under which biases had been eliminated – we call that "science" but really it is just a way of ensuring we are not fooling ourselves or being fooled – it is actually the opposite of dogmatism.

  27. Thaddeus1 says:

    I would be interested to know in what sense the application of these terms regarding your adherence to, and belief in, science are a mischaracterization. Here are the definitions of the terms that you label "religious"…

    Dogma: something held as an established opinion; especially : a definite authoritative tenet b : a code of such tenets c : a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds
    Fundamentalism: Strict maintenance of ancient or fundamental doctrines of any religion or ideology
    Faith: confidence or trust in a person or thing

    So while typically one finds these terms utilized regarding religion it's obvious that their meanings extend beyond the religious realms. And quite to the contrary there is nothing "cheap" about my choice to use them. My education in philosophy has run me well over fifty thousand dollars and I can't say that your position is much different than that which I encountered on a daily basis while in the American university system regarding the power, promise and ignorance of science. However, I must wonder what makes you so willing to accept one system over another? And if you honestly believe that science operates independent of biases, then I fear you sadly, and perhaps purposefully, fooling yourself. There are none so blind as those who refuse to see.

    And so, if you are unwilling, or unable, to examine the degree to which your championing of science, and the processes of knowledge construction which constitute it, are no different in essence than the critiques you proffer against those you disparagingly label "fundamentalists and antiquated," then there really is no where else for us to go.

  28. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    oh gosh – i have to argue with this postmodern viewpoint almost every day. so tiresome!

    this is simple. science is based in evidence. religion is based on faith – which is belief without evidence.

    science changes it's views based on observation and experimentation.

    religion denies observation so that belief can be preserved.

    the ways in which the words dogma, faith and fundamentalism apply to religion are inapplicable to science for the very reason that science is open to new evidence and it's tenets are based on a method that uses experimentation and checking data with others, as well as mechanisms for reducing bias.

    science changes over time because new discoveries force it to – scientists cannot hold onto old beliefs when they are shown to be false and they must accept new data if it is shown to be true.

    scientific method is the single most spectacularly successful endeavor in human history in terms of discovering what is actually the case.

    are there other ways of knowing, other domains of truth? OF COURSE. poetic metaphor, mythic symbolism, contemplative introspection, creative self-expression…. BUT the moment any of those approaches makes claims that are in the domain of science those claims are examinable and must stand or fall on the terms of the scientific method if they want to be taken seriously.

    religion is what we used before science to fill in the gaps of our understanding – god did it, they are possessed by demons, the position of the stars made the earthquake happen because poseidon was angry with us, we have to sacrifice a virgin or an animal to the sun god so as to keep the cycles of the earth turning, the hunt and the harvest plentiful .

    with the movement away from superstition, magical thinking and mythic literalism, we have opened up the universe to be explored as it actually is – and guess what? no unicorns, no disembodied spirits, no demons or angels, no mind/body dualism that would allow for transmigration of souls, no god sitting up on a cloud, hiding in the center of each atom or pulling the strings of earthly events.

    now i know you have a pile of books about how science is merely another perspective, a biased belief system that shapes the world to its own agenda – but as far as i can tell (and i have heard this from so many spiritually minded overeducated people who have succumbed to extreme relativism and think that everything from postmodernism to quantum physics provide a loophole for improbable supernaturalism) it is simply bunk.

  29. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    gosh darn if some spiritual folk don't hate on science and reason! hooooiey! it's the devil y'all – science done took away our toys and reason done made us grow up and get real….. and we HATE it! hmph – we want to live in a world of plastic magic, because we have forgotten how to see the real stuff: nature, art love, consciousness, existence itself!

    don't tell me unicorns aren't real! what's "reality" anyways?!?!

    it's a mystery and there is no way of knowing if unicorns do or don't exist or if the whole universe began as a unicorn fart – ya big meanie!

    you can basically riff on the above argument for days and come up with ANY and ALL of the new age postmodern nonsense i contend with daily…

    poseidon save me!!!!! :) ;) :)

    we cling to superstition and supernaturalism like they will save us from the world – not realizing that our salvation is in the world we are seeking to saved from – in our mortality, in our emotions, in our relationships, in our capacity to think and imagine and then check our thoughts and imaginings with experimentation and careful inquiry into whether or not they are true and beautiful and good…

    vague spiritual folks of the world let go – you have nothing to lose but your spacey-ness! :) nothing to fear from thinking clearly and embracing reality – only a whole universe of real, powerful, complex, beautiful existence.

