This is the first installment of a 2-part series written by Thaddeus a.k.a. “Boyfriend Yogi”:
I always feel it is best to begin with all your cards on the table. So, here’s my confession. As a kid growing up in the middle of nowhere central Pennsylvania, I believed in the “Force.” That’s right, you know, the mystical power of the Jedi knights in the Star Wars series. I was fortunate enough to be young when “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” first hit theaters. This was a golden time; a time when George Lucas still knew how to make movies without computers and to tell a truly captivating version of the hero’s journey. However, if I am to be completely honest I must admit that my relationship with the “Force” actually went a bit beyond simple belief. Chalk it up to innocence, simplicity, or good ol’ imagination, but I actually thought I could use it. Admittedly, my abilities were limited, but I do recall a significant period of time when all the traffic lights I encountered suddenly turned green. So, what does any of this have to do with yoga?
Well, momentarily setting aside the third chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra which details some of the mystical powers available to the serious yogi, the similarities between the Jedi and the yogi are quite impressive. I mean, sure yogis are not inter-galactic knights for peace, but that is arguably where the differences end. Both yogis and Jedi participate in an esoteric somatic meditative series of practices to gain greater insight into themselves and correspondingly the world at large. They seek to unify themselves with the Universe and allow the inherent unseen Divinity therein to guide their actions. And at the end of their “earthly” existences, they seek to release their attachment to the bodily platform and to go back home, to return to the source from which they arose in the first place.
So, you can imagine how excited I was when I discovered yoga and realized that I might now in fact have an opportunity to actualize my boyhood dream of becoming a Jedi. I realized that here was a very real possibility for aligning myself with the Universe at large and coming to serve all souls through obtaining the highest possible understanding of myself. Unfortunately, unlike Luke Skywalker, I was not guided to yoga by apparitions of my dearly departed guide and mentor Obi Wan Kenobi. In fact, I stumbled upon the path I was meant to walk more by accident than anything. It was a late night of channel surfing that introduced me to the practice of Ashtanga. I lay in bed watching “Ashtanga NY” with eyes wide and mouth agape, astonished at the strength, power, sweat and devotion of the assorted practitioners, not to mention the humility and wisdom of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga’s lineage holder. I had some familiarity with yoga and had dabbled occasionally on and off for years, but nothing spoke to me the way those images of Ashtanga did. That night, lying in bed, I knew that I must begin to practice and roughly a week later I took my first Ashtanga class in Austin, Texas.
The first thing one discovers upon becoming involved with Ashtanga, besides that it’s hard, is that as a practice it serves as a yogic cultural flash point. Everyone has an opinion about it, or an experience with it, or knows someone who knows someone who does it and so on and so on. And almost as commonly you will find those whom you meet and interact with fall into roughly two categories; they either love it or they hate it. But regardless of camp affiliation, ardent supporter or vehement detractor, one point of convergence remains. Everyone agrees; Ashtanga is a powerful transformative practice.
Pattabhi Jois, affectionately known as Guruji, captures this simple fact in his famous saying, “Do your practice and all else is coming.” This cryptic instruction though often repeated, and even reminiscent of dare I say a Yoda-like instruction, contains the heart of the practice. (If one desired, I believe it would be possible to draw several striking correlations between the vernacular and quotable teachings of Guruji and Yoda, but I will set aside that task for a later date.) These simple words confirm that there is very little room for one to step on his mat for 2 hours a day, day after day, month after month, year after year, putting himself through the rigors of the sequences and to walk away unaltered to some degree. Now, the insightful are quick to point out that the above does not stipulate the nature of the “all else.” This, of course, is the proverbial fly in the ointment. However, not to be undone, Guruji offers additional hints and instructions to elaborate on this theme. Echoing teachings codified throughout the Vedas, Guruji notes, “If we practice the science of yoga, which is useful to the entire human community and which yields happiness both here and hereafter – if we practice it without fail, we will then attain physical, mental and spiritual happiness, and our minds will flood toward the Self.”
Continuing with complete honesty, I admit that I am not one to rock the tradition’s boat. I completely agree with the wisdom of the above and have chosen to live my life by this precept. However, I have also come to appreciate that something lies just below the surface of these instructions. I have also come to appreciate that the great masters like Guruji and Yoda are acutely aware of this shadow tension and are helpless to do anything about it. It just so happens that it’s all part of the game.
To be continued….