Training Day 3

"When the snake spirit animal appears in your life, it likely means that healing opportunities, change, important transitions, and increased energy are manifesting." Elena Harris

Coconuts drunk: 2
Power Animal: Snake
Favourite pose: geekasana

In 1828 amidst the sands of the Indus Valley, a team of archaeologists uncovered a dusty squarish seal. No larger than a postage stamp, this vital fragment depicts what many believe to be the first historical record of Yoga. Meet Pashuput, 'Lord of the Animals'.

Pashuputi Seal, c.2500 BCE

Pashuputi Seal, c.2500 BCE

The discussion as to whether or not this seated figure was actually a yogi was first on the agenda for this afternoon. 'He's wearing a crown, how many yogis do you know that wear crowns?' 'What? You saying yogis aren't regal?' 'What's with the mask?' 'Hey, has anyone noticed that he has an erection?'

Our history and philosophy lectures are guided by the brilliant and animated Eric Shaw [a youtube clip of an interview with him is attached below]. Confessionasana - I love a good long lecture, especially one with slides and especially one that uses such delicious words as 'sectarian'. Geek up folks – just wait until we get to anatomy! We did lots of other fun stuff today too including chin stand transitions (awesome), ananda mandala meditation (omg), but let's get our teeth stuck into this: the history of Yoga.

Eric, like all other teachers on this course so far, has very limited tolerance for bullshit and therefore also doesn't spout any either. An experienced scholar he fielded our varied questions with compassion – gently steering us away from default language (yin / yang) to more precise tools of languages (therapeutic / developmental; numinous / cessative). He emboldened us not to seek validation from the texts we were studying, but consider the living yoga tradition. Because you know what? You and me? We we're it. In every sun salutation, in every Yoga Journal we buy, every class we choose to take - we are the creative edge. The yogic tradition is living through us. We have the privilege to explore the traditions of our yoga inheritance and now the opportunity is that we have the responsibility to investigate, innovate and adopt it to current human needs.

Millenia floated by as I speed-scrawled over my notebook; hieroglyphs, maps and gurus zipped across the projector until we suddenly found ourselves in the late 1800s and almost at savasana. I'd blinked and Yoga has evolved from the esoteric to exoteric – from the mystical work of feral sadhus to a healthful physical activity. Eric drew from all corners of history, even mentioning the increased use of bicycles – giving women in particular more freedom of movement, allowing them to gather and eventually practice communally. It was in fact women en masse who took hold of Yoga as it was and rocketed it into popularity; health culture was booming and modern postural Yoga was being adopted in households as part of that revolution.

A rather splendid piece of evidence of Yoga hitting the mainstream is an excerpt from the New York Herald in 1898, published immediately after Swami Vivekananda's tour of the US, where the headline reads: 'New York Fashionables Now Attain Perfect Happiness by Becoming Amateur Contortionists'. Amazing.

And now we're almost there, to our familiar Ashtanga and Iyengar forms. But first Krishnamarcharya had to develop the sun salutation; which he did fusing British gymnastics, traditional practices and even Indian wrestling [chaturanga dandasana for example was developed from the Indian wrestling manoeuvre called the 'dand'). From this and from his students evolved the plethora of postural practices we have today: Ashtanga, Iyengar, Rocket, Power, Vinyasa, Viniyoga, Bikram...

Yoga makes people strong – and the Indian people needed strength, seeking outward muscles to mobilise themselves; dominated by the British rule it took a yoga-inspired feat of activism to leverage independence. And as we move into our current millennia, activism of course did not end with Mahatma, like every facet of Yoga this too keeps evolving: David Sye, Shiva Rea, Seanne Corn, Shannon Gannon, my beloved Bex Tyrer – the lineage is living, the tradition is alive.

The days when I see a pair of Lululemon leggings for £80 and almost pass out is also going to be the day where someone somewhere, probably multiple someones in multiple somewheres, will be investing almost £100 on what they wear to feel great on their mat. And that is also amazing. That is how popular this practice has become; from Pashuput at 2,500 BCE to 2015, to this exact moment. Changes are a comin'!Whoop!

Everyday on this training I feel I'm sloughing another skin, another layer, another label – and gaining another meaning of what it is we are saying to people when we say 'I teach Yoga' because everyday is different. We can evolve, and we can transform. The Time Is Now. 

Ash BondComment