Author | Lost & Found in India
A car slides up to the kerb, long and sleek and adorned with all the latest trinkets from designer companies whose brands are recognized worldwide. The driver, Teacher, has a passenger to carry, a special passenger. Ashtanga Yoga is its name: we’ll call it Yoga for short.
Watching as the driver pulls the car to a standstill, Yoga looks at the vehicle and shakes its head in grim amusement. Labels, tags, logos, emblems, designer names, and an unidentifiable number of kitsch accoutrements cover every inch of the vehicle, each one boasting pride of place…or so they all think.
Teacher pulls up next to Yoga and quickly scrambles to help Yoga into the vehicle. It’s a heavy load, this Yoga: the real thing. It slides in the back, taking up the entire seat, its limbs spilling out and filling the trunk. “That’s a lot of baggage,” Teacher thinks to itself. True enough: 8 limbs are no mean feat to carry around. It’s not like they can go anywhere on their own. Yoga carries them everywhere…
They all have their own names, each of these limbs, and it was Yoga’s father, Patanjali, who named them. But it’s Yoga who introduces them to people, decides which order they’ll be presented, and how they’ll be shared amongst those they meet. It’s Yoga’s decision to make. After all, they’re Yoga’s limbs.
We won’t go into detail about them: the depth of personality and character of each limb has taken up volumes of books, thousands of hours of discussion, and has maintained for centuries — hundreds of them.
The detail is there in Patanjali’s sutras, literally “threads,” intricately drawing together the individual elements that are collectively the enigma of human existence, deftly creating a tapestry of beauty and wonder that explains the mastery of the mind and senses, embroidering road-maps that weave around the obstacles to spiritual evolution.
For thousands of years, since Patanjali brought Yoga out from those sutras to meet the world, the limbs have been known by those who are on a first name basis with Yoga.
Patanjali knew, when he introduced Yoga to everyone, that it was a lot to leave behind. But he also knew that so many chauffeurs, assistants, servants, helpers, all kinds of people would come to love Yoga, and help in so many ways to see that Yoga was delivered, limbs intact, to all corners of the world.
But some aren’t so careful with Yoga. Some treat Yoga’s limbs like separate entities, fashionable accessories, trendy optional add-ons. They don’t care for the entire being of Yoga. But Patanjali cares. A lot.
“Oh, but that’s not what we’re doing!,” Teacher is behind the wheel, thinking to itself. “No, no…we have respect for Yoga, it’s just that…well…all that other stuff, that baggage….who has the time?! No one really needs to know that….I mean, hey, it’s great if they want to, but y’know, it’s not really essential to the poses, is it? Everyone is an individual: everyone has the right to choose, and we must respect the rights of everyone! That’s yogic!”
From the back seat, Yoga listens in humble silence to the unstoppable, baseless thoughts of Teacher, and shakes its head in quiet wonder at the random conclusions drawn by an uncontrolled, uneducated mind. Looking at Teacher in the rearview mirror, in a sombre, deep voice, Yoga says quietly, “So you don’t want to take me into this class? You just want to take one of my limbs, Asana?”
Teacher nodded, “Well, uh, yeah, if you want to put it like that, then that’s your choice, I’m not going to judge you. It’s ok, though, Yoga…I mean, really, people love Asana. It’s so…spiritual in the studio!”
Yoga sighed. “And the other 7 limbs? What do you suggest I do with those?”
Teacher kept driving. There wasn’t really an answer to that, after all….
If yoga is more than “exercise,” shouldn’t its teachers be spiritually and philosophically qualified?