August 17, 2012

Real Yoga at the Olympics. ~ Scott Smith Miller


Photo credit: dahorsburgh


Flexible people created the so-called “yoga competitions” and flexible people want yoga to become an Olympic event.

So what’s up with flexible people?

I don’t know. Ego issues. Loose hips sink ships.

Fortunately, people born with Olympic-level flexibility aren’t the only ones doing yoga anymore.

There are stiff yoga people now too—people who started out super tight, have gotten looser with practice, but know they’re never going to win any competitions and don’t care.

So stiff yoga people really just love yoga and since love is transcendent, it can lead to “real” yoga.

The Sanskrit name for real yoga is Samadhi. It’s the goal of yoga and it is an accomplishment.

Different than Enlightenment, yogis usually achieve Samadhi through practice and despite our emphasis on “physical yoga,” stiff or not, contemporary yoga practitioners like us are at no real disadvantage when it comes to experiencing Samadhi and becoming “absorbed in spirit.”

And that’s true because we can’t separate the accomplishment of Samadhi from the non-hierarchical reality that it allows us to recognize.

There, with non-hierarchical reality, everything connects with spirit and that means that (like Enlightenment) Samadhi can also be experienced spontaneously by anyone at any time.

Here, on the hierarchical side—the side of reality that most people recognize as real—-that’s not true.

Here, we transcend in stages, moving up an ordered energetic, active-intelligence structure known as “the levels of consciousness” and from lowest to highest, the five levels are mind (manas), ego (ahamkara), intellect (buddhi), soul (prakriti), and spirit (purusha).

So we can judge things when it comes to hierarchical reality.

We can recognize that people engage it differently, either getting caught up in mind and ego issues and wrestling with low-level consciousness or transcending it.

And if transcendence does happen, we can judge what happens on the next three levels, recognizing an awareness of knowledge on the intellect-level of awareness, a heart-opening of love on the soul-level or a realization of absorption on the spirit-level.

But yoga doesn’t just happen on the highest level.

It definitely happens with spirit-level consciousness and when it happens there, yoga transcends hierarchical reality all together.

Yoga can also happen in a relative way (in connection with mind, ego, intellect and soul) because spirit is in everything.

It’s also a result of union. Yoga unifies and for yoga to keep unifying reality there must be two realities. And there are.

Again, one is hierarchical and one is not. One has levels of consciousness and the other is only spirit and thanks to what’s known as “Ultimate Paradox,” the two realities are also just one reality.

Complex stuff.

Complex, Steven Hawking, “the Universe has a beginning and an end, but simultaneously doesn’t have a beginning and an end” type paradoxical stuff.

But the point is that even when Samadhi is accomplished, the other levels of consciousness still exist and will always exist for everyone, and that’s why a kind of Samadhi can happen on all the levels, creating something akin to yogic transcendence in connection with mind, ego, intellect, and soul.

Relatively speaking, then, absorption can happen progressively, in ways that we can sort of recognize.

And even more relatively speaking, what happens with great athletes is reflective of that progression. Athletes just do it in a more ordinary way (without transcending transcendence).

Athletes transcend the mind, ego, intellect and soul levels of consciousness through ordinary means.

They don’t buy into the brain-chatter on the mind-level, they get past the fear on the ego-level, they rise above the truth on the intellect-level and they expand beyond self-love on the soul-level.

Of course the top three levels of transcendence only happen when an athlete really loves his or her sport.

Then, their mental fortitude and emotional willpower comes from the heart and doesn’t cause dissociation. Then, the transcendence is actually unifying and of course, that makes it more yogic.

And in respect to predictive judgments, it’s also clear when someone is making it impossible to connect with higher consciousness by transcending the first two levels willfully rather than willingly, and beating their minds and egos into submission.

That’s also why yogis have to be careful with their non-violence (ahimsa) practice.

With it, we tell our minds and egos not to be violent. We recognize the possibility of the behavior and “don’t do it.”

The trick, then, is to do it in a unifying way that stays connected to how we really think and feel. We stay associated so that the association leads to a progressive increase in spiritual absorption.

Even so, we can’t expect a smooth ride.

Because yogis don’t merely reject low-level expressions—because we stay connected even to negative thoughts and feelings until they too express spirit—yoga can seem to make things worse before things get better.

