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Yoga Like Martial Arts

Yoga should’ve been considered more like a martial art. It’s a huge disservice that it hasn’t been approached this way; perhaps, minus, avoiding the ostensible encouragement towards aggression that I felt in those early classes as a practitioner from age seven to sixteen. Then, I discovered girls and alcohol which I thought more fun and less discipline.

Well, that didn’t work out that well in the end. Not that it wasn’t fun to degrees, but it’s not a sustainable lifestyle in the long term, or at least it was all getting a bit ragged around the edges; most of all myself.

So, after a hiatus from anything physical for around 4 years I really dove straight into yoga when I found a class as, by this time, I had become nervous, moody and, on a more thoughtful level. I felt that somehow, I had lost my integrity in the confusion of it all. Maybe, really, all I wanted and needed was clarity and yoga did bring that into my life.

Perhaps, martial arts have changed now. At the root of that discipline is a much deeper, philosophical approach encompassing how to live and act generally.

Unfortunately, I only got the chance to read about that subsequently. It wasn’t my experience thirty years ago in Essex, but maybe teachers have matured, or maybe it’s just Essex. But at least in most of what I’ve read, they talk of the inner principles of movement and how that relates also to cultivating similar, natural and beneficial external actions and behaviours in the world in general.

In yoga up to this day I hear none of this. Sure, there are the ‘elusive bandhas’ and the often heard, never elaborated ‘it’s about the breathing’. In fact, these are, from most teachers of Ashtanga most of what you will get if you ask a question, along with much more obscure and nebulous talk of ‘energy’ and ‘purification’, and then there was the lineage and tradition before that became problematic to use as a smokescreen.

The thing is, I can’t claim that I know what the right thoughts are to have, the right emotions to feel. My perceptions are subjective and risky enough that I don’t trust them, let alone pass them on.

But there’s a lot of this talk in yoga, about basically being a calm, open, aware, conscious, (and so many more adjectives abound) person. Basically, the idea is that if you practice yoga you are a good person. This is all such a distraction from the main purpose which is to use the physical mechanism we inhabit skilfully to produce something positive behind what’s a nice imagined idea.

There seems to be a lot of imagination going on in yoga class right now and not much else. This is because if the technical approach isn’t taught we are simply in a softly lit room for an hour or so, maybe with calm music too and not much else to focus on and therefore, of course we are going to feel nice. The moment we step out of this cosy atmosphere, however, we might observe that not much has changed, and to be honest, when not much method has been applied, why would it?

The thing is, the yoga practice applies the same techniques of compression and expansion, playing with developing a profound connection with the diaphragm and the deep muscles of the lower abdomen, that martial arts does. The fact that it’s non-contact steers it clear of falling into the huge waste of energy that focussing on external aggression or domination implies, but nevertheless, at least the mechanics are taught more correctly in these disciples.

Yoga, instead is this flowing, long, calm practice and so it’s simply not in keeping to talk about the quite forceful inner-fire we are trying to stoke. The key to the difference is that it’s obviously an inward and introverted thing; we don’t do it in participation with others and so it’s more personal and teachers generally encourage students to have their own, quiet, subjective experiences in the class environment.

This is all well and good, but to get any real benefit you do need to pay careful attention to what’s happening in the deeper layers of the body, but it usually also precludes any attempt at objectivising anything life a yoga-technique which then the student can practice and feel and apply personally.

Without this technique we simply fall back on spiritual platitudes without teaching anything that will actually lead to a real experience of any of these truths. And they may be different to how we immediate take them. The inner-method is quite tough and fiery, not least in terms of the concentration and focus needed, but also in the subtlety of how far we need to penetrate into the deep layers of the physical and energetic body in order to perceive this.

Though it is true that it does lead to the positive kind of vibes, both towards ourselves and others that we would like to imagine we are in possession of, it also does dredge a lot of much murkier stuff up. That’s why It might be more useful, in a way, to imagine yoga practice more like a warrior in battle as in martial arts and not feel we have to be all ‘yogic’ about it.

More honest and helpful for long term success in working towards being a more content and kind human being is not to worry about this idea and focus on the physical method, what has been referred to, though still not usually explained as to why, as ‘nerve cleansing’.

Yet, if you follow yoga as a student of martial arts would, with that kind of concentration, fire and discipline, you start to feel that something to do with careful stimulation of the nerves, particularly around the spinal nexus, you do start to feel more grounded and mentally clearer.

So, whilst practice, should be allowed to throw up all kinds of thoughts and feelings one might not be the proudest of, in the end it will generate an honest decency which may not look the same as speaking softly and trying to appear humble and non-attached.

I have learned that you can never tell with emotions what’s really going on, least alone from the outside, where it all can be so confusing when anger can sometimes be the kindest response or seeming love bely a most fearful attachment and self-centred consideration.

Better, then to focus on applying the method rigorously, as, in that we can at least attempt to convey some objective parameters which then can be helped to be checked and amended by a teacher who has experienced them on a physical level themselves.

As Shaikira says ‘the hips don’t lie’, neither does the body, take care of what you can see and feel and let the subtler aspects of energy and unconsciousness take care of themselves.


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