November 16, 2011

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

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.

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