I started back at SOAS this week (am enrolled in a part-time masters degree in Traditions of Yoga and Meditation). The course I'm taking this year is titled "Origins and Development of Yoga in Ancient India." The first lecture reminded me of why I am definitely in the right program for me. In it, the professor, Ted Proferes, suggested that yoga is a contested term, a vessel that can be filled with different contents. In ancient India, yoga is not as monolithic as often presented, and through much historical and archeological evidence we can understand yoga as a collection of divergent ideas. The meaning of yoga in Sanskrit varies as much from union, to fitness, a chariot, employment, a charm, or a constellation of stars. In ancient times the goals of it included spiritual liberation but also bhoga, earthly and heavenly delights. Attainment of these things that we consume and cause us pleasures was in fact an end goal for some. How, Professor Proferes inquired, can spiritual liberation be squared with the concepts of bhoga, a means of attainment? I thought, hmm, good question!
His answer was simply that these divergent strands of thinking suggests that yoga in ancient times was -- and is still today -- a living, breathing, developing cultural practice, and that is still being formed and divulged today. It's still being used in different ways. If we keep this fluidity in mind we can approach some of the apparent contradictions that exist in the yoga we know today, and recognize that we have inherited an ongoing evolution of the practice. Is so good to feel guided away from strong ideological arguments and toward greater contextual understandings of this incredible tradition I love.
Stay tuned for some periodic updates and inspirations from the course, I imagine they'll be coming regularly...
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Teacher, writer, lover of movement and meditation who lives with her husband, dog, three cats, 6 chickens and 10,000 bees.