Virtual Satsang

Resources for the community of seekers

Yoga and Yogi Practice

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I always smile whenever I hear people refer to themselves as “yogis” or “yoginis”. Especially when the person is a bit of a self-promoter to begin with. So I found it interesting to read the following passage from a recent essay by David Gordon White: my instinctive reaction does have a historical basis!

From Yoga in Practice pages 11-12:

Here it is helpful to introduce the difference between “yogi practice” and “yoga practice”, which has been implicit to South Asian thought and practice since the beginning of the Common Era, the period in which the terms “yogi” and “yogi perception” first appeared in the Indian scriptural record. On the one hand, there is “yoga practice,” which essentially denotes a program of mind-training and meditation issuing in the realization of enlightenment, liberation, or isolation from the world of suffering existence. Yoga practice is the practical application of the theoretical precepts of various yogic soteriologies, epistemologies,and gnoseologies presented in analytical works like the YS and the teachings of the various Hindhu, Buddhist, and Jain philosophical schools. Yogi practice, on the other hand, concerns the supernatural powers that empower yogis to take over other creatures’ bodies and so forth. Nearly every one of the earliest narrative descriptions of yogis and their practice underscore the axiom that the penetration of other bodies is the sine qua non of yoga.

The cleavage between these two more or less incompatible bodies of theory and practice can be traced back to early Buddhist sources, which speak of a rivalry between meditating “experimentalists” (jhayins) and “speculatives” (dhammayogas). … The gulf between yoga practice and yogi practice never ceased to widen over the centuries, such that, by the time of the British Raj, India’s hordes of yogis were considered by India’s elites to be little more than common criminals, with their fraudulent practices — utterly at odds with the true “science” of yoga, which, taught in the YS, was practiced by none — save perhaps a handful of isolated hermits living high in the Himalayas.

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Written by virtualsatsang

December 27, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Posted in History, Yoga

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Books for Your Yoga Teacher

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Here are (holiday) gift suggestions for your yoga teacher. You’ll notice that the titles I’ve chosen lean towards the academic (history, anthropology) side — I am after all, an ex-academic.

Postural Yoga

  • Eighty-four Asanas (A survey of traditions) by Gudrun Buhnemann: Make sure you get the 2011 edition.
  • Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace by N.E. Sjoman: It looks like its price on Amazon has dropped considerably, in the past a used copy of this title was at least $75. I’ve reviewed this here and here.
  • Yoga Body by Mark Singleton: My review of this book was the first ever entry on this blog!
  • Krishnamacharya (His Life and Teachings) by A.G. Mohan: I really enjoyed this short book by one of Krishnamacharya’s longstanding students.
  • Extra Love (The Art of Hands-on Assists) by Jill Abelson: One of my pet peeves is that many yoga instructors don’t spend enough time teaching safety precautions and learning how to properly assist students. Popular Jivamukti Yoga teacher, Jill Abelson (formerly based in DC, but now in SF), has been conducting workshops on yoga assists for years. I’m glad she put together this well-written manual.
  • History of Yoga

  • Yoga in Practice, edited by David Gordon White: I’m currently reading this just published title. White’s introductory essay is a fantastic overview of Yoga across several religious traditions.
  • History of Modern Yoga by Elizabeth de Michelis: I’ve met several teachers who’ve read Singleton’s book, and I always point them towards this book. Vedanta and Neo-vedanta have heavily influenced modern yoga but I suspect many teachers are unaware of the historical impact of the movements discussed in this book.
  • Yoga in Modern India by Joseph Alter: Make sure you get the 2010 edition.
  • Positioning Yoga by Sara Strauss: A well-written ethnographic study of Swami Sivananda’s Divine Life Society. Modern postural yoga instructors seem to be descended mostly from either Krishnamacharya or Sivananda. Many contemporary teachers in the US are familiar with Krishnamacharya either directly or through his students (who founded Ashtanga and Iyyengar yoga). The late Swami Sivananda also has his share of famous students, including Mircea Eliade, Lilias Follan, Sachtidananda (Integral Yoga) and Satyananda (Bihar School).
  • India

  • Nine Lives by William Dalrymple: I love this book, I’ve read each chapter multiple times.
  • Wandering with Sadhus by Sondra Hausner: I learned so much from this book, and unlike many academic titles, it is extremely readable and even entertaining. Hausner conducts an ethnographic study of renunciates, and along the way provides a wonderful overview of the organizational structures behind the scene.
  • Darsan (Seeing the Divine Image in India) by Diana Eck: A great guide to the statues that are so popular in Yoga studios.
  • Miscellaneous Titles

