Double Bakasana with Lotus, 2007
I was talking with a friend over a post-yoga Saturday brunch about being frequently asked to explain why yoga can be a spiritual and not merely a physical practice. As someone who has been teaching yoga for eight years, I am regularly presented with this question from a wide range of friends and acquaintances: students, family members, childhood friends, and particularly from people who know me from the art world, in which, somewhat ironically, there is a frequent sense of suspicion surrounding my choice to dive so deeply into a spiritual discipline, as if it threw into question my commitment to my other spiritual discipline, namely art making.
So when someone does have the curiosity to ask (and I welcome the question), “How can a series of movements and alignment instructions be a spiritual practice?” My briefest, most lucid response to an extremely complex question is generally something like this:
If we consider the body, heart, and mind as a triangular relationship, when one of the three falls out of balance, the triangle is thrown off, distorted. We need to tend to all three points, as each serves as a gateway into the other two. We weave back and forth through the gateways like a circuitry: body – mind – heart. And what happens in each area functions on both a literal and metaphorical level within the others. If I am mentally irritated or emotionally joyful or physically energetic, that visibly manifests in the other areas. It can be seen and felt. Once we get a handle on this dynamic, we can step into this circuitry and play with it, shift it, use one of the gateways to draw the others back into balance. In this way, we begin to participate more fully in our own embodied experience.
It is this constant dance between these three entryways that leads us into a deeper more meaningful experience of ourselves. If we look at the Tantric model, body, heart, and mind not only triangulate, but fractalize. So every single point is a point of departure in every direction for more–expanding exponentially outward like shooting stars.
Bodyheartmindheartbodymindheartmindbodymindheartbodyheart…And so on, and so on…
Repainting a Shri Chakra, Meenakshi Temple, Madurai
Can yoga be a spiritual practice? Yes. Can art making be a spiritual practice? Yes. Can running or dancing or singing? Yes-yes-yes. Of course, you can strip away the spiritual component of any of these practices and leave them as simple calisthenics – whether physical or mental. Any can be reduced to a simple technical enterprise. But then you’re not doing the yoga any more, or really fully participating in anything in a rich and meaningful way.
Double Bakasana Double Lotus, 2007
The word yoga literally means union. The Sanskrit root of yoga is yuj, meaning to yoke, to connect, to unite. When we do the yoga, we are uniting body, heart, and mind. Every asana, every breath, every gesture and movement becomes a deeper assertion of the exquisite circuitry of our very selves.