    sorry – we still die at the end though, and bad things still happen to good people, and people with mental illness are not really enlightened and LSD + ancient prophecy + raw food are not a way to open any secret portal to never, never land.

    neither quantum physics nor postmodernism provide a loophole in reality through which to drive the truck of magical thinking or romanticizing ancient beliefs.

    get over it.

    reality's quite nice – jump in! :)

    but no! we MUST believe ludicrous things – otherwise how could we be spiritual!? ;)

  30. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    you misunderstand my position.

    there are many forms of knowledge, several kinds of truth.

    spiritual practices give us access to our inner world – but the moment we make claims that are in the empirical domain based on spirituality those claims must be subjected to scientific method or else we are just protecting a fantasy.

    there are many types of experiential truth – those of music, emotion, art, and even meditative experience that stand on their own without scientific evaluation, but there is a line and it is self-evident.

    i can say beethoven's music fills me with a sense of love and meaning. great.

    but if i say that beethoven's music has the power to cure cancer – well that is an empirical claim and if i am serious about it, then i should be absolutely down with it being put to the test to see if it is actually true.

    i can say that in meditation i was filled with peace. but if i claim that meditation can cure bipolar disorder why let's put that to the test – could be big news.

    and if i say meditation gives me the ability to levitate i had better not insist that it is only in a dark room by myself! :)

    you fall a bit predictably here into the" burden of proof" fallacy – no-one needs to "disprove" any extraordinary claim like disembodied spirits – these claims need to be proven in order to be accepted by reasonable people.

    you are also performing the standard misrepresentation of science. it is actually a virtue that science changes over time – that the truths of science are indeed provisional. there is of course a method of demonstrating new knowledge that overturns or forces a revision of what was previously held as true. the progression from newton to einstein to quantum physics to string theory is not a devastating blow against empirical truth, but a demonstration of the difference between religion and science. further, these revolutions in physics have expanded upon existing knowledge more than refuted it. gravity still applies even though einstein refined our understanding of it curving the fabric of space. the laws of classical physics still apply, even though at the quantum level there is some anomalous and wild behavior….

    with a method as open to change based on evidence, if there was any for anything supernatural it would actually require science to revise a lot of things….. the simple fact is there isn't so it hasn't – if it ever does it will be the biggest news in the history of news and i will eat my hat!

    the other standard fallacies that are probably on the tip of your tongue basically fall into the "argument from ignorance" and "god of the gaps" positions….. basically science doesn't know everything, you can't explain such and such an anecdotal phenomenon, here fore my supernatural explanation MUST be the truth.

    hopefully we can avoid going down that path… have a good night my friend. :)

  31. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    i am so sorry that your philosophy education led you down this blind creationist alley thaddeus.

    this argument is nonsensical, but one i encounter a lot in true believers.

    it mischaracterizes science and insists on a kind of extremist skepticism that foregoes the pragmatic common sense nature of knowledge.

    you once again perpetuate the burden of proof fallacy, just in a slightly more complex soft shoe shuffle.

    i don't have to prove the non-existence of anything. on one level this is of course impossible and a meaningless endeavor. i cannot prove that you are not an alien from the pleidies, nor can i prove that there is no such thing as a leprachaun.

    on another level there is no need to prove all the things that do not exist. i no more have to prove the non-existence of god or ghosts or disembodied souls than i have to prove the non-existence of talking grasshoppers, conscious rocks, a great bear spirit or minotaurs.

    in order to say something does not exist, all that is required is that there be no evidence for its existence. this is simple and pragmatic and we all live our lives based on this kind of common sense every day in every area except for the oddly compartmentalized space reserved by some people for religious ideas and beliefs.

    as for "anything you can't see, feel or touch" oh my – there are many things we have evidence for that can't be seen, felt or touched – but we do have extensions of the senses in the form of instruments like microscopes etc… then there are things like the higgs-boson that a whole set of physics equations require in order to be consistent, but which we have yet to observe….

    the tired old argument that science is limited and so therefore the humble thing is to stay open to certain ideas (like the possibility of a god) is again a version of the argument from ignorance mashed up with the god of the gaps idea.

    these are all fallacies and used only by people who want to believe unreasonable things and have found a way to make philosophical reasoning appear to justify this desire. it does not.

