September 23, 2009

Just back from lecture with yoga legend TKV Desikachar. {Yoga Journal Conference 2009, Estes Park}

elephantjournal.com, reporting from Yoga Journal Conference at Estes Park, Colorado.

TKV Desikachar represents, or rather giddily, enthusiastically embodies, the best of the yoga tradition. When he says “yoga,” he’s not referring merely to glorified stretching. He’s talking about a spiritual path, the path as laid out in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali.

The son of Krishnamacharya—the grandfather of modern yoga who taught BKS Iyengar (founder of Iyengar yoga; and who I got to interview some years back at YJ Estes Park), Pattabhi Jois (founder of Ashtanga yoga), TKS spoke to a three-fourths full, dark, cool-to-cold auditorium. After the intermission, only about 10% of the crowd left (probably to nap, there were quite a few bobbing heads in the Auditorim, perhaps do to all the yoga practice and cold coziness—everyone was wrapped up in their own coats and blankets and shawls).

TKV, while a bit hard to understand, is wildy enthusiastic about his subject: the path of yoga, health, and how it all applies to various sundry ailments he’s encountered in students over the years (there were extended anecdotes re: swollen feet, breast cancer and Parkinson’s).

The basic point that I’ll take away from his lecture: yoga ain’t merely about getting a “yoga butt”—though it probably owes much of its ongoing popularity to its practicality in fulfilling our exercise needs. Yoga is about “stilling” or “calming” the mind. About freeing ourselves from undo suffering caused by ignorance, attachment, habits and craving. Ahimsa, non-violence, isn’t (just) about being noble or Gandhi-like—it’s practical. If I hurt you, that’s bad for me. If I take money that is unclean, that’s bad for me. If I say negative things (even if they’re true, interestingly), that’s bad for all of us. If I fall in a manhole, it’s because I’m wrapped up in my own ego.

What’s the answer? Meditate. Breathe (pranayama). Cut out distractions like listening to music all the time. Develop your faith and practice, if only a little with consistency.

Sadly, the kind of yoga he espouses is becoming, like the polar bear, something of an endangered species. It’s up to us to determine the future of yoga. Will it be physical? Or a spiritual path? Or both?

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