Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Yoga Snobs, Part 3: Yoga Versus Psychology?

In the first two installments of this series, I described my experiences with two different Yoga Snobs. Both these incidents happened several years ago. What reminded me of them, and moved me to write about them at this time, was an interview in the latest issue of Ascent Magazine (Winter 2008, issue 40) titled "anarchy of yoga." The subject of the interview is the Yoga Snob under the magnifying glass in this third installment of Yoga Snobs.

Michael Stone is a yoga teacher who studied psychology in the past, but appears to have turned against it:

Western psychotherapy is caught in the delusion that our problems are primarily derived from memories in our personal past. So we go looking to the storehouse of memory in our personal past to heal our wounds in the present. Yoga disagrees.

I find this an interesting statement, not only for its content but for the little back-and-forth dance of tone the speaker executes. He begins with full-tilt arrogance: Western psychology is caught in a delusion. Then, as if realizing too late how he has exposed himself, he backs up: yoga disagrees.

Here's a handy tip on how to keep your disagreements friendly: don't tell your opponent he's deluded.

This is not the first time I've encountered arrogance in the pages of Ascent Magazine. It seems to be all too common among those who are supposed to be on the spiritual path. Sometimes I wish Ascent Magazine would print a disclaimer with their interviews, maybe something along the lines of: "Ascent is not responsible for the arrogance expressed herein. We just do the interview."

Stone goes on to say: "Yoga... is suggesting that the past is fictional. When you talk about your past, you are generating a fiction that gives you a sense of self. ... Health or liberation... from the yoga perspective, is seeing through the mechanism in the mind that always superimposes a self on everything."

There's that bad, naughty story again. Stone appears to be saying that the past is irrelevant, and that the key to health is to live in the present. Certainly it is a good thing to live in the present as much as possible. But surely there is much to be gained from looking at your past experiences and understanding the effect they had on you.

Stone claims he's seen a lot of people who have been through scads of therapy but remain unable to "let go" of their problems. Curiously, he provides no contrasting examples of people who have learned to let go of their problems through the practice of yoga.

Another curious omission: he makes no mention of repression, whether of memories or emotion. The past would indeed have no power to hurt us in the present if we did not drag something of it behind us. In what way do we do that? In part, by storing up repressed emotion, which, until it is released, continues to reside in the body and affect us.

Psychologists are well aware of the importance of releasing repressed emotion. That's why they always have a box of tissues located conveniently close to the couch. Their way of encouraging such a release is to dig up the past. Yoga too can be of help in initiating such a release; since the repressed emotions and memories are stored in the body, the right posture may release them.

But how many yoga students feel free to openly weep or scream in the middle of a class? And how many instructors would encourage such a display, and welcome it when it occurs? In both cases, I would guess the number is close to zero.

Kripalu yoga has an advantage over other yoga forms in this respect. Students are encouraged to sigh or groan after completing a series of postures, offering some opportunity for release. I have my doubts that much open weeping would be tolerated. I don't know what type of yoga Stone teaches or how much noise he encourages his students to make. However, his failure to make any mention of the issue does not give me high hopes.

It is a curious and sad thing that Stone feels yoga and psychology are somehow in opposition. Indeed, why not have both of them? Really, don't we need all the help we can get? What sense does it make to throw out anything potentially useful?

Stone's dismissal of psychotherapy and its "delusions" is ironic, given a comment he himself makes earlier in the interview:

Whenever you create a system, something gets left out. And so when two systems come together, all those left-out pieces come out of the shadows because one system points out the shadow of another system. That's why it is really good to study different systems and different teachers, because it will always point out your shadows.

Stone sees that yoga can point out the shadows of psychology. He does not see that psychology can point out the shadows of yoga. Those are the shadows that will continue to elude him.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your yoga posts. :) Very well reasoned and entertaining.

- Y

Vivian said...

Thanks, Anonymous. :-)

The Happy Painter said...

I loved these posts, too ... and now after two or three weeks of yoga I am reporting in that I love it. No snobs in my classes ... but I stay at the back!

Discussion with exploration of different viewpoints is a wonderful thing ... also nothing human-made is perfect ...except maybe chocolate cake ... or ice cream ... or potato chips ...



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