  32. dan says:

    The burden of proof is on the one making the assertion. If we're born a “blank slate” (though we aren't) then the burden is on anyone, so too the theist. But in a room of theists, the burden is on the non-theist, assuming they want to prove their view, so too the anti-theist. Fallacies critique the presentation of the argument, not the central claim; the pointing out them is the most overused rhetorical device of modern atheism. While seemingly offered as a kindness, outside a classroom they almost always come off as patronizing and I-told-you-so-neener-neener, said not to educate or improve the argument but “for the win,” and certainly not for peace. Appeals to common sense and emotions are a fallacies, existence is a fallacy because it can embody contradictions.

  33. dan says:

    Making an appeal to get educated- there's a fallacy for that! Snark aside, thanks for the education, I just had a long conversation just yesterday and about Latour, fun stuff.

  34. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    oh get over yourself. you have made a pet out of supernaturalism and demon out of science because it calls your pet imaginary. what's worse you have used a graduate level education to try and justify this superstition with with pretentious arguments – at some level i think even you know this is bullshit.

    again with the rhetoric that makes science and reason into some kind of religious dogma! nonsense.

    the whole point is that no-one has to bow down to any authoritarian pronouncements in science – the experimental data does all the work….. all of us take this basic sanity fro granted when driving down the street or pouring scalding water into a cup – but start talking about spirituality and suddenly there is this ivory tower nonsensical postmodern abstraction that hew and haws about the nature of reality and what constitutes truth.

  35. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    there is absolutely no reason that a profound and substantive spirituality cannot exist side by side with an intelligent interpretation of poetic metaphor and mythic symbol and a basic honesty about what science shows us about the universe.

    deny science and misinterpret metaphor and indeed there appears to be a contradiction and a conflict – this is only necessary if you insist on asserting the existence of some literal spirit world, mind/body dualism, life after death, ghosts, demons, angels, afterlives and an ultimate eternal, parental god…….. having the integrity, courage and existential honesty to let go of such outdated nonsense while still trusting that there is a valuable and real spirituality possible is the next step in terms of a real integration.

    failing that, spirituality remains superstitious, pre-rational, anti-science and interprets the claims of the mentally ill as a kind of higher knowledge, creating a set of psychological defenses for people who can't accept reality.

    failing that, spirituality remains nonsensical hokum in the eyes of sane, educated, non-delusional people who nonetheless could benefit from the true gifts of interior spiritual experience and becoming fluent in a healthy metaphorical language…

    let's not perpetuate the split with pseudoscience, idealization of pre-scientific cultures, new age magical thinking, extreme postmodern relativism, fancy fallacious reasoning, and pretentious philosophical posturing!

  36. dan says:

    You should read the authors Thaddeus1 has suggested, or at least their wikipedia entries. It is precisely because the experimental data is always limited and often flawed by our expectations that they're critiques push actual science (the boring kind, not the potpourri we enjoy in the popular press) forward.
    "get over it" lol

  37. dan says:

    What does science show us about the universe? Who here is denying science? Given the tangents and emotional outbursts taken in your replies, I have to wonder. That you think because something meets a standard of "nonsensical hokum" (apparently sensible hokum exists?) it is incorrect, I would encourage you to research the history of tectonic plates as science. Similarly, you might be interested to know that while discovering contradictions (like teaching the Vijnana Bhairava given what you say here) is at the heart of reason, ridicule is entirely subjective.

  38. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    no offesne guys – i just observe that on any given today it is very easy to find on FB or EJ any number of people who will try and make ludicrous intellectual (and often quite educated) arguments for one or all of the following:

    1) science being merely one perspective.

    2) mental illness actually being a glimpse of the spirit world.

    3) quantum physics meaning magical thinking is real.

    4) pseudoscience claims being at the growing edge of human knowledge.

    i just get tired of this after a while, and am championing a contemporary spirituality that has moved beyond such odd tap dancing to try and make supernaturalism plausible.

    sorry if that is not where you are coming from…..

    all the best
    ~j

  39. athayoganusasanam says:

    You say you are "championing a contemporary spirituality", but what can you possibly consider to be "spirituality" if there is no connection to the Divine, to spirit?