  • Transcendent in America (Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion) by Lola Williamson: Profiles the Self-Realization Fellowship, Transcendental Meditation, and Siddha Yoga, through interviews with longterm and former members. (Williamson herself was a former member of two of the organizations.)
  • White Lama (The Life of Tantric Yogi Theos Bernard) by Douglas Veenhof: I wouldn’t be shocked if this book becomes the basis for a movie. Veenhof does an incredible job retracing Bernard’s life — though there are sections where the detailed narrative reminds me of Bob Woodward.
  • Yoga in the Modern World edited by Mark Singleton and Jean Byrne: An underrated collection of essays.
  • Alternative Medicine and American Religious Life by Robert Fuller: I just stumbled upon this 1989 title, and already I’ve learned so much about the history of different forms of alternative medicine.
  • Written by virtualsatsang

    December 23, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    Posted in History, Yoga

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    Malas

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    With Thanksgiving coming up, here are a couple of items you might want to share with your more conservative friends and family:

  • U.S. Health Care Reform Act, as a comic book: Co-created by Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of Obamacare, who thinks that many who oppose the bill don’t understand what’s really in it. The book won’t be out until right before Christmas, but at a mere $11 on Amazon, it makes for a great small holiday gift.
  • Hot Coffee: Tort reform is one of those issues where one side (trial lawyers) has been so routinely demonized, that the general public assumes that it’s the right thing to do. I confess that’s how I felt before watching this documentary. The filmmakers do a great job reminding us that the jury system is just about the only place left where ordinary citizens can still take on major corporations. On the other hand I still think that frivolous lawsuits can drive up costs. So the right answer is probably somewhere in between. In any case, the film really fits right in with the spirit of the #occupywallstreet movement.

  • Written by virtualsatsang

    November 20, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Posted in Malas, Social Justice

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    Without A Home

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    One of the most moving documentaries about homelessness is now out on DVD. If you can please support the film makers. If not, rent/borrow and watch this beautiful film. The DVD has many special features that are also worth watching:

    Written by virtualsatsang

    November 10, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Posted in Seva, Social Justice

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    Dave Stringer on Hollywood

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    Kirtan and World Music recording artist Dave Stringer on his home base:

    People come to Hollywood with all kinds of expectations — fortune, fame, self-fulfillment of a certain kind — and are generally greeted with nil. … You try to control the timing of things, and you simply have to wait. In the face of all your attachments and desires, the universe says “no”, and you spend a tremendous amount of time staring at the void.

    … The doors of Hollywood open sometimes to those who are more or less desire-less, and also to those people who are incredibly driven and ruthlessly ambitious. Ultimately, of course, there’s a price. But so you spend a lot of time staring at the void, at emptiness and disillusionment and ultimately you start to ask those questions again: “What am I here for? What does it all mean?” There are a lot of people dealing with that in Los Angeles and I think this is one reason why yoga is so popular there, why it is one of the epicenters of things yoga right now.

    … People have a lot of time on their hands, often with more money than not. Or even without money, it’s a place where you really have stare at yourself and ask what all this means. So many of the things Hollywood offers turns out to be specters, mayas, illusion, and you have to contend with that, and also, in turn, yourself. So there are a lot spiritual opportunities there, underneath the surface. And I have met many, many, very spiritual people in Hollywood, all trying to come to grips with this paradox of seeing beyond illusion. But at the same time they’re working to create it. That’s the paradox.

    Source: The Yoga of Kirtan

    Written by virtualsatsang

    November 1, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Posted in Art, Quotes

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    The Bhagavad Gita

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    Heart and Soul recently invited 3 scholars to talk about the Gita: Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, Professor of Comparative Religion and Philosophy at Lancaster University; Julius Lipner, Professor of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion and Fellow of Clare Hall at the University of Cambridge; and Jessica Frazier, Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and Lecturer in Religious Studies at Regent’s College, London.

    The result is a very accessible 30 minute discussion on a text beloved by seekers and Yogis throughout the world. Audio below:

    Written by virtualsatsang

    July 27, 2011 at 2:46 am

    Posted in Faith, Yoga

    Crowdsourcing with Samasource

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    San Francisco based Samasource, is one of many companies who’ve taken the mechanical turk concept, and exported it to the developing world. These social entrepreneurs are not only providing jobs and opportunities to this generation of workers in the developing world, but they are helping companies in poor countries establish a foothold in the global economy. Look for them to start taking on increasingly more complex projects.

    Below is a recent and inspiring BBC story about Samasource:

    Written by virtualsatsang

    June 22, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    Posted in Seva, Social Justice