I worry that I’m getting a bit po-faced with recent Friday Emails so here’s a dispatch on the darker side of yoga’s past. The retelling of the history of yoga makes it sound very clean, meditative, full of devotion, ending up in a simple spiritual life with a refined way of approaching death. Imagine being so pious and profound! Yikes! If you have trouble with piety, don’t worry, you’re not the first!
According to William J Broad’s book, The Science of Yoga, there’s an older history of yoga which existed right at the extreme edges of society. Hatha yoga is a branch of much older Tantra Yoga which is not clean, cultured and comfortable. Yoga, he says, was a ‘mystic wonderland’, and yogis were gypsies, circus performers and vagabonds. The more pious were often naked and smeared with funeral ashes to emphasize the body’s temporality. The less pious and perhaps more entrepreneurial yogis contorted their bodies for money, read palms, interpreted dreams, performed live burials and engaged in sexual debauchery under the pretext of spirituality. Some were ‘child snatchers’ who would buy, adopt or steal children. Some formed protection rackets, smoked ganja and ate opium. They were rejects and, as India prepared for Independence, they were the embarrassments of the hopeful country. A British census called them said: “miscellaneous and disreputable vagrants”!
Thanks to a clean-up and repackaging of yoga as Independence advanced, our yoga ancestors with the ash-covered bodies, spiritual orgies and general unsavouriness disappeared. Iyengar, Jois and other 20th century names that we know developed not only postural practice but also the therapeutic and scientific approach, the high meditative mind and the agreeable spiritual slant. In our Ashtanga classes, when we chant the opening prayer which gives thanks to all the teachers who passed yoga down to us through the centuries, we also chant to some pretty grubby people!
I bought my tickets and I must admit, this is not the usual experience of buying, flying and sliding into blissful asanas! However, Greek islands are such. BA will do the London-Athens-London bit of the journey (There are cheap flights from Ryan Air) and you need at least two hours at Athens airport in between flights. The guys in the Flight Centre say five or six hours. I can’t believe they’ve ever travelled. However, if two hours sounds too tight to you, plenty of people spent a night in Athens and explore the sights for an evening.
My London to Athens BA flight leaves Heathrow at 06.55 arrives at 12.40. My Athens to Kythera Sky Express flight leaves at 15.00 and arrives at 15.50. On the way back on the 28th there is an Aegean flight that comes all the way back to London but the transfer in Athens is less than an hour! I’m getting the Aegean 14.50 arriving in Athens at 15.35 and the BA flight back home leaving Athens 19.55 arriving 21.45. The dates are set for September 21st – 28th. Five people have signed up. Come with us!
There’s plenty of space next week – plenty! You can see class availability on my website (which I update often). On the week beginning Monday 25th there are no classes. I’m away on my first meditation retreat.
Yoga in the news
Jakarta Post 'Dharma Pātañjala': a compelling look at yoga practices in ancient Bali. A new book ‘reveals that Balinese and Javanese people in former days took yoga very seriously. Yoga was an inseparable part of their love life and their preparation for death’.
BBC News has: Yoga in schools has 'profound impact' on behaviour. The classes at Reedham Primary in Norfolk have been aimed at children with a range of special needs, including autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
I did like this article: Richard Hold in the Telegraph with: How I fell in love with hot yoga (even if I can't stand the omming). ‘Most classes have at least one man that has gone a little bit too deep. Topknot, flowy Russell Brand clothes, probably would sit cross-legged in meetings if he had anything as conventional as a job’.