I was reading in David Gordon White’s Anthology Yoga in Practice and a funny image came to me. Sadly, I’m not going to be able to express the actual image visually for you because I don’t have those skills tonight, but I can mix and match a couple things to get the trick done.
In fact, upon reflection, the image has transformed into an animation.
So, to set this up, in the introduction the editor’s discussing how modern Hatha yoga as a tradition in India had all but died out and was never as salient as it is today anyway. He writes of how Krishnamarchya had to venture to Tibet to learn of it and what he ultimately taught was a mixture of traditional Hatha yoga postures and “British military calisthenics, and the regional gymnastic and wrestling traditions of southwestern India”. In the west, a majority of yoga practitioners don’t deeply encounter or care about alternate facets of the Yoga and seem to approach yoga as another workout widget consonant with the goals of fitness, health and sex.
Yoga is such a vast landscape of practices and theories. But at its core it is not and was never about fitness or even health. I’m not going to be so presumptuous as to say what it is about, finally, but I have a useful working definition for myself: I call it Jungian individuation:
Jung considered individuation, a psychological process of integrating the opposites including the conscious with the unconscious while still maintaining their relative autonomy, necessary for a person to become whole.
Besides achieving physical and mental health, people who have advanced towards individuation tend to be harmonious, mature and responsible. They embody humane values such as freedom and justice and have a good understanding about the workings of human nature and the universe.
So, on the other hand, we have this Yoga of mindfulness. Perhaps even Citta Vrtti Nirodhah, the stilling of the spiking of the mind out from its center (my wording). The yoga of self-discovery and transformation in a holistic, personally relevant way.
The image that came to me is a meshing of the above disparity with the image for the relative surface area of the brain dedicated to various body regions known as the “cortical homunculus“:
This is showing the relative area of each body part represented in the motor cortex. Roughly, this could be said to correspond to our felt sense of physical self, as in, overall, this is how our body consciousness is spread out over time.
On the other end of the imagining’s pole we have the image of the 8 limbs of Yoga (I’d imagined more of a big round wooden ship wheel, but I couldn’t find that on Google).
And I laughed at how distorted our yogic homunculus is.
But then as I started to share this funny image I realized we are each transforming and balancing our “yogic homunculus” (and that’s summing up culturally) even as yoga is surely helping to balance out our own “cortical homunculus” as we turn on and refine awareness of parts of our own body and nourish connections outward everywhere.
And to be clear, I am not criticizing the Western emphasis on Hatha yoga. In fact, I see it as saving a baby whilst throwing out quite a bit of bathwater. If one looks at what Krishnamacharya passed on, it is vital and integral and it all meshes very well cutting edge research on the mind/body. There are, of course, other yoga practices that I am not really qualified to say much about except that I enjoy reading about them in that book I mentioned in the beginning. Some of them are downright bizarre historical aberrations. I think Hatha yoga is an especially appropriate balance for our technological drift. It may even be our saving grace.