January 6, 2017

Yoga: Separation, not Union & the Heart of Practice.

Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha

A photo posted by Joe Bundy (@bluejeanyoga) on


I have no flyers, no script, no syllabus, no students to have practiced on, no music, and no documentation of transforming someone’s life. I have no outward items to share.

I have a lot of tears and months of longing and grief. I have months of prayers and pages of diary entries. I have dances with the Goddesses of the Four Directions, glimmers of hope, and a heart full of shame, guilt and bitterness. I have beautiful words of advice and hurt feelings from being told what to do. I have screenshot upon screenshot of one or two lines of text messages where there were once daily photos of happy smiles and plans for the future.

I have no direction and am lost in the wilderness of this. I’m not sure how this experience translates into 30 minutes of sharing, of teaching. I’m not sure what any of this is for. I wonder if it all can be summed up in the Holiday Classic of “You keeping making the same trusting mistake,” brought to you by Lucy as she entices Charlie Brown to kick the ball. “Come on Chuck, I promise I won’t pull the ball away from you this time!” Then Pow! Shenpa arises.

I could use a little help here. Like Snoopy and Woodstock whipping together an amazing meal out of popcorn and toast.

I started yoga as a way to get out at night after my divorce over 11 years ago. The “studio” was a converted classroom in an abandoned junior high. I would follow the teacher’s instructions and stare out the window that looked toward the snowy mountains to the east. I would wave back and forth in tree pose like the pines as the wind blew through their bows on cold winter nights. I would cry and cry and cry. I was devastated, and yoga was a place I could go and cry and not be asked why. Everybody cries in yoga because everyone is hurting from something: sore knee, unhealthy diet, broken heart.

It’s been more than 11 years since I started practicing yoga daily. The texts say the word yoga means union or connection. I’ve come to a different definition: separation. Yoga seems to heighten separation. It is written that yoga is used to “yoke” the three aspects of being: body, breath, and mind. Once, as an intern for a yoga teacher training, I was asked what I thought yoga brought to people. Without hesitation I said, “Divorce.” I think that was the beginning of the end of my teaching career at that studio.

Yoga brings divorce, separation, because of its ability to heighten the awareness of the practitioner. No longer can I hide behind the false tales of “I know” and “you should try this.” Yoga brings right up into my grill the bitter reality that I don’t know. I’m lost in this body that keeps on changing, in the breath that can be only slightly controlled, in this mind that crashes on the shores of emotions.

Much advice is given in yoga classes and sutras. Become one, root down, find what grounds you, open your heart, turn it over to God. And each of these notions demonstrates how separated I am from the “union” of being. It is said that if one uses ones “Witness Conscious” to observe with non-judgmental awareness, then ease with the flow of life will be achieved.

It seems to me that this only demonstrates more the inner separation of experience. “I” must use another set of eyes to watch my actions and “not” judge my experience of suffering, of joy, of sorrow and of passion. And through that higher awareness to know that it’s just an illusion. That what I am feeling is not really real. This is what I mean when I say that yoga seems to heighten separation in the practitioner. What is Witness Consciousness, and where does it reside within “me”? Who is this “separate” eye that is watching the “me” that is having the experience?

It seems that yoga also heightens separation within the community of practitioners as well, as evident by today’s explosion of Instagram posts, studios that compete for clients, and Yoga Teacher Training programs that teach “personal branding” as a way to stand out to get clients and make money.

Swami Kripalu teaches about the “battlefield of opposing forces” that comes through separation. Lovers leave partners seeking answers to love’s mysteries. Students leave home to experience community in ashrams or other forms of spiritual communities. Gurus send their charges away to wander in the wilderness to experience “oneness.” Each one of these “yogis” feels deeply the separation that comes from entering the stream of yoga, believing that there must be a deeper well of connection “out there.”

In my training it is said that there are two ways to enlightenment: Grace or practice, practice, practice. Grace seems to come from an outside force, god or angel. “By the grace of God,” or, “My angels have been watching over me.”
Practice comes from a sense of “lack.” Both seem to be contingent upon one source, surrender. Surrender to separation, surrender to loss, surrender to not knowing, surrender to the wilderness, to the river, to the inevitable death that haunts the desire for bliss.

I have often heard the phrase in yoga classes and conversations with yogis to “be the light.” It’s not often one is counseled to “be the shadow,” to be the darkness. And in this march toward “the light,” separation again arises as the shadow engulfs the practitioner. Fears and doubt arise, and so do shame and guilt. “My practice must not be good enough,” or, “My teacher must not have the right formula.” “I need to go to another place holier than this.” Instead of the boringness, the boring down into one long dark difficult, seemingly meaningless practice, the yogi seeks the light of another and the cycle of separation begins anew. Grace seems to come from an outside force, god or angel. “By the grace of God, my angels have been watching over me.”

Practice comes from within.The pulverizing daily practice of sitting with separation, of watching the stream of thoughts hijack the emotions, of life not stopping to look both ways. Of trusting life like Chuck Brown, of always coming back to try again, trusting that Lucy will hold the ball, and realizing, from my view on my back that, “Arrrgh,” I trusted again and was let down, again. Separated from my goal of success, from the light of achievement, I’ll try again when offered the opportunity. Surrendering again and again to the folly of hope.

Practicing yoga is not practicing union. It’s a practice of separation, of surrendering to the separation that is the human condition. The practice of yoga is not to clothe everything in the unified white light of love but to dive into the darkness of suffering to know what is the heartbreaking sensation of separation. The grace of yoga does not come in the joy of light, but in the practice of separation. It is in the wilderness of despair, of being lost, that I can come to know my true heart. It is in the darkness of despair that grace arrives like Woodstock and Snoopy ready to create a banquet out of popcorn and toast.




Author: Joe Bundy

Image: Author’s Instagram

Editor: Travis May


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