  40. dan says:

    You are championing materialism- nothing new or contemporary about that. Are those four an admission that the curious tangents you take are to avoid criticism and instead focus on your pet-peeves, namely the lack of control you have to make people share your beliefs? I know lots of stupid people, can I have a gold star? (yes, that's snark)

  41. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    there is a connection to the only divinity or spirit that has ever existed – which is a symbolic concept, a metaphor in the human mind that represents our highest aspirations and potentials.

    not only is it not necessary to have any kind of religious faith in a literal supernatural realm or being in order to have a spiritual life – i think it actually gets in the way and stunts one's growth beyond a certain level….

    the audacious proposition is that spirituality has to do with our humanity, our awareness, our capacity for compassion and insight and personal transformation – and that none of this is in any way dependent on believing unreasonable and outdated superstition based largely in an untenable mind/body dualism and supernatural mythic literalism.

  42. Thaddeus1 says:

    "there is a connection to the only divinity or spirit that has ever existed – which is a symbolic concept, a metaphor in the human mind that represents our highest aspirations and potentials."…now that's a claim for which I would personally like some proof…how does one go about showing this through science, without merely claiming the absence of its opposite as evidence?

  43. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    a compelling argument indeed! ok – you're right spirit is spirit because it's spirit and you don't believe me.

  44. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    thaddeus, i am afraid have missed my whole point if you think i am saying that every claim has to be empirically verifiable. this is not my position at all and i have said it several times! :)

    i am putting (a la joseph campbell and i think anyone who takes the study of poetic symbol and mythic image seriously) the concept of spirit in the interior, metaporical, symbolic category rather than the literal, exterior, empirical category…. this makes sense to me, because there continues to be zero evidence for an empirical, externally located, literal "spirit" but nonetheless a very real and beautiful symbolic, metaphorical, interior place for this concept as an experiential signpost that points toward compassion, beauty, awe and wisdom.

    why would anyone have a problem with this observation – and what is it that needs to be "proven" about it?

    do i have to "prove" that unicorns are constructs of the mind, or are we comfortable agreeing that horses with wings do not exist outside of the imagination?

    do i have to prove that demons and angels are metaphors for energies, feelings, aspects of out inner selves, or are we comfortable agreeing that there are no horned evil beings that mean us harm or winged beatific ones that mean us good?

    i am baffled at how this stuff is difficult to accept for educated people in our times.

  45. dan says:

    So, you like it because it doesn't have to be proven- that's called faith by most.

  46. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    hmmmm – so 1) what would the opposite of "materialism" be – and 2) what is the one major criticism you feel i am avoiding dan?

    in order not to be a dreaded materialist does one have to believe in a spirit world, disembodied consciousness, pantheistic universe, mind-body dualism, life after death and invisible god – all on faith?!

    being a "materialist" is simply observing the nature of reality, but this includes the fact biology does give rise to consciousness, love, beauty, meaning etc – and this is not denied by recognizing that no matter = no mind. that this is still controversial blows mine!

    in terms of the mind-body problem i think john searle gives the best account of how to relate consciousness and biology – like him my position is that consciousness is a property of the brain, but that the ontology of consciousness is entirely unique.

    i think this whole debate (and everything related to it in a spiritual sense) turns on the mind/body problem and we cannot have an intelligent integrated spirituality until we catch up with the vast majority of scientists and philosophers in letting go of pre-20th century ideas of mind/body dualism….. unfortunately the nature of the brain's evolution means that we are all innately dualists until otherwise educated (as with our sense of the flat earth, the sun moving around us and a bag of feathers falling slower than a rock of the same weight) as to the incorrectness of our intuitions.

    m formulation is this : for reasons that are evolutionarily advantageous, the brain does not know itself as a brain – this starts all the talk of disembodied consciousness, which persists in spite of not a single shred of evidence for any such thing anywhere..

    i think you are not hearing everything i am saying about the value of the inner life, the power of metaphor and symbol, the spiritual journey that is possible without buying into make believe. i think perhaps for you – as for many spiritually inclined people this sounds cold and empty without the imaginary friend, parental deity or invisible animating intelligence made literal….

    i am saying that in the world we live in today these kinds of beliefs are not only untenable, but they require a profoundly split compartmentalization that forces an incongruent, irrational, defensive belief system.

    i am (as i have said throughout) deeply in love with and in favor of spiritual practice and the profound insights, compassion, healing processes and personal development they make possible – i just think we can turn off the flashing neon sign of paranormal promises and superstitious fantasy.

