What we have been seeing for the last thirty years or so, those huge music halls where the music can never be deafening enough, inevitably brings to mind those states of near trance, of loss of identity, a lack of differentiation, attempting to reach beyond signification. People live in the instant, feel penetrated by the music, the sheer amount of decibels is a sort of real violation of one's physical integrity, bodies mix in a diffuse sexual encounter, joints circulate--but that is not important. These are all things on which to lean, through which to return to a situation that seems to achieve a total meaning and at the same time precedes any articulated meaning. . . . [A]ttempts to do Oriental meditation are very much the same thing in indivuduals who despair in this depersonalized, privatized Western world.
--C. Castoriadis, "Psyche and Education," in Figures of the Thinkable (170-1)
In its original form, yoga
was developed within Hinduism
as a practice directed toward the attainment of Enlightenment; it thus involved a project of self-mastery, surrender to God, and world-withdrawl, directed toward the realization that the world is illusion, and that self and Other (atman and brahman) are ultimately the same. In other words, we can see the basic structure of stoicism, and we can roughly characterize yoga in its original form as a manifestation of what Hegel calls the Unhappy Consciousness
. Note that this term need not imply that yoga is--or ever was--a morose or depressed practice; the yogic ideal of transcendence as the dissolution of self within the love of Krishna still amounts to the renounciation of the physical world in favor of an eternal, transcendent, perfect world of spirit. And the renounciation of the world as illusion or "sport" is still a stoic project, no matter how couched in the terms of love, joy, or kundalini.
Thus, in its original form, yoga was essentially an apolitical
project--that is, essentially unconcerned with questions of social justice, democracy, economy, etc. This is not to say that yoga--or any
apolitical lifestyle--has no political ramifications
; quite the opposite
! But, while we might characterize the effects of such a practice as politically regressive
, we would have to call the project itself apolitical, and even antipolitical.
However, as yoga has migrated to--and gained in popularity within--the Western world, and most especially America, over the last few decades, two major "hybrid" strands of yoga have emerged. The first is what we might call "yoga as exercise routine"; that is, a yogic practice cut away from its metaphysical context, and offered to Westerners as yet another fitness program. This strand preserves the essentially apolitical nature of yoga, but in such a way that it no longer carries with it a message of asceticism. Indeed, within a First World capitalist economy, yoga's original ascetic practice would necessarily take on a politically critical character, and we can understand the "exercise routine" approach as a necessary step to maintain yoga's apolitical orientation. Furthermore, this strand of yoga is not limited to the "yoga light" classes offered at most gyms; the yoga classes we find at many yoga studios, which boil the Hindu philosophy down to empty, warmed-over hippie spiritual expressions ("love for the universe"; "finding your inner goddess"; etc.) are still largely of this kind. The spiritualism-light offered in such contexts is yet another manifestation of Western "apolitical" ideology; a response to modern alienation through regressive withdrawl into the Unhappy Consciousness, albeit in such a way that the capitalist economy of desire can still function.
The second--and more interesting--hybrid form of yoga to emerge, however, is somewhat different. Instead of simply divorcing yoga from any explicit metaphysics, there have been several attempts to essentially recreate
a Western context. The result has tended to change yoga from a practice of world withdrawl
into a practice of world engagement
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