History of Yoga – Part 5

Body still as a deodar cedar.  Mind lucid as a winter moon.  Senses tranquil as a summer sky.  This is Yoga. – Kushal Magar

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The contrast between my impressions of yoga as I had experienced its practice in the West and the unexpected introduction delivered to me by Kushal Magar in the very mountains from which it had anciently arisen [see Limitless Sky, Part Four], had left me puzzled and intrigued.  It was a disparity that, upon return home to Britain, my vigorous curiosity determined to resolve.

However, I had not anticipated the challenge of finding any critical study of yoga beyond the standard hagiographies, celebrity endorsements and blatant trust-me-I’m-a-swami self-promotions.  Such books only compounded the impression that yoga in the West has been reduced to a well-marketed fitness regime, exoticised by a smear of largely meaningless pseudo-philosophy.  In addition, the plethora of illustrations of smiley girls in designer leotards served only to propagate the deceit that skinniness, acrobatic bendiness and shiny hair demonstrate some advanced ‘spiritual’ state to which we are all encouraged to aspire.

It was particularly striking that little reference to anything reminiscent of the Tradition was to be found in these widely circulated volumes, even though Kushal had impressed on me that Shaiva Tantra and Hatha Yoga were indivisible.  Indeed, as I was to find, almost all unadapted Shaiva tantric texts contain instructions in yogic practice, although continuing academic prejudice ensures that the vast majority of these works remains inaccessible.  [The seventeenth-century Gheranda Samhita is but one textbook of traditional yogic practice of India’s north-east that is widely translated and rarely differs from instructions contained in the original tantric texts.]

I decided, therefore, that the first challenge of this new course of investigation was to trace the process of change that had divided yoga so far from its tantric origins that their interdependence had almost been forgotten; a modification that had transformed the predominantly male yogic path from a tool of self-expansion taught only under the careful guidance of a dedicated teacher and without exchange of money, to the assemblage of spongy mats in church halls, gymnasia and near-saunas that had become such a multi-million-dollar, female-dominated, international industry.

[Part Six follows soon]

You’ll find much more of Kushal Magar and the practical mountain Tradition he teaches in Limitless Sky.

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