  47. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    you're just trying to be clever dan. there are many things that do not have to be proven, and still do not fall into the category of "faith":

    the beauty of beethoven, the love between friends, the poignancy of a movie, the sublime nature of a deep meditation – it is only when one over-reaches these perfectly legitimate subjective claims into the objective domain that they require "faith" and are made nonsensical:

    if i say beethoven is so beautiful his music must have come been channeled from another dimension, or that the love between my friend and i can only be explained by past lives, or that the movie is so poignant because the film-maker was personally instructed by god – and in any of these statements you are NOT being metaphorical – why then you are making empirical claims that require proof.

    why is this distinction so hard to understand?

    it is a tired and slippery tactic that says – well there you say beethoven is beautiful or meditation is meaningful but you cannot "prove" this so therefore your argument about supernatural claims being unevidenced is a sham – where's your science now you irrationalist?!

    come on.

  48. Thaddeus1 says:

    First off, I would like to begin by expressing concern for fixation on unicorns. I'm not sure it is healthy for a man of your age and occupation.

    But seriously, fortunately or unfortunately, I think I understand your positions quite clearly. However, I'm not confident that I could say the same for you regarding the operative assumptions that make your positions problematic.

    You are absolutely correct in asserting that not all claims need to be empirically verifiable. But, if this was the whole of the story, you and I could be best friends and hang out together on Saturday nights.

    But your main contention is that when claims enter into the realm of the "objective", then they must stand up to the verification of a scientific inquiry. Thus, when you say, "there is a connection to the only divinity or spirit that has ever existed – which is a symbolic concept, a metaphor in the human mind that represents our highest aspirations and potentials," you are making an assertion about the nature of the world, which according to your own standards needs empirical verification. Now, your out here is to maintain that your above statement is merely meant to be understood symbolically or metaphorically, otherwise, at least for the sake of your own internal consistency stand up and provide your evidence. If I were to assert the contrary, you surely wold require the same for me, so what makes you so special? This, amongst other statements (including but not limited to that "biology gives rise to consciousness" and that the "brain does not know itself as a brain"), are going to require at the very least some argument, evidence and citation and not simple assertion.

    Now, if you can provide the above beyond an unequivocal doubt, I would imagine you stand a good chance of earning at least one Nobel prize in the coming year, if not at least a tenured position at some prestigious university. If not, then perhaps you should explore the limitations of scientific thinking in your own life, cause you currently are way out of bounds.

  49. dan says:

    I have no particular problem with people being materialists (that I demonize it is all you- your pet-peeve), though when they say their position is the only correct and intractable one, that Kundalini is metaphor, I know this is just a fundamentalist position, a fear tactic designed to limit experience, replacing "make believe" with metaphor. I am "hearing" what you say about your version of a valuable inner life, but in a materialist frame, such a thing takes on a different set of priorities and purpose than the texts you use to teach with do (the ys and vb), for as materialist, they become not something that unbinds time, or connects with some actual fundament of reality but a way to explore/enjoy "it" while "it" lasts. It fits your ideology, and of course any system can be made whole if it cuts off what doesn't work in it… you value what you value, but that doesn't make those values "true" No worries, kundalini is not metaphor in my own personal experience, [insert insensitive, divisive "sorry you ride the short-bus" joke here, to show that I too can be nasty and short-sighted, particularly when it comes to mental health and neurobiology].

  50. athayoganusasanam says:

    in truth julian, there is no point arguing with you. reading over your previous wordy arguments what i feel most is compassion for you, and sadness that you have lived for so many years without grace and without an authentic and love-filled relationship to spirit. what a scary and lonely world that must be.

  51. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    interesting points my (non saturday night hanging out) friend. i will think this through and get back to you… :)

  52. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    actually i experience and introduce people to a powerful set of experiences involving phenomena that can be understood via kundalini, and actually require a great deal more courage and open-ness than most of what gets bandied about in the usually fluffy name of chakras – but i think it is wise to correlate the imaginal/mytho-poetic descriptions from various cultures about such phenomena with observations as to how this is a psychological, biological, physiological, neuro-endocrine process that is innate to the human body and transcends cultural lables and metaphysical overlays.

