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Yoga: Tradition or Freedom?

[Nb: picture shows a non traditional formulation of Ardha badha panda paschimatanasana. In this case I am working the thoracic area rather than pulling forward and overstretching my hamstrings and lower back whilst leaving the spine – the vital area- overlooked.]


This all depends how we define tradition. If it is something we conform to for the sake of safety and an easy identity and instructions for life, then it’s limiting and stifling. But it does depend on its conception. Instead, it could be the springboard for an effective and well directed personal journey.

For what if tradition was meant for us? If we thought of it as a body of wisdom helpfully passed down so as we didn’t have to start from scratch. Can we think of it as tips and suggestions; rather than joining a club where we are either right or wrong?

It doesn’t have to be the ‘gospel truth’, passed down as an unquestionable source of authority to still be valuable, worth using and working within. For how can we learn anything if we don’t, at some point in our day at least, open our mind up towards guidance from something outside what we already know?

As it is commonly said, you have to learn the rules to know when to break them. A picture, summary or context of the territory we are entering into and an idea of what’s gone before starts to give us some perspective. For, in order to be free we first need to understand our natural limitations. Otherwise, our freedom is simply the imprisonment to the chaotic pull of emotions, varying and often conflicting in each and every moment.

To finally make tradition our own, is to be creative with our own life; which is to take on the full responsibility of being an individual. For general rules and prescriptions are always that; never exactly appropriate to us or the changing times. On the other hand, it is necessary to know how to handle this task skilfully. Ya this end, baking ourselves carefully in the discipline and focus of tradition adds a quality of awareness that would be a rare occurrence without this training.

In my view it is undeniably a useful thing, but, equally, if not finally balanced with our own judgment, if taken literally forever, it becomes in equal measures our destruction in the stagnation of our own self and sense of ‘path’. It is up to us in the end whether we want to use tradition for freedom or bondage. This takes a balancing of respect and humility with courage and skill.

For at our deepest aspect we are fluidity, a moving puzzle of various signs and symbols, just as tradition is. In this way it is a great companion; involving us with a sense of legacy, stories, and myth that allow us to find some continuity within this change and hence also some meaning and significance to life itself. Tradition does not in the end need to be related to on the rational level. It is above that; both true and false, an emotional vestige that is lies somewhere below the articulate.

Neither is it a contradiction to say that one can be traditional and creative at the same time. For true and appropriate spontaneity is surely just the natural continuance or blossoming of tradition within an individual.

It is sorely tempting to slumber. To try to hide under the comfort blanket of tradition in order to avoid the responsibility that is truly ours. I feel this is a disservice to that very tradition and not in its original conception. Indeed, opening out instead to uncertainty is frightening. Yet, it is only out of this that the process of actually living happens. Which is new revelation and growth in every moment. But, that is, bound and protected within a framework

Which has been tried and tested by many before us. Perhaps, radicalism and conservatism are not so far apart after all.


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