The day when you found out that Santa didn’t exist
January 28, 2011 § 3 Comments
Remember back when you were a kid, you would always wait excitedly at your bed on the night of the 24th of December, listening to all sounds that might mean Santa had arrived? The next thing you knew, it was morning, and you had missed Santa yet again. The only trace was the gifts under the tree or, in my case, since we didn’t have trees, beside my bed. And then came that day when, either your parents decided it was time to tell you the truth, or either you heard from your friend that Santa wasn’t real.
You were disappointed, upset, and mad at the world for lying to you all this time. You cried, but that wouldn’t make Santa any more real than he was. You felt your world crumbling, like you couldn’t trust again. You felt cheated.
That same feeling and emotion came back to me just a couple of days ago. Not for Santa (in case you’re wondering, I found out when I was 8), but for something that I’ve based my daily life and my practice on–yoga. The most popular form of Yoga as we know of today is largely comprised of asanas, or postures that challenge our bodies physically. However, what I’ve found out recently is that these asanas are rarely, rarely described in ancient yogic texts. Most yogic texts, such as the Yoga Sutras, for example, describes the yogic way of living and focuses more on pranayama (control of breath and energy) and dharana (focus, or placement of the mental faculty). Asanas were not the ancient yogis primary goals.
Okay, I can tolerate that. Maybe the ancient yogis just prioritized their mental health way more than their physical health, very different from the 21st century’s stress on exercise and physical activity. But these asanas still existed in ancient India thousands of years ago right?
Wrong. In the November 2010 issue of Yoga Journal, Mark Singleton unveils the stunning and unsettling truth about yoga. The second day when I found out that Santa didn’t exist. I felt so cheated. All I could think at that moment was: “My teachers lied to me! K. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, and T.K.V. Desikachar lied to the world!“
What Singleton discovered was at once remarkable yet disturbing. While perusing the Cambridge University Library, he came across a book with picture after picture of men and women in the oh-so-familiar yoga asanas, from Warrior Pose, to Downward Dog, to Headstand, Handstand, and more. But this was not a yoga book, but rather a book describing an early 20th century Danish system of exercise called Primitive Gymnastics. According to Singleton, the early 20th century marked a period during which there was a large struggle for independence everywhere in the world. Their logic was that, with stronger bodies they would improve the chances of defeating others in a variety of violent struggles. And so, the Europeans used these gymnastics to strengthen their bodies.
The Indian yoga gurus, once deeming any physical exercises or gymnastic-like postures as something the lower caste people do for a living, now saw the benefits of these exercises, and in turn melded the gymnastic moves into their yoga practices. It was about this time, in the 1930s that the famous Krishnamacharya, teacher of B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, Indra Devi, and T.K.V. Desikachar, developed a dynamic asana practice, that combined hatha yoga, wrestling exercises, and modern Western gymnastic movement into what we know of today as the vinyasa yoga system.
Suddenly, what I believed to be a 5000-year old tradition of asana practice became less than a century old.
I wanted to learn all about Singleton’s research, so I bought his book, Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice.
I’m going to get things straight, once and for all! I need to know what this is all about!
So what am I going to do now? I still believe in my asana practice, that it is part of what’s keeping my mind and body healthy, and that it can be a spiritual exercise. But slowly, I am integrating more of yoga into my life besides just asana. Already in the past few years I’ve seen both conscious and subconscious changes in my life. Becoming vegetarian, for example, attains to ahimsa, or nonharming, which came from Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras. I have been more conscious of how I’m treating my body, how I’m treating others, and more aware of the world of Mother Nature all around me.
Of course you were devastated when you found out that Santa didn’t exist. You sulk for a few days, maybe a week, but the world still goes around. Life goes on. Christmas still lives on. Similarly, just because yoga as we know of today may not actually be a thousand-years-old tradition, it won’t stop people from practicing yoga, be it the physical or the spiritual aspect or both. It’s that spirit within you that’s most important. Yoga teaches kindness, acceptance, and awareness. Accepting what yoga is today, regardless of its past, is the spirit of yoga. Already, yoga has brought about positive changes to thousands of people’s lives, and I believe that this is just the beginning of this new Yoga journey.