  53. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    i understand that ancient formulations of yoga and indeed most spirituality include a pre-occupation with eternal life and ultimate divine beings – they include a belief in supernaturalism (which for my money is the only alternative to the materialism you decry) and frame the journey of spirituality in terms of discovering some hidden reality, meaning or transcendent truth that is beyond the material world.

    my sense is that in our times such beliefs are untenable – and that in fact contemporary spirituality can move beyond the superstition and misperception of pre-scientific, mythic literalist, magical thinking of cultures that didn't know any better.

    my proposition is that yoga and meditation still stand tall as brilliant systems of self-transformation without any of the cultural religious baggage that understandably surround their history.

  54. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    i completely disagree and absolute take exception at the indirect/passive aggressive characterization of racism.

    it is not necessary for there to be a literal capitalized source or being in order for life to be meaningful.

    compassion, meaning, wisdom and the benefits of spiritual practice are completely unchanged by relinquishing supernatural beliefs.

  55. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    you misunderstand me if you think i am saying it is all metaphor – i am saying there are powerful experiences that are being described metaphorically form a subjective, impressionist culture-bound, prescientific perspective….. what is being described is actually a neurobiological process and this makes it no less spiritual or profound, in fact it grounds it in reality and makes it more REAL.

    yes VB is non-dual, hence my interest in sharing it alongside patanjali's dualistic position. i go one step further in my position on non-dualism and attempt to integrate science and spirituality.

    you i feel are very committed to a religious belief in supernatural beings and paranormal phenomena – i think these are beside the point in a substantive and integrated contemporary spirituality.

    we can disagree and leave it at that – thanks for your time and energy.

    have a great day dan!
    ~julian

  56. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    i disagree. truth transcends culture and ancient formulations of truth whether middle eastern, indian, european or south american have all had to be re-evaluated as human knowledge has progressed.

    mythic literalism, magical thinking and supernaturalism are common to all pre-scientific cultures and an intelligent and integrated contemporary spirituality has to be up to date with what we now know about reality.

    this includes relinquishing old world superstition and seeing through the regressive romantic relativism that associates spirituality with belief in the ultimate nature of ancient conceptions and suspicion of science, psychology and existential honesty.

    i am not a cultural elitist or racist – but an equal opportunity critic of mythic literalism, magical thinking and supernaturalism as it exists in all cultures and traditions, we just happen to be talking about yoga.

    i am no more in thrall to any literal belief in yahweh or zeus or qutzalcoatl than i am to shiva or brahman. (all of which have wonderful archetypal and poetic value by the way!)

    i am not seeking a new religion from any ancient culture, but am interested in which contemplative practices still make sense, are beneficial and can be integrated with what we know about the world we live in today.

  57. Thaddeus1 says:

    Here's another empirical claim I would like to see supported…"what is being described is actually a neurobiological process and this makes it no less spiritual or profound, in fact it grounds it in reality and makes it more REAL." In addition to patiently waiting for your response to my above questions, I'm also dying to know "what we know about the world we live in today." In all honesty, the suspense is killing me (i hope it lasts)…(bonus points for character and movie in which the previous is said).

  58. Thaddeus1 says:

    I'm still waiting…

  59. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    wow!

    do you completely deny the progress of human knowledge?

    i know it may seem as you say – but what do you think of the possibility that there are innate experiences that transcend cultural labels and metaphysical beliefs which can and should be reinterpreted as we learn more about the body, brain and cosmos than people who tried to explain such phenomena with their more limited knowledge at the time?

  60. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    ah glad you are so interested thaddeus – thanks for all your time and energy – and thanks to dan too if you are still around and reading this!

    i understand your criticism, but as you might guess do not agree.

    i want to simplify the example to make my point:

    person a: i am making offerings to poseidon in the hope that he will spare us from the kind of earthquake/tsunami and nuclear disaster that happened in japan.

    person b: that's a little outdated don't you think, we know now that poseidon is not the cause of such phenomena – it has to do with tectonic plates and various other overdetermined geological forces.

    person a: well you can't prove that poseidon is not the cause.

    person b: i don't have to, poseidon has not literal external existence. he is an archetypal, make-believe human construct – a personification of the forces of nature that at an earlier time we did not understand.

    person a: that is racist toward the ancient greeks and besides i thought you valued science – can your prove anything you just said.

    person b: i don't have to.

    i really don't have to.

