Why Your Intellect is (or Can Be!) an Integral Part of Yoga.

Via Carol Horton
on Nov 16, 2011
get elephant's newsletter

I appreciate the intent behind Ed and Deborah Shapiro’s recent post, “Why Your Intellect is an Obstacle in Yoga.” Clearly, they hope to guide readers to a deeper experience of the practice, one that can only be experienced in the zone of consciousness that exists beyond the boundaries of words and concepts.

But I must respectfully – if strongly! – disagree with many of their words and concepts nonetheless. Because for the 99.999% of us (or more) who will never live exclusively in a state of perfected cosmic consciousness, ideas are important.

And the last thing that we need today is respected teachers telling yoga practitioners that they should shut down their minds and disrespect the positive powers of a critically engaged intellect.

Ed and Deborah are rightly concerned that some yoga students may be more concerned with memorizing the Sutras (for example) than with opening their hearts. But I would argue that when we bring the full power of our intellect to engaging with something like the Sutras, it can be a vital tool in igniting our hearts – and our spirits.

The problem in such cases isn’t too much use of the intellect – it’s too little. If we approach ancient texts like Sunday School platitudes to memorize in order to earn gold stars and assuage our egos, we’re engaging in rote learning, not critical thinking.

Not understanding the difference between superficial rote learning and critical thinking is a problem of epidemic proportions in the U.S. today. True education doesn’t mean cramming answers to a multiple choice test into your brain so that you can spit them back and earn an impressive score. Really educating yourself means opening yourself up to new ways of understanding your self and the world that you’re a part of. It means using the vast powers of your mind in ways that can rock your very soul.

True education, in other words, can be a lot like yoga. And there’s absolutely no reason why serious practitioners should not want to engage the powers of their intellect right along with those of their hearts.

The synergy of heart and mind ignites the spirit. And opens us up to a mystery that’s beyond yet also embodied in both.


About Carol Horton

Carol Horton, Ph.D. is the author of Race and the Making of American Liberalism, (Oxford University Press, 2005) and Yoga Ph.D.: Integrating the Life of the Mind and the Wisdom of the Body. With Roseanne Harvey, she is co-editor of 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice. Carol blogs at Think Body Electric, and enjoys social media via Facebook and Twitter.


13 Responses to “Why Your Intellect is (or Can Be!) an Integral Part of Yoga.”

  1. Posted to Elephant Main Facebook Page, my Facebook page, Twitter, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn.

    Bob W. Editor, Elephant Journal
    Yoga Demystified
    Facebook Twitter StumbleUpon

  2. chiara_ghiron says:

    Hi Carol

    seems to me like there may be an apparent conflict between a jnani andnbhakti approach here. You may want to check out the excellent site that Mike King put together on the subject http://www.jnani.org/jnani.html.
    I understand perfectly what you mean, feeling that I am also more of a jnani type, but there are some parts of yoga, and of understanding in general, which probaly only permeate fully if we give up attempting rational understanding and just use trust.

    In any case, I think that the ultimate goal is the same, so the differences may only be on the surface and not real ones, although I think I see your concerns on the dangers implied in trusting false gurus and encountering false knowledge

    For a jnani individual, the bhakti approach does indeed sound almost maddening. At least this is my gut reaction but I am trying to open my mind to different possibilities of understanding


  3. Aren't we fortunate that the Bhagavad Gita figured this all out for us 2500 years ago!

    Different Yoga Strokes for Different Yoga Folks (GN #9)

    Yoga of Understanding (GN #10)

    4.33, 4.37-39, 4.42, 5.4-5, 6.29-32, 7.2, 9.2, 9.15, 10.7-8, 10.10-11, 18.55, 18.70

    Yoga of Meditation (GN #11)

    6.10-12, 6.15, 6.18-22, 6.35, 8.9, 9.22, 9.34, 12.2, 12.8, 18.57

    Yoga of Love (GN #12)

    8.22, 9.13-14, 9.29, 10.7-8, 10.10, 11.54-55, 12.2, 12.17-20

    Yoga of Action (GN #13)

    3.7, 3.9, 3.25, 3.30, 4.19-24, 4.42, 6.1-3, 11.55, 12.10, 18.56-7

    Bob W. Editor, Elephant Journal
    Yoga Demystified
    Facebook Twitter StumbleUpon

  4. Vision_Quest2 says:

    An old Italian proverb says, "Learn how to do it, then forget you know how …"

    You have to engage the mind to learn the precepts first …
    and then to embody that knowledge ..

  5. Carol Horton says:

    Hi Chiara – I agree that both approaches are valuable and move toward the same place. Still, it's also true that we jnani types would do well to open up our hearts – and, conversely, that bhakti types would do well to work with their minds. While we all have different strengths, we all ultimately need balance and integration too.

  6. Carol Horton says:

    Yes, this framework is so valuable. thanks Bob.

  7. Carol Horton says:

    . . . and for most of us, that's an ongoing process – there's an endless amount to learn in this short life. thanks

  8. […] is an Obstacle in Yoga is an The other, posted today by Carol Horton on elephant journal is titled Why Your Intellect is (or Can Be!) an Integral Part of Yoga. Two totally different things, […]

  9. yogijulian says:

    WORD carol – i just commented to this effect…

  10. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  11. Tanya Lee Markul says:

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

  12. reg says:

    Well said!