Human Renderings of the Sacred
I recently finished my masters degree at SOAS (University of London) in Traditions of Yoga and Meditation (whoo hoo!). It was quite a challenging programme academically, but worth every long essay and lengthy reading list assigned. I enrolled in the course partially because I'd started reading books about modern yoga's not-so ancient origins, and wanted to understand exactly what I was teaching. When I saw that the course not only covered the development of Yoga from ancient to modern times but also included tracing the historical and cultural context within which Buddhism and Daoism were formed, I was sold.
The course was fantastic -- maybe one of the best things I've ever done -- but it also made me face some serious existential questions. Mainly, I wondered what was authentic, and whether I ascribed at all to Yoga's various goals and practices. Did I really want to do a headstand if its "original" goal was to accrue siddhis (supernatural powers) and preserve semen, which I don't even have? (bindu is semen in a number of Haṭha and Tantric yoga texts). Like many yoga teachers, I had been told by various people that lineage and tradition were critical, that the "original" intentions for practice were being watered down by modern practitioners, and that teachings should be transmitted by appointed holders of a lineage if they were to truly answers life's most pressing questions. I've never been drawn to orthodoxy, but I wanted to understand where the context for the claims to it were coming from.
Within the first year, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the word tradition stems from the Latin root word "trader", which means "to deliver, betray". Any time a tradition is handed down, the original practice is betrayed by the next in line who changes and adapts it to his or her personal understanding, environment and audience. This opened up the meaning of Yoga tremendously. While ancient Yogic texts offered enticing, poetic and inspiring ideas for practice, as a whole they no longer loomed as monolithic certainties. The many definitions of Yoga instead became recast as lovely bits of contradiction, paradoxes, and processes affected by various agents of change. As one of my professors on the course offered, yoga is and always has been a living, breathing, developing cultural practice that is still being formed.
And so here I am. It's where I've probably always been but just needed three years of a masters programme to affirm. I am happy to share that I still stand on my head, but haven't managed to generate any siddhis or semen (thank goodness!). I probably meditate a lot more, which I see as a pretty good outcome from my course. I also trust, as I always have, that Yoga, meditation and qigong work at some uncanny level to help relax our tensions and thus let us feel more open, responsive and free. In that freedom is the potential to love ourselves and others more fully. So... if there are any difference in my outlook post-masters, it's:
Here are a few upcoming programmes, some I'm teaching and others that I wanted to recommend and suggest. Many the courses I'm offering are a Yogic, Daoist and Buddhist practices. I'll do my best to integrate and share how these practices have informed, benefited and inspired me. And, as always, I'll do my best to unfold what I share with a smile, a grain of salt, and a lot of love.
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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.