Y is for Yoga – Pagan Blog Project 2012

Yes, this is part of my “finish up last year’s PBP” posts. Better late than never. But let’s get into it, shall we?
Some of you may recall that, just under a year ago, I decided that I would do at least ten minutes of yoga or other physical activity (at the time, that meant taking a walk, but this has expanded to things like going for a swim or doing a living-room-dance-party as well) every day.
I have not been doing a lot of yoga lately. Being on the ground floor with the blinds open is definitely discouraging me from my morning cat-cow and downward dog poses, let me tell you. But that’s not actually what I’m writing about today.
I want to talk about “white people yoga” / “new age yoga” and how, for such a damn long time, I was seriously averse to trying yoga for the health/stretch benefits because I was watching my witchy friends turn into new-age, white-light, “yoginis”.
This is what I mean when I say “white people yoga”. It’s not the stuff they do in India, or on Tuesday nights at the local Indian community center, or whatever. It’s this other stuff. Stuff that, when it moves into spirituality territory rather than “gentle exercise” territory, really seems to be heavily linked to a dualistic worldview where “light” is “good” and “dark” is “bad” and… you know where this is going already.
That isn’t me, folks. I appreciate the stretch a lot. No question, and I’m glad I gave it a go. I even miss the classes, which get me to do so much more than I typically do on my own[1]. But the whole business of someone with a dirt-worshipping identity getting hooked on something that says “down/ground/earth is BAD”, that suggests that one should detatch from worldly things even as it (or its instructors) say that “getting back into your body” is great… That bothers me.
Okay, okay. I know that I can’t go around policing what everyone else is doing with their exercise regimens, spiritual practices, or lives in general. What I’m saying that I really didn’t want to go down that road. One that starts with something kind of like Wicca or Ecclectic Goddess Spirituality, maybe dabbles in a bit of spell-craft or herb-lore, maybe hits up a belly dance class (’cause that’s so much more empowering than stripping…), does a drop-in yoga class or two to get in touch with breath and embodiment… and then takes a sharp right turn off the woodland path and towards Deepak Chopra.
Once upon a time, I had a husband. He was not a good husband. While we were together, he was straight-up not a good person, although I hope that’s changed and I think at least some of it had to do with his own internalized ideas about what “husband” and “adult man” meant and required. He was also a New Age (ish) guy. The kind of person who bought into The Secret and all its victim-blaming bullshit. The kind of guy who thought therapy meant weakness and/or that it was a waste of time when you could just bandage over the problems with platitudes like “love is letting go of fear”[2].
When I met him, hearing that he had new-age-ish leaning was a good thing. I thought it meant he’d be open to my Pagan ways, that our worldviews wouldn’t be all that different. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and my feelings about New Age Anything are pretty heavily tinted through the hindsight of that marriage.
That’s part of why it took me so long to be willing to go to a yoga studio. Aside from the cost, and aside from my nervousness about hurting myself[3], I didn’t want to turn into someone whose elementals circles stopped at Air. I’m up in my head enough as it is, I don’t need to make it worse.
So… Yeah. I guess this hasn’t actually been all that much about Yoga, has it?
Welcome to my brain and my past.
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
[1] I’m not talking ten minutes here, I mean the difference between a 25-40 minute at-home session versus a 90-minute class where I don’t have to rely on knowing that I know what I’m doing, because there’s an instructor to make sure I’m not damaging my ligaments in the process.
[2] However true that statement may actually be, the book by that title was an endless repetition of the main thesis without any suggestions for “how to” or “what if” or “why”. Not okay.
[3] I blew my right knee out, something like 12 years ago, when I tried to do downward dog without bending my knees. I learned my lesson on that front, but I was afraid I might do something like that again, even with a real-life instructor on hand to make suggestions and correct improper/damaging posture.


