February 3, 2011

Open Source Asana: Yoga 2.0

I loved reading Carol Horton’s piece the other day. It was very gratifying to see a big chunk of the recent scholarship of yoga demystification on a single blog-shelf.  And when she blurted out her open equation:

“New Information about Modern Yoga” + “New Ways of Communicating about Contemporary Practice” = ???

…my kundalini curled right up into her question marks, all aflutter, because I think our yoga ??? is happening all around us, if we take a closer look.

Mark Singleton has proven that asana is a trans-colonial wiki-project. D.G. White has excavated the heritage of the yogi as the badass counter-culture body-cloner-and-snatcher. Phil Goldberg has shown that our ongoing Indo-Emersonian dialogue frames the pragmatic anarchy of modern spirituality: whatever turns me on, from wherever I get it, however it works. The scholars have confirmed what’s in our hearts, pinning footnotes to our footpaths. Our footpaths—social, spiritual, intellectual—are networked, democratic, globalized, and techno. We’re running on them, blind and giddy.

So: how does new yoga content interface with new media, and what does this mean for practice?

My own experience confirms my inner McLuhan: the media molds the content, and the results are new tools in the yogic mode that reflect and serve an evolving consciousness.

I’ll survey 3 examples that exemplify our 2.0 yoga status-update: the CGI asana zombies by Ray Long, online classes and yoga blogging (too many links to shake a mouse at).  I’ll look at their raw data (some influx of new information about modern yoga or naturalized into it), the media they use, and then speculate about the practical revelations that are emerging. These are speculations only, and will naturally feel like smoke blown up the ass to some people. So, to make this pleasurable, let’s all release our pelvic floors together, and begin.

1. Ray Long and Chris Macivor use CGI zombies to help us visualize the transcendent anatomy of hatha posture.

~ New information about modern yoga. Actionable anatomical detail in asana comes through the channel of modern-era, dissection-driven medicine.  Period.  There are no comparable archaic sources.  The old-timey hatha yogis surely knew ass from elbow, but they also thought eating mercury was good for the ligaments.  Every notable alignment teacher in modern yoga has imported medical anatomy into the yogashala from physiotherapy, kinesiology and/or pilates. We brought it to yoga. We added it to yoga. It’s new. We like it, because it makes us safe and aware and intelligent. There’s are good reasons we respect that old Krishnamacharya, but don’t look to him for asana guidance.

~ New media. The medical dissection, animated and spinning. A lot of graphic design power. It’s still a little 1.0 in its lack of interactivity—we’re waiting for the Wii version, Ray! I want my asana zombie avatar!

~New practical revelations. How does this forge a new yoga?

> Even the medical zombie can be sattvic.  This is very important in our continuing fascination with the grotesque.

> “We murder to dissect” said Alexander Pope.  Practicing with Ray’s images is a new kind of death meditation.

> It’s also a meditation on concealing and revealing. The yogi has always been naked, but the Long zombie goes way beyond the buff. There’s something post-erotic going on here. The clothes concealed the flesh, the flesh concealed the muscle, the muscle conceals the bone. The bone conceals the atman?

> In post-Ray asana, the mind can visualize precise insertions and attachments, the ropes and pulleys of kinesis.  More visual info in a hypervisual world.  But what does this continued emphasis on the visual do to the other senses?

> In the midst of his hyperreal, hypermaterialist aesthetic, Long plops in chakras—glowing—sci-fi style.  Who can grow up in the Star Trek era and not have this perfectly filleted yet radiant warrior trigger our freshly planted archetypes of holography and sub-space transport?  The green-glowing heart-chakra makes it look like Scotty’s initiating a beam-up. The Long zombie is the aesthetic love-child of B.K.S. Iyengar, Gene Roddenberry, and Alex Grey (the uncanny link between Lululemon and Star-Trek fashion is for another post).

Photo of Tony Lucero by Michael Clinard.

But Long is also poking at subconscious implications.  Perhaps cryogeny becomes more attractive.  Or, do the corpses of tantric rituals decompose more elegantly?  More importantly, because their skin is off, Ray’s yoga zombies are identical to each other, and identical medicalized bodies become a universal body. A Purusha-zombie. The universal body suggests a coherent internality. The uniformity of the yoga zombie subliminally supports the subconsciously belief in atman.  Useful or not?  Depends on your patience for metaphysics. The same phenom doesn’t happen with Gunther von Hagens Body World. There’s nothing universal about Gunther’s zombies, but they seem more alive to me. I can smell their piss and blood.

2. Online classes and trainings may well create new forms of intimacy that a pre-digital sangha could never understand.

~ New information about modern yoga. Humans now connect virtually as often as materially. Population density and general noise may be intensifying the search for solitude. Online classes deliver experience without travel, personal space relieved of relationships or social awkwardness (for those who need to get away from others to get back into the body). Authenticity in asana instruction has also become inextricable from the same visuality that governs aesthetics and fashion. This is not a moral failing, but simply the inevitable outcome of taking pictures of asanas.

