Wikipedia says the following: Yoga (Sanskrit: योग ) is the physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India with a view to attain a state of permanent peace of mind in order to experience one’s true self. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga)
Concerning this question, we had a class discussion focussing around this video you might have come across already.
I will sum up a few of the questions and my personal answers to them:
- Is Yoga concentration? Yes partially.
- Is concentration meditation? It’s close but not the same, especially if you consider Patañjalis eight limbs of the yoga path, where dhāraṇā is step 6, dhyāṇā step 7 and samādhi step 8. Depending on the translation, usually dhāraṇā is concentraion and dhyāṇā meditation. I know that in practice those limbs don’t always work succesive but in my personal point of view and experience, concentration is one step before meditation.
- Is Shida concentrating, but not intending to achive liberation, and therefore not doing yoga? We don’t know, but as she performs this act in front of an audience, liberation might not be her primal aim. Intention is a big part of yoga in my opinion. You can do asanas and not focus on your intention and you will feel fine afterwards. But if you set an intention before and during your practice, it makes a huge difference in presence and intensity. The perfomance aspect of this makes it tricky. Is it necessary to force something, some ability on people? Is it necesarry to show off? As our professor pointed out, this is an old problem. The public aspect of showing magic/supernatural powers has probably always been there. People love to see extraordinary, extreme stuff. This hasn’t really changed since men walk this earth I guess. Another interesting point the professor made was that the fact that she’s asian contributed to her simple, meditative impression. Would we feel the same about a caucasian or afro-american performing this act?
- Is it a circus show? Partially yes. Also because of the link below the video, where you can see the guy who “invented” those special balancing sticks. You need preparation for this kind of act, you need to get those sticks which you can’t just find by wandering around the woods. You don’t need this kind of preparation before yoga. Basically you can do yoga anywhere. Yes a mat is comfy, yes a towel and a block might be handy, but not necessary.
- Has yoga always had a performative/theatrical aspect? Regarding human nature I’m afraid i have to say yes. When you practice yoga for a certain time you become different, your mind and body change and you get certain abilities, this is inevitable. We love attention, we love approval and praise and while we try to free ourselves from those adherences, we won’t make it all the time. This is a lifelong path. Our professor furthermore mentioned, that 20-30% percent of the Yoga Sutras contains ways of gaining powers. There has always been tension between yoga, bodybuilding and contortionists for example since the idea (more or less) is to conquer your body, to gain mastery over it in a way.
- Are yoga powers a distraction from the “true” path, or are they an integral part of yoga? Both i guess. It’s the challenge of those yoga powers: See this power and don’t cling to it. Just observe. (Easier said than done i know 😉 )
- Is Shida’s concentration the same as dhāraṇā “steady concentration,” one of the eight components of yoga described in the Yogasūtras?
- Patañjali defines dhāraṇā in sūtra 3.1:
deśabandhaś cittasya dhāraṇā: “dhāraṇā (concentration) means the conscious mind being bound to a location.”
Patañjali, in his comments (Bhāṣya), expands on this:
“Concentration means the binding of the conscious mind in locations such as the wheel of the navel, the lotus of the heart, the light in the head, or the tip of the tongue. Alternatively, using only the modes of the conscious mind, in external domains.”
In that case, Shida’s got the dhāraṇā I think. But still we can’t ever know what’s going on in her head. You can’t even tell it with people you know most of the time. Sometimes I don’t even know what’s going on in my head because something in there is so busy talking all the time, especially when i’m doing my meditations, that i can’t even follow.
- Patañjali defines dhāraṇā in sūtra 3.1:
What is yoga for me? Currently yoga is a way to get to know myself, my body, my mind, my reactions and my patterns. I am far from liberation. I am striving for a certain state of calmness, peace of mind, equanimity although I don’t expect it to be permanent at all, as the wikipedia definition suggests. Nevertheless, those honestly are the best moments, when i get a glimpse of this inner quietness. So this is my very short definition for now.
What is yoga for you? I am curious to learn about your definitions and/or experiences 🙂