Yoga broke into the American scene in the late 60’s and the early 70’s and it was the hippie revolution that opened the way for the Indian gurus of yoga to have an audience in the United States. It was the hippies who radically opposed the materialistic ways of thinking and the actions of the Establishment and it was the hippies who were looking for a new way to live that embraced a more inclusive philosophy than the one held by their parents and grandparents and by the society at large. It was definitely not the class of people defined as the Establishment who were enamored by the yogis who came to the U.S., but rather it was a small number of intellectuals and a remarkably high number of hippies who embraced yoga in its early development here. Thus, it was an unlikely “marriage” that developed between the travelling Indian gurus and the disenchanted and disenfranchised youth of America. I was one of those hippies who was captured by yoga. This article will build on my last article published in SYN by stating the philosophy of yoga on which asana practice stands, by writing about the sociological phenomenon of how yoga made its way onto American soil and will end with a proposal for a Seattle area yoga collective.
Yoga stands on the principle that the innermost drive within each person comes from the same Source. The aim of the soul within each of us is to merge back into its Source, having enriched the Source by affording it the myriad experiences of life. To put this in yogic terms, it is the atman (the soul) within our innermost being that seeks to find, know, love and merge with God (Brahman), from whom the soul has come. In the journey of the soul’s many lives and incarnations as minerals, plants, animals, humans and beyond; it is the atman (our soul) who goes with us through the trials and tribulations of each life, each death and each afterlife.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras begins with the aphorism that the oscillations and perturbations of the mind must be quieted in order that a Higher Consciousness can be accessed. The mental discipline of quieting the lower grades of the mind and personality start us on the yogic journey. A reorientation of the mind, emotions and senses toward a Higher Consciousness develops. In turn, the receptive channels of one’s being open to a downpouring of the workings of the spiritual force and spiritual light of Higher Consciousness. As we progress, the spiritual light of higher awareness takes up residence in the higher grades of one’s nature, mind and personality and even organizes the lower grades of consciousness. Ultimately, we live in the awareness of the presence of the One and bring this forward in everything we do.
At an individual level, the great yogis have shown us that it is possible to live in a state of peace and harmony, without internal or external conflicts disrupting the overall peace of their being; with some also proving themselves to be very effective in achieving great works in the world. In bringing the yoga of works to a collective level, the dilemma that we as modern day yogis face is the need to organize and form yoga communities in the context of a rapidly changing world. Attempts to form and organize can be a holding ground for the most sacred and central yoga values that join the members. In looking at an individual, one soul passes through countless numbers of incarnations, in and out of the manifested world countless numbers of times, until the evolved soul eventually finishes its journey. In looking at a group or collective, it is the soul of the group that needs to be preserved so it can be passed onto the next generation, or the next upgrade, or the next model.
For aeons yoga has spread throughout India and other parts of the world in a decentralized way, without one central governing board to determine exactly how it was to be developed in India or how it was to be developed in other parts of the world. The decentralization of power allowed yoga to adapt to the needs of the changing times. In the last 50 years there has been a huge and rapid development of yoga throughout the USA. In the 1990’s American yogis spent years debating whether there should be national standards for training yoga teachers that would apply across all yoga disciplines in the United States. It was in January of 1999 that yogis from across the country finally turned talk into action and the Yoga Alliance was formed. The Yoga Alliance developed guidelines for teachers and schools across the USA and for this specialized task it has been a success. The Yoga Alliance is doing what it set out to do, however, it clearly lacks power in helping the development of yoga communities of our land. Local communities throughout the country must each organize at the local level to safeguard the teachings of yoga.
It would appear that, without a central governing board to oversee its development, the fate of yoga would be left to the whims of any countless number of individuals and groups who might wish to organize the teachings of yoga in order to rule, make money and hold power over others. Without a centralized locus of control, all possibilities of organizations has occurred. This means that every avenue of misuse, misappropriation and abuse of the power of yoga has been attempted as it has made its way across the USA and the world. However, yoga has spread through the world by bringing forward the refreshing and freeing concept that each of us must take responsibility for the very consciousness we bring forward.
To extrapolate the discussion further, the development of yoga locally has been left wide open. The asana practice of yoga has spread throughout the area in a free moving way, mainly because of all the individual yoga teachers who have brought the teachings forward to their students, with each individual teacher relaying it as seen fit. (Of course there have been certain regimented styles, or schools, of asana practice that have held a stronger influence upon the public than others, and yet this has no relevance to this discussion, as none of the particular schools of hatha yoga have ever been considered to be the central authority.) Despite not having a central overseeing committee, board, agency or institute the Northwest yoga community seemed to be doing well enough in a laissez faire system, as the number of yoga students and number of yoga teachers has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 40 years. As the saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
In general, it usually takes some kind of crisis to occur before an evolutionary leap can be made, as it is the crisis, itself, that demands a response to reconcile the actions and the reactions of the factions involved in the crisis. A crisis has already occurred within the yoga community of the Pacific Northwest surrounding the incident of the 2018 NW Yoga Conference. We hope to use this mishap in a motivational way to catapult the whole yoga community forward. There is a community light, or community soul, that needs to be protected and this inner light can best be preserved through committed guardianship of it by an organized yoga collective.
Here is a proposition for the Seattle and greater Seattle yoga community: How about if we find a way to form a yoga collective, with a broad spectrum of local light bearers found to carry the flame of yoga forward in the Pacific Northwest? The process of creating just such a yoga collective has already begun and is at its inception stage. We have a superb organizational model that an interim group of elder yoga teachers of the area will use to develop the collective in a slow and careful way. It may take six months, or more, before there is any tangible evidence to show in the efforts to create such a collective. The collective is intended to be broad and all inclusive. Stay tuned for further developments.
We invite you to be a torchbearer for the light of yoga by continuing to embrace yoga in asana and meditation practice, and continuing to listen to your soul’s guidance (the atman within). May the light of yoga lead the way for you and our yoga collective.
[Photo by Joint Base Andrews – CC BY]
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Latest posts by Bob Smith (see all)
- Dear Seattle Community, How about a Yoga Collective? - May 27, 2018
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- Bob Smith’s Perspective on the 2018 Northwest Yoga Conference Incident - Mar 18, 2018