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Finding Your Own Yoga

by NinaKitchereeIf you carefully read the Yoga Sutras cover to cover and learn about what the eight-fold path really entails, you would realize—and maybe you already have—that this path is not one that we householders can follow in a literal way. First of all, we would have to become renunciates because even being attached to people you love, including your family, interferes with your ability to achieve samadhi. And the path—with its intended goal of liberation from everyday life as we know it—is really quite arduous and severe as we would eventually have to let go of all connection to external reality. As Georg Feuerstein says in The Yoga Tradition:“At the peak of this ecstatic unification, yogins reach the point of no-return. They become liberated. According the dualistic model of Classical Yoga, this implies the dropping of the finite body-mind. The liberated being abides in perfect “aloneness” (kaivalya), which is a transmental state of sheer Presence and pure Awareness.”Yet you will also realize that the Yoga Sutras is clearly full of invaluable wisdom, which can bring you a deeper understanding of human nature and help you move toward equanimity in your everyday life. So what’s an ordinary householder to do? If we can’t fully commit to the path detailed in the Yoga Sutras, is it okay for us to pick and choose and just use those things that are helpful to us and ignore what doesn’t apply to our every day lives or even our life goals? I was very pleased and a bit surprised to see Edwin Bryant address this issue way down deep in the third chapter of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali under sutra III.29, which is about one of the siddhis (mystical powers). He was discussing how cakras, as well-known as they are, are not part of classic yoga, and he used the metaphor of kitcheree (an Indian dish of rice, legumes, spices, and other ingredients all cooked together) to describe how Westerners tend to mix different elements from different yoga traditions into one big single “generic” Yoga.“Thus, while the siddhi/sakta/tantra metaphysics is a wonderful and vibrant spiritual universe in its own right, with deep roots in the ancient Indic past, and with its own internal coherence, logic, and appeal, it is not by any means the same as the system being taught by Patanjali. The integrity and distinctiveness of these traditions have a tendency to be erased into a hodgepodge in their Western exportations—into a kind of kitchorie Yoga.”That sounds a bit negative, but Bryant later goes onto to say that this approach is actually “understandable” and perhaps “inevitable,” and that same type of approach occurred within the Indic culture itself throughout its own history. “Thus one finds a generic sort of yoga as presented here in the bits and pieces of Patanjali-type practices as presented here in the sutras but articulated with neo-advaita-vendanta/Brahman terminologies and flavored with elements from tantric subtle physiology, all blended together as if representing a single coherent homogenous tradition. This is understandable—and with plenty of antecedents in premodern Indic traditions themselves one might add (indeed it can be argued that such blending is the very nature of religious traditions)—and perhaps inevitable in the modern West.”So now I have a name for the type of yoga I’m practicing: Kitcheree Yoga. And I’m willing to bet that’s what most of you are practicing, too. Of course, my kitcheree is created from different elements than yours because we have learned from different teachers and have different temperaments and inclinations. I, myself, don’t go for cakras or koshas, but I certainly mix some of Yoga Sutras with some Bhagavad Gita and other yoga texts into a kitcheree of Iyengar-style poses and mindful asana practice. And my personal recipe is always evolving based on new information I glean as I continue to study yoga history and philosophy. I just keep in mind this statement from Georg Feuerstein that has influenced my personal practice of yoga, in which he says that we should never accept a yogic path or yogic ideas and practices without questioning them.“In our struggle for self-understanding and psycho-spiritual growth, we can benefit immensely from a liberal exposure to India’s spiritual legacy. We need not, of course, become converts to any path, or accept yogic ideas and practices without questioning. C.G. Jung’s warning that we should not attempt to transplant Eastern teachings into the West rings true at a certain level; mere imitation definitely does more harm than good. The reason is that if we adopt ideas and lifestyles without truly assimilating them emotionally and intellectually, we run the risk of living inauthentic lives.”As an example of this in action, in his beautiful upcoming post “Metamorphosis” you’ll see how Jivana is currently striving to find what’s authentic for him in the Yoga Sutras and how to apply that to his everyday life as a householder. I personally find it “liberating” to have this permission for all of us to have our own individual yoga recipes. And because our blog is written by a collection of very different people, from different yoga backgrounds who practice very different kinds of “yoga,” our blog itself is an even more complex and interesting kitcheree of yoga points of view.My only concern here is that I think when we create our personal kitcherees, even from just those ideas and practices that feel authentic to use, that we should be clear to ourselves and others that this what we’re doing. If we’re not fully committed to the path outlined in the Yoga Sutras or any other path, we should be clear that we’re picking and choosing to find what’s useful for us and our students. And if we’re mixing more modern practices into our kitcheree—which most of us are—we should own up to where they come from and not claim that everything in the kitcheree comes from one single ancient yoga text. That will not only be a practice of truthfulness (satya) but will help avoid confusing yoga students who often struggle to make sense out of completely contradictory claims about what’s in the early yoga texts. What’s in your kitcheree?Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by Email ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook and Twitter ° To order Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being, go to Amazon, Shambhala, Indie Bound or your local bookstore.For information about Nina’s upcoming book signings and other activities, see Nina’s Workshops, Book Signings, and Books.

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