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Philosophy Phriday: Yoga, Iyengar, & Seuss September 2, 2011

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Philosophy Phriday.
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There is a frequent misunderstanding of the journey inward or the spiritual path, which suggests to most people a rejection of the natural world, the mundane, the practical, the pleasurable. On the contrary, to a yogi … the path toward spirit lies entirely in the domain of nature.

— B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life

You must never forget that, as a yogi — indeed, as human, as Homo sapiens — that you are a natural being! Your twenty-first-century, plastic-fantastic, yoga-practicing, New York City-living body is a precious, living thing. If I may quote Shri Seuss, “You are you!”

We often hear that as modern Americans, we’ve become isolated, distant, removed from nature. We’ve forsaken our “natural” roots for the pleasures and conveniences of pre-packaged and digital, man-made and artificial. Yet this perceived separation need not exist.

So while, yes, the flavor of a juicy, fresh-picked strawberry is better-tasting (and better for you) than its artificially-manufactured simulacrum (which comprises 49 different biochemical compounds; “cognac essential oil” and “orris butter” are my favorites), the fact remains that it’s still your being, your soul that’s enjoying that taste–regardless of its provenance. As humans, we could never completely turn away from nature because we are nature. We must embrace, not eschew, the mundane, the practical, the pleasurable. After all, it’s a maddeningly sterile world if you don’t; non-attachment doesn’t mean that everything does — or should — taste like watered-down instant oatmeal.

We must identify our bodies — and the thoughts and feelings and ideas and questions and fears of our bodies — as holy, as natural creations. We’re no better than a soaring spruce, and we’re no worse than a sliming slug, no more or less unfortunate than a three-billion-year-old fossil of sulfur-eating bacteria. Iyengar’s “journey inward” is a true journey, drawing us from one place, or mindset, or reality, to another. From one state of nature to another. We feel good after an asana practice, and as “spiritual” as a post-yoga high is, we have to acknowledge that our cells are performing some heavy duty chemistry to get us there. Creating that pleasure is natural endocrine behavior and certainly not something to be rejected.

When we practice yoga, we certainly don’t swear off urdhva dhanurasana or halasana because these objects — wheel and plough — are manmade devices! We don’t spend the entire class in tadasana because, after all, there’s nothing less artificial than a mountain! We bend and flex and stretch into these poses to remind us of our own innate nature. We use yoga, then, not only to “connect” to nature, but also to find it within ourselves, to recognize our divinity, our union with the planet.

So if you must practice in Lululemon Smash pants, then by all means practice in Lululemon Smash pants! It’s your nature. If you cannot put your head to ground in a devotional warrior pose, then by all means put your head on a block; again, it’s your nature! And if you’re vegetarian, then (naturally) do not like green eggs and ham! The beauty of nature is that it cannot be fought, cannot be defeated. It cannot be parsed from our identities without some serious philosophical and surgical intervention. Revel in your nature. Revel in yourself.

Don't like 'em? Don't sweat it!

If you’d never been born, well then what would you do?
If you’d never been born, well then what would you be?
You might be a fish! Or a toad in a tree!
You might be a doorknob! Or three baked potatoes!
You might be a bag full of hard green tomatoes.
Or worse than that . . . Why, you might be a WASN’T!
A Wasn’t has no fun at all. No, he doesn’t.
A Wasn’t just isn’t. He just isn’t present.
But you . . . You ARE YOU! And, now isn’t that pleasant!

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