Yoga is profoundly subjective in individuals, yet objectively seen everywhere, including throughout the U.P. You may have noticed how interest in yoga and the variety of yoga classes available have grown. That is an objective story. My story with yoga is subjective, and will describe some of its inner workings.
My story begins with the birth of my first child. I had a long labor, and when the nurse performed the final measuring of the body’s dilation and ran my gurney down the corridor to the operating room, I watched this body shoot itself down the cosmic tunnel from a strange distance. The tunnel appeared as a black hole. Timelessly, a baby was born of my body in the fusion with intensely luminated darkness. Ecstatic moments – beyond anything in my earlier life.
A year later, I saw an ad for yoga classes. I had been feeling broken down from birthing and baby care, and was in fairly low spirits. Feeling yoga might help, I joined a class. A few days later, I bumbled through the postures and subsided into the final relaxation, stretched out on the floor. Deeper and deeper relaxation….. the teacher called it shavasana, the corpse pose. Slowly I let go, breathing deeply. Ecstatic energy, a sudden rise of voltage…. I was connected back with the experience of birthing. That experience was with me even before I had met a yoga teacher! Yoga had reopened me to the natural state of primal energy (called prana, in yogic vocabulary).
A surge of yoga teachers from India was coming to the U.S then, in the late 20th century. These were the teachers with whom I would meet and train. I found myself in the companionship of seekers. I experienced discoveries within practices that further opened perception, diving into the new books from the Far East that enriched and guided the practice of yoga. Ancient India had come to America, and I stepped into the ambiance of a civilization that constructed life on a vast sense of oneness. Yoga included the physical, psychological, and mental, and the overarching unifier was soul and spirit.
I learned that yoga was an old Sanskrit word meaning ‘yoke,’ expressing that we are connected (yoked) with the earth and its humans. Life itself is divine in higher perception (subjectivity again). During the long prehistoric tribal period (thought to be at least 100,000 years), humans lived in natural relation to the earth and to each other. Physically active, their body movements kept them grounded and in touch. As tribes moved into food cultivation, their movements became more repetitive. A hunter or gatherer is keen to the moment. A person planting seed feels the ache of repetition. Yoga seems to have gradually emerged as a way to keep in touch with the aboriginal relationship felt with the body. By the time people flooded into cities, this ancient practice of postures and attitude toward life (including spiritual experiences) brought about a more organized yoga. These ancient practices were formalized about 2000 years ago by Patanjali in the book Yoga Sutras. We still use his book today.
I gradually discovered that to give yoga to others, to teach …to bring life more alive, to break through the jails of self-limitations, to teach in order to learn, and to practice moving on the beam of stillness would help me in continuing my own yoga practice. And so I taught yoga in New York State when living there, and in Marquette when living here, for a total of fifty or so years.
Yoga celebrates subjectivity, and deep subjectivity is contact with oneness. Yoga, to yoke, to join all things together, union, means oneness! It is an activity that expresses oneness, and therein lies the bliss.
Yet objectively, as seen everywhere, there is a practice we can do that opens us to our birthright, to know the soul and the bliss of life. How many kinds of yoga are there? As many as people who practice yoga. Objectively infinite in its continuation, and subjectively infinite in its soul: infinite yoga.
Yet it is necessary to break things down in order to speak conceptually, for the mind. Traditionally, yoga practice is described as having four distinct approaches: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jana Yoga, and Raja Yoga. These names illustrate a way of practicing yoga.
Karma Yoga: Most yoga classes begin with Hatha yoga, meaning Sun/Moon yoga, literally. Hatha yoga is a way of experiencing our bodies and their potentials, and our connection with the natural world. Yoga postures communicate with this ancient and present earth; they express a physical, psychological, mental, and emotional way of being alive. Hatha yoga is part of Karma yoga, which refers to your everyday life, your Sun/Moon life. Karma yoga asks you to bring oneness and peace to your Sun/Moon life. That is yoga. One of my teachers said: Yoga is drinking water. Yoga is walking with friends. Yoga is that task you have to finish. Yoga is writing this subjective/objective note on yoga.
Bhakti Yoga: This is the yoga way of connecting with the oneness of the stream of life through engaging with emotional and psychological actions. Chanting is a devotional part of Bhakti yoga, and the many names and personalities of the deities from traditional stories line up with our various personalities as an evocative language of stories and images. Bhakti yoga asks for surrender because unless you release your habitual ideas and feelings, you will be unable to experience what you don’t yet know. And yoga is primarily a practice in opening yourself to a higher and larger experience of life.
Jana Yoga: This is the yoga way of connecting with the movements of life through the conceptual mind. Jana yoga is considered the most difficult pathway to knowing the oneness as mental conceptions often stray into mere ideas without a living connection. Philosophy leans on words, and words are often merely conceptual. Discoveries uncovered in Jana yoga change you. These discoveries of higher levels are experimental, matters of insight, matters of meditation, and all changes involve an increase in energy, the prana referred to in Patanjali’s sutras.
Raja Yoga: Raja yoga is an interlacing of the other three approaches to yoga: Karma, Bhakti, and Jana. Subjectivity is obvious here, because a practitioner or teacher will naturally create a mixture of the three that supports his or her practice of yoga.
The practice of yoga is subjective and objective, as are the hatha yoga classes you find around you, with aspects of the Karma, Bhakti, Jana. Hatha yoga is natural and also consciously directed. Most yoga classes are a mixture of ways to “still the mind.” Look for the teacher and class that fit you. At different times you may want different “mixtures.” You may also find hybrid classes that combine Hatha yoga with Pilates, or the arts (writing, painting, music, dance), or aerobics.
Yoga is proliferating, with more approaches to yoga now available to meld with the unique subjectivities of U.P. seekers. Perhaps the great friendship you can have with yoga will draw you to explore the ways of yoga in the variety of offerings available to you. Yoga (oneness) is infinite. . . and through seeking, you will likely discover your way.
Diane Sautter Cole is a retired English professor from NMU, where she taught writing, literature and mythology. Her yoga teaching began in New York State in the 1970s. She also taught yoga in Marquette and in the Physical Education department of NMU.
Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2017 – 2018 Issue, copyright 2017. All rights reserved.