~ New media. The content bank, accessible through membership paid through passive tithing (recurrent billing). Ultra-fast HD streaming. Constant availability. An account that saves favourites, shows you what others appreciate, skimming the collective cream.

~ New practical revelations. How does this forge a new yoga?

> In shamanic echoes, Scott Petrie and I wrote: “Internet classes are to yoga what internet porn is to sex.”  It was pejorative, and now I regret it. There are many folks doing this now for many reasons (time, expense, rural locale, social anxiety) and I refuse to make the mistake of accusing them of anything other than interest in breath, sensation, and the release of chronic gripping patterns in body and mind.

> Online learning allows the home to become the shala. Tapas in the living room can quickly and easily translate into tapas in the kitchen. It might make us remember that entering a modern studio means entering a commercial space, which may by its nature decrease the intimacy of the lesson or exchange. And no one can injure you with crappy assists in your home.

> The extra-earnest may use the online media to examine the difference between embodied and virtual connection and empathy.

> The extra-analytical will watch how online visual-media-based yoga will evolve according to the aesthetic rules of everything else. The conservative position is to complain that people will be fooled into wanting more fashion, less communion. The 2.0 position says that aesthetics can, and perhaps must, be an integral form of communion in a hypervisual world.

> To the extent that teachers and learners have yearning and personal integrity, they may be dissatisfied by whatever social alienation the technology imposes. This may create a dual pressure: the delivery platforms will have to offer continual upgrades in interactivity, and long-distance yoga romances will probably provoke gatherings.

> (Yomances caught into our shimmering tangled web).

I just have to get my head around the fact that I may never understand how my 21 year-old step-daughter became one of the most warmly socialized beings I know with fully two-thirds of her human contact streaming through wifi. She might be a different species from me. Loving such strange differences is a part of my yoga, my learning. Patanjali had nothing to say about this. (If you reply to this point in protest, try not to quote something abstract.)

3. Yoga blogging (yogging) is the new satsang.

~ New information about modern yoga. The briefest scan of EJ reveals a yoga mulligatawny: sour, salty, bitter, pungent, sweet (sometimes diabetically sweet), in a broth of questioning and cantankerousness. Yogging (not to be confused with Swedish jogging) is interdisciplinary, multicultural, trans-historical, post-colonial, aware, hip, lame, conservative, anarchic, critical, apologetic, and ebullient. Inquiry has never been more immediate. Intellectual and emotional provocation is now an hourly occurrence.

~ New media. The blog structure itself: an online diary that becomes a communal scratch-pad. The comment function democratizes communication, decentralizes knowledge, and pulls the yogger out of the ivory tower and into the mosh pit. Open-source formats make yoggers into publishers. (This is old-timey, actually: yogis have always been self-published. They never waited on editors.)

~New practical revelations. How does this forge a new yoga?

> Yogging amplifies worldview and metaphysics, because the definition of a good post mandates “establishing a clear point of view, immediately.” Yogging forces you to wear your school colors, even if you’re a dropout like me.

> Some of us have expressed concerned that online and visual modes (streaming classes and Ray Long powerpoints) will accelerate the ascendancy of asana amongst the eight limbs, leaving ethics and philosophy in the dust. Yogging disproves this. Debate has never been more vigorous and roaming. Many folks are spending more time on the EJ yoga tree as they are on their mats or zafus. Some will say they’re not practicing. How can we know?

> If you’re writing about it, you’re doing it. Break out of the Descartes box. Yoggers who write like reporters – standing outside and above and commenting – are short-changing yoga itself. The post is an asana for the mind. Good writing should perform what it describes. This means that straight opinions (including this one) have limited communicational juice. They must be antidoted with personal experience and elliptical imagery.  Like that time I lived in that cult and watched a woman die of a kundalini-provoked brain aneurysm. Or when I dreamt up the phrase “mutual orgasm of inquiry.” Experience and images are the yoga of writing. Opinions are filler—especially about doctrine. The kind of filler that constipates. There’s another opinion!

> Yogging makes yoga self-aware. So many yogis are reading and writing about what they do. It’s a puppy pile of self-and-other inquiry. Lots of nips and little growls, and some drool.

> When I’m disappointed in the yoggosphere because of pettiness or dogmatism or the yoga-trolls, I remember what one of my teachers said—“ Nevermind—95% of everything is crap.”

> Yogging moves fast. Yoggers know that within days their post can be buried. The resulting anxiety frames a paradox: it has never been easier to publish, and never been easier to be forgotten or covered over. Some might say that shrillness is the natural result, and surely this can be true. But this intense competitive pressure to communicate truly and well must also be deepening our contemplation.

So Carol—thank you for your ‘???.’ I think it’s the open door we need to start naming ourselves anew: zombie-loving online yoggers. Or whatever. It’s a lineage that can never institutionalize. It has no center. Its pleasure is the ecstatic vertigo of learning. The scholars can record it because it’s happening. It’s happening because we’re doing it.

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