Yoga Ph.D.: Integrating the Life of the Mind and the Wisdom of the Body
Contemporary yoga, Horton explains, is a direct outgrowth of the tradition of modern yoga first developed in early 20th century India. Designed to work in modern societies that tend to alienate us from our own bodies, this novel form of yoga developed new ways of working with and through the body to spark psychological and spiritual growth.
While this dedication to using the body to liberate mind, heart, and spirit remains central to yoga today, the growing commodification of the body in American society threatens its efficacy as a modern mind-body-spirit practice. Reversing this troubling trend, Yoga Ph.D. concludes, requires integrating more critical thinking into what is quickly becoming an excessively commercialized practice.
- Hala Khouri, M.A., Co-founder of Off the Mat, Into the World
Table of Contents
PREFACE: Yoga Can Change Your Life – But Why?
1. INTRODUCTION: The Professor and the Yogini
Part I. Historical Reflections: Ancient & Modern Yoga
2. Is Yoga Really 5,000 Years Old?
3. In Praise of Modern Yoga
Part II. Personal Reflections: Yoga, Psychology, & Spirituality
4. Handstand Psychotherapy: Integrating the Body/Mind
5. Burning Off Karma to Be a Better Mom
Part III. Sociological Reflections: Yoga and American Culture
6. Self-Commodification, Teacher Worship, & Spirituality Lite
7. Yoga, Modernity, and the Body
8. CONCLUSION: Generativity and Paradox
Excerpt: Integrating Dualisms
My desire to integrate what had initially felt like incongruous parts of myself – mind and body, left and right brain, the rational and the extra-rational – maps onto my interest in analyzing yoga in a new way, one that attempts to weave its crazy contradictions into an analytically coherent whole. Indeed, these two projects are in a certain sense one. A balanced assessment of yoga as it exists in North America today requires recognizing both its commercial and esoteric dimensions. Similarly, writing this book requires integrating my rational analysis of yoga as a contemporary socio-cultural phenomenon with my extra-rational experience of it as a transformative practice.
My goal to make sense out of the strange multi-dimensionality of contemporary yoga. Millions enjoy yoga for fitness and stress relief. Some solid percentage also finds (usually to their surprise) that it offers tools for profound personal transformation. These are things that don’t seem to necessarily belong together. Yet in many cases, they do.
Such dualisms can be multiplied. Yoga is an ancient Indian tradition; yoga is a contemporary North American phenomenon. Yoga is an increasingly corporatized, crassly commercial “industry”; yoga is a decentralized, grassroots movement for psycho-spiritual experimentation. Yoga is a product of a particular place and time, constantly changing to fit different cultural contexts. Yoga is a timeless method to escape the conditioning of history, a technology for accessing the alternative states of consciousness that are our birthright as human beings.
Writing about yoga in such a way requires mixing genres that are usually kept separate. So this book is an unusual synthesis of personal memoir, journalistic investigation, and scholarly study. Such a blend involves even more integration of dualisms: The personal and the impersonal, the subjective and the objective, the empirical and the esoteric – even, though may sound a tad precious, the intangibility of faith and the solidity of reason.
As a trained scholar, I’m well aware of the rules that keep such modalities separate. And I respect them in contexts where they have their place. But as a postmodern yoga practitioner (and ex-professor freed from the constraints of academia), it’s more compelling to mix them up in ways that capture the contradictory nature of contemporary yoga – at least as I’m experiencing it here in North America today.
Yoga’s easy hybridity is strikingly, even strangely insouciant. It’s a crazy quilt of sharply juxtaposed realities, mixing the sacred and profane with unparalleled aplomb. Yoga offers chanting and meditation in the morning, body-sculpting boot-camp workouts at noon, shopping sprees after work, and asana, wine, and chocolate fests in the evening. And the response to this weirdly eclectic mix is generally: Oh sure – well, of course, why not?
True, yoga traditionalists have been decrying such impure combos for decades. Some cynical journalists periodically have fun satirizing it. A few religious studies professors occasionally look down from their ivory towers and decry the consumerist narcissism of contemporary yoga culture. But by and large, the overwhelming majority of practitioners simply take it in stride. Whether or not they have qualms about yoga’s bizarre gym-to-temple, spiritual-to-shopping dynamics, they’ve found a practice that makes them healthier and happier.
And in the hyper-stressful climate of contemporary life, for most people that’s more than enough for them to embrace yoga, no questions asked.
But What Is It? My First Glimpse Beyond Stretching
But I like to ask questions. The Professor in me is quite organic. I’ve always found it enjoyable, interesting, and just natural to think deeply into the nature of the world, and our strange human part of it in particular.
It wasn’t until I’d been practicing yoga for quite awhile, however, that I began connecting it to that cerebral side of myself. Today, I know that yoga has traditionally included many paths other than physical practice, including study, devotion, service, and of course, meditation. Like most Americans, however, I started out thinking of it simply as exercise.
Reflecting back, though, I recognize that even at the beginning, I had some subtle, subterranean sense that yoga might hold something else profoundly important. Of course, I never would have said, or even consciously reflected on that at the time. Mainly, I was just concerned with whether I could touch my toes and how to mimic my teacher’s movements without looking silly. But there were a few little flashes of insight, some glimpses into the fact that yoga could be about much more than stretching.