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Joe Roberson, yoga practitioner and teacher

Yoga: Putting Perfume on a Dirty Dog

Joe Roberson has been a yoga practitioner and meditator for the past twenty-five years. He also teaches Yoga and is co-director of the Yoga Center of Columbia, Maryland, USA.
He recently came to Pune to visit the famed Iyengar Institute – something of a Mecca for him. Disappointed with that experience, and having heard something of the Osho Meditation Resort through friends back in the States, Joe decided to use the rest of his holiday time at there.
Osho Times Asian asked Joe, for its issue on "Body Wisdom," to explain the popularity of Yoga and what he got from his experience of the Osho approach to meditation....

     When I began doing yoga in 1979, it was a fringe activity seen as the domain of hippies and dropouts. Now suddenly there is a stampede at the door. Why are people coming in droves to yoga classes?
     The response as to what attracted them to yoga from my new students, here at the Yoga Center of Columbia, is a desire to relieve stress, to gain greater flexibility and strength, to avoid invasive surgery, to heal back problems, to find peace of mind, and to learn how to relax.
     The evidence is abundant that yoga delivers.
Stress, while usually triggered by external stimuli, is actually the experience of disharmony among the internal systems of the body. Fear or anger is squashed, in the name of customer service or of familial harmony.
     Health, wrote Aristotle, is the consummated love affair among the organs of the body. Yoga can and does foster harmony among body, mind and spirit.
     The problem lies in the existence of buried traumas, painful experiences, repressed emotions that become chronic tension, chronic contractions of voluntary muscles. Yoga can be misused as an additional layer of repression to control inappropriate expressions of anger or hurt.

     Some people employ yoga to yoke their unruly emotional nature. Occasionally a student of Kundalini Yoga will experience emotional upheaval during or after class. Some blame Kundalini Yoga for this experience, when, in fact, what has occurred is the uncorking of some repressed emotional material buried in their subconscious. Yoga has simply stripped away the covering on something that needs to be expressed.
     This is what I believe Osho means when he says one must "let the gorilla out." [LINK to Aspects of Active Methods/Letting the Inner Gorilla Loose ] Osho further states, in describing the second stage of Dynamic Meditation, "This will be difficult, because we have suppressed the body so much that a suppressed pattern of life has become natural to us."
     One aspect of the contrast between the yoga approach and what I encountered at the Osho Meditation Resort is control versus un-control, controlled breathing versus chaotic breathing.
     B.K.S. Iyengar prescribes that prananyama be taught only after the student has practiced the asanas for several years, and when pranayama is taught, every detail of breathing is carefully controlled. Breath, in yoga, is always controlled, is always to follow a certain rhythm, a prescribed pattern.

     When I teach breath awareness to beginners, I describe how the breath pattern is affected by one's feelings, thoughts and by one's energy level; further, that just as the breath normally follows one's feeling state, it can work in the opposite way, i.e., that if one can regulate the breath one can regulate the emotions. That is, if you are scattered or upset or stressed, the breath pattern will likewise be irregular, shallow, chaotic; and that the most effective method to alleviate stress is to create a smooth, regular, slow breath pattern.
     The problem with this is that the body collects and stores every stressful, painful, fearful or traumatic experience in the body, as chronic tension, as an inappropriate contraction of voluntary muscles. While yoga does wring out many tensions in the body, and while controlled breathing does in fact relieve stress and induce calm, very often there is a deeper layer of tension that does not respond to these systematic and gradual methods.
     For these, it is my experience that cathartic, chaotic methods are far more effective. This was my experience with the Osho Dynamic Meditation.

     Without my experience of the Osho techniques I doubt I would have done today's practice this way: feeling quite agitated and anxious from all the demands of the day. I lay on the studio floor, listening to Pearl Jam, with eye bags covering my eyes. Unable to relax – what with a masonry jackhammer drilling upstairs above the studio – I leaped up and began dancing and jumping madly, out of control, to my favorite song. I rolled on the floor, I bumped into the walls; I jumped up and touched the ceiling until I collapsed, out of breath. And relaxed!
     The yoga solution would have been to do slow regular breathing and Sun Salutations, or headstand. Yoga works wonders for the body and mind and spirit, yet many times emotions require something more dramatic, some cathartic release. It is only with deep relaxation, after complete catharsis, that the experience is one of bliss rather than of controlling emotions. Otherwise it is like putting perfume on a dirty dog!

     Patanjali states that the aim of yoga is the cessation of the modifications of the mind. In Light on Yoga, the "bible" of Hatha Yoga, BKS Iyengar quotes: "Consciousness and joy am I, and bliss is where I am found."
     After spending ten days attending asana classes [at the Iyengar Institute in Pune, India], I found this to be no more than lip service to some lofty transcendent aim. The impression I got was that the road of asana is arduous and infinite, that one never arrives at postures perfect enough to warrant joy. To me, yoga too often is fixated on asana, fixated on form.
     At the Osho resort my first impression was the opposite. How, I thought, can anyone achieve anything substantial when there are so many different techniques to sample? The plethora of activities – from Dynamic Mediation to Vipassana to Sufi whirling to dancing to tennis to swimming and much, much more – suggested a dilettante's wet dream: meditation-lite, with no calories; meditation resort; Club Med, even!
     Later I realized one positive result of the multitude of offerings was that it made it difficult to fixate on any technique. The underlying experience within each activity was one and the same: silence, witnessing, the cessation of the modifications of the mind!
     My very first full day at the resort ended with a palpable feeling of having arrived. For the first time in years I experienced the silence and awe, the feeling of seeing afresh with a quiet mind...which I first experienced in a Kundalini Yoga class. "When you are silent, whenever you are being the witness, you are the Buddha."

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