One response to “Y is for Yoga – Pagan Blog Project 2012

  1. My Paganism is fractured and weird. There’s one definition of right hand and left hand paths that says right hand attempts to move from the material to the spiritual, the individual to the cosmic, and left hand is the opposite – from the spiritual to the material, from the cosmic to the individual. I’m going both ways, which might be why concrete magic isn’t my forte and I’m also not looking for enlightenment. I align with the ecstasy sometimes; that’s about it. It’s so easy that I wonder if I’m doing it wrong somehow. I don’t need to sit for thirty minutes emptying my mind in order to gain access to ecstasy. It’s pretty much just sit down, relax, control your energy flows and choose your visualization, bang.

    While I do yoga, and finish it with my peculiar prayer-meditation, the yoga itself is not spiritual. It is a good way of making my body aware of itself.

    I think one reason why I’m not practicing more is because I’ve not made it into an identity, with a community, or filled my house with reminders. It makes Gilly uncomfortable, and we’re pretty much each other’s only RL friends right now. She wouldn’t stop me, and she’d leave me alone to do it if I asked, but I’m sure you can understand it’s discouraging when you KNOW it is making her uncomfortable. I’d rather pretend I’m not doing it.

    So I do yoga and meditate when Gilly’s not at home, and sometimes center myself when necessary, and I’ve rather let that fall by the wayside lately. I should get back to it. However, it has never changed the fact that my beliefs and thoughts and head in general is a disorganized mess. The ecstacy is simple, and while I call my souls Henki, Itse and Luonto and the cosmic everything the Mother, that’s about as detailed as it gets. I might be more new age than Pagan – not because of the direction of the path (I don’t think I’m even on a path) but because I can’t concretisize divinity into gods or power into magic without feeling awkward.

    Finnish courtesy is passive and introvert-oriented, which is why it appears as rudeness to people from cultures with active and other-oriented courtesy. In Finland it is NOT rude to ignore people who haven’t addressed you, or to be quiet instead of make small talk, or to subtly decline a conversation, or to not look people in the eye. It IS rude to be pushy, and the definition of what makes a person pushy is wider. I’m an introvert by nature myself, and grew up with a tempestuous mother and school bullies, so my strategy has always been not to bother other people. So I don’t go looking for gods who might not want to be bothered. The cosmic Mother is already everywhere, including inside me, so She’s different.

    On a different subject, re: dark/ground etc.: I’ve been taking a class on (what little we know of) unique Finnish/Finno-Ugric/ancient Uralic folk beliefs, and one thing that seems consistent is the division of the world to underworld, middle world and overworld, with the middle world and overworld occupying more or less the same sphere. The middle world was, of course, our physical existence. The overworld was the sky, or cosmic influences, largely detached from human existence. The underworld was the magical realm that stories were told of, and that shamans visited and conferred with. The associations of the underworld were down, left, north (the Finnish word for north also means bottom), counterclockwise, waning moon, death, magic, night. Its association with female is usually considered to be a late addition from the agrarian era, but it became strong. Late Finnish magical thinking also involved the division of labour: there was “man’s power” and “woman’s power” which everyone had and that was very strong, leading to taboos of men touching women’s tools and women touching men’s tools. I am not too happy about these kinds of arbitrary lists of associations including sex, because it always somehow ends up with pointless woman-bashing. Why are we death, sickness, darkness? Because dudes don’t like those things. But I digress. The point is that the relationship with the underworld was not simply negative. It was the source of power and legend, and the kind of accessible magic that the overworld couldn’t offer. The magic was used to heal and help, and was the focus of much sacred thought. The underworld was also the final destination of every life, apart from a bit of reincarnation, or (depending on which layer and location of folk religion you’re looking at) return to the overworld.

    The association of death and womanhood did produce a fantastic mistress of death. Scholars think that in the original proto-Uralic thought, the regent of the underworld was male and the regent of the overworld was female, and that got swapped around – but both were regents of death. The soul of the dead person moved downriver to north/bottom/underworld where it was received by the Lord of Death and transformed into a bird, and flew back to south/up/overworld to the house of the Lady of Rebirth, to sit on the branches of her tree until it was time to be reborn. Which makes me think that the birthplace of the proto-Uralic culture was on the north side of a mountain.

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