And since that’s especially true from the outside, only someone really close to us can be of help with his or her judgments.

Olympic yoga judges, of course, would never even know the contestants. If they did, it wouldn’t be a fair competition.

So they could easily end up getting into critical observation of someone who looks really bad but is actually experiencing an important unifying break-through on a lower level of consciousness.


And since the possibility of that would be clear and even obvious to anyone who has ever experienced real yoga on the lower levels, we really do have to wonder about the people pushing for yoga to be an Olympic event.

What’s their trip?

Again, I don’t know. At least I’m trying not to know. I’m trying to rise above the truth at least on an intellect-level, keep my heart open and just love yoga no matter what.

It’s an intellect-level challenge.

It’s similar to what happens when an athlete recognizes something undeniably true about his or her physical abilities. It happens.

At these Olympics, there was a pole-vaulter who started out wanting to be a gymnast. She loved gymnastics, but she was just too tall for the sport. That was the real truth and her realization had nothing to do with fear or doubt.

So she had this intellect-level understanding of things. It helped her switch to pole-vaulting and she became an Olympic champion. And if there was transcendence also going on, maybe real yoga was happening.

It’s possible. It’s always possible.

But really, in respect to the question of “real” yoga, we can only guess and it is obviously silly to guess about the realness of someone else’s yoga.

But let’s do it anyway.

Since we live in a purpose-oriented society, I’m all for playfulness and playfully speaking, if I had to pick who I thought was doing “real” yoga at these last Olympics, I’d say it was a double-amputee Olympic runner named Oscar Pistorius.

He’s the guy that comedian Kat Williams credits with “being in tune with his inner star player.” I think Pistorius’ love for track may be so great that it puts him in tune with not just his personal star player, but with a “trans-personal” universal star player.

In other words, he is engaged on the soul-level of being. That’s certainly not a stretch since he definitely already did the intellect-level thing, recognizing the truth about his legs and transcending it with a smile.

Powerful stuff. Pistorius “is all heart.” Even sports people recognize that.

So here’s an idea.

Instead of pushing for yoga to become an Olympic event, we could just recognize the possibility that yoga can already happen at the Olympics.

We could pick out athletes like Pistorius and admire the way they love their sport and the way they smile. We could recognize his or her heart and simply say that’s why we’re giving someone a yoga medal.

And even though we’ll never know if real yoga is ever actually happening at the Olympics, we could bring awareness to the possibility of it by handing out medals.

But I also think that the medals should only be given to losers.

Yogically, it doesn’t really matter whether someone wins or loses, but I think yoga-medals should only be given to people who fail hugely like Pistorius.


It’s because a transcendence that fails yogically has to transcend transcendence and while most failures are just regular failures, if we only acknowledge really great failures, we will increase the chance that the awarded failure will have been a real yogic failure.

We’ll also give failure a good name.

It’s not enough for people to think, “Everyone’s a winner.” Yogically speaking, in respect to dynamic duality, that idea only works if we also recognize that everyone’s a loser.

Plus, there’s another thing. I admit it.

I like the idea of connecting yoga only to losing because the people trying to make yoga an Olympic event will hate that and even though I’m clearly not thinking very yogically here, I’m sorry, for me and my mind-level stuff, it is clearly an added bonus.

It makes sense. Look at Jesus, Krishna and Buddha. They all taught karma yoga with tremendous love and limitless “heart,” but Jesus’ attempt to get us to love each other failed, Krishna’s attempt to get us to understand yoga failed and Buddha’s attempt to reduce suffering on the planet failed.

Right? They all failed.

Moreover, they knew they were going to fail.

In my book, that makes what they did all the more yogic and even though a truly non-hierarchical engagement like theirs makes both success and failure a non-issue, like real art and real love, real yoga fails.

Sorry, it just does. Ask any stiff yoga person.

Scott Smith Miller is director of Western Yoga College. He has written three books on yoga: What Is(n’t) Hatha Yoga?, Yogic Love and A Prelude to Radical Yogic Discourse. He has been running large general hatha yoga teacher training programs in Southern California for over a decade. A long, long time ago, he was also an All-American highschool water player who ended up playing collegiately for two years at UC Santa Barbara.


Editor: Jamie Morgan

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