  61. eye-rolling guest says:

    if that is your version of empirical proof, you got a looooooooooooooooooooong lot of studying to do.

  62. Thaddeus1 says:

    Well, okay…me neither then…

  63. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    hahahaha – you guys are funny!

    touche.

    look, the basic distinction i am claiming here is a simple one – even though i know we disagree on it:

    i am saying that interior contemplative experience tells us more about the nature of the brain and psyche than it does about anything outside the brain or psyche.

    poetry, dreams, mythology, archetypal formulations, altered states induced by spiritual practice or drugs, all have a metaphorical quality about them – they are not literal representations of the outside world, of beings in the outside world, of the nature of the universe itself etc…

    now you ask: well does this statement itself not require empirical proof?

    the answer is that i don't think so and here's why: it is a statement about the difference between literal and metaphorical language and about the difference between interior reverie and external observation.

    i no more need to prove that poseidon is an archetype with no literal existence than i have to prove that antonio machado's bee-hive in the heart where failures are turned into sweet honey and white combs by golden bees is not literally true.

    these are not extraordinary claims – they are self evident observations about the nature of metaphorical speech – and perhaps about the evolution of our understanding of myth making, metaphorical symbol and archetype.

    is it materialist? well i prefer the term "naturalist," and i might call the position i am espousing "spiritual naturalism" – that all spiritual experience has it's basis in the natural world, most notably the activity of the brain.

    the position that poseidon is an archetype and that archetypes are not literal beings with existence outside of the human psyche is uncontroversial – as it would be for quetzalcoatl, satan, the virgin mary, allah etc for most of us.

    the only way to really respond to challenges that this is "as unscientific" as claims that they are beings with their own independent existence would be to point to two things: 1) the lack of evidence for any such thing and 2) the history of comparative mythology a la joseph campbell.

    when we start to talk about the metaphorical nature of archetypes, mythology and poetry we are in the domain of the humanities – though i will grant you there is a naturalist underpinning that says these things cannot be literal and so how can we understand their meaning and value in other ways.

    from a kind of neurotheology/biological naturalist/evolutionary perspective the question becomes how do we account for such ideas, beliefs and experiences in terms of the brain.

    this gets us into a few things:

    1) dennett's explanation of "the intentional stance" – a philosophical hypothesis, similarly not empirically provable but based in some scientific observations.

    2) cognitive science's "theory of mind" idea regarding how we form an internal representation of the minds of others even though we have no direct access.

    3) ramachandran's experiments with temporal lobe epileptic patients and these implications for religious experience, prophecy, scripture, and ascetic renunciation of sex etc…

    4) sapolsky's observations (again philosophical and psychological, but not empirically demonstrated) about the probable origins of religion in schizotypalism and OCD – but in people with otherwise high functioning brains and an ability to modulate their mental illness effectively to gain power and influence.

    5) persinger's "god helmet" experiments, which demonstrate that most people can be induced into sensing a presence, having auditory hallucinations, reporting a sense of god or aliens and other phenomena by stimulating their temporal lobes with electromagnetism.

    6) my own observation that "the brain does not experience itself as a brain" and so therefore cannot help but imagine consciousness as somehow distinct from matter and biology etc…

  64. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    if you are interested in links to any of these sources i would be happy to provide them……

    i really do appreciate all your time and know your position is a sincere and well-thought out one.

    ultimately we differ over something central that i doubt either of can change in the other.

  65. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    haha! well played.

    so all epistemological claims are on the same level, there is no way of telling the difference between interior and exterior experience and literal and metaphorical statements are on equal footing and cannot be reasonably said to refer to different types of things?

    have a good day thaddeus..

  66. Thaddeus1 says:

    Personally, that's all a little too new-agey and relativist for my liking. I would say, having gone through all that we have gone through, that the world is real, always has been, always will be. Likewise, the Truth is always Itself….was, is and will always be. Our debate, at least for me, has centered around how and what is the best way to access, learn and know about this world. This does not in the least require me to accept all claims as equal and inviolable. Can we be done now, cause we're running out of room?

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