I would like to say a few things about a question that has emerged recently in the blogosphere: Why blog? In a very well-written and thoughtful recent post, Carol Horton writes about why blogging adds value to our personal practices and to the yoga community as a whole. I'll start by considering Horton's insights, and then pose my own question, which is, roughly: What is the blogosphere for?
"Contemporary yoga practice (at least in North America, the only terrain I really know) is unbalanced. There’s an excessively heavy emphasis on asana, while other aspects of practice remain relatively undeveloped... with the centrality of asana comes an insidious tendency to replicate the weird combo of bodily obsession and disassociation that dominates mainstream culture. Sure, the yoga community earnestly talks the talk of body-mind-spirit integration. Frankly, however, I think we’re still pretty far away from walking the walk.
Certainly, there’s a lot of focus on developing the body through asana and associated practices (e.g., healthy eating, bodywork, outfitting ourselves in cool yoga gear). There’s relatively little emphasis, however, on similarly developing the mind. True, there’s a lot of detailed study of anatomy. Beyond such bodily focused thinking, however, the yoga community has generally hummed along to the tune of “get out of your head” in ways that start to sound suspiciously like “turn off your brain.”
Consequently, the spiritual dimensions of yoga – which are commonly, although not necessarily, tapped into through asana practice – are all-too-often cognitively untethered, divorced from the more rational, analytical, or simply questioning parts of our minds. As a result, there’s a pronounced tendency to shoot straight from a more purely physical practice way too far out into the Woo."
What Horton says here is very insightful. However, I wonder if her words may not go down so well with some Ashtangis. After all, Guruji famously says, "Yoga is 99 percent practice, 1 percent theory." I suppose there is more than one way to interpret this statement, but one could understand this to mean that the major insights and breakthroughs of yoga (i.e. the ones that lead to genuine growth) are the ones that come to us through the course of the practice; these insights are so profound and esoteric that words can never hope to do justice to them (for the record: I don't have any such insights, beyond maybe being able to tell you a few things about how to say, open your hips safely, or avoid certain injuries, simply because, being the reckless egotistical person that I am, I have suffered my fair share of such things.)
All of this makes the practice something whose greatest gifts can only be felt and perceived, not expressed through words. Which is a very beautiful thing. But I think it is possible to take this line to an extreme, and dismiss any attempt to talk about the practice as "mere theorizing". Which strikes me as being a rather strange position to be taking. Why? We are beings who do things in the world; at the same time, we also think, reflect and talk about these things that we do in the world. We talk about our day at work, about what we had for lunch, the movie we saw last night, the asshole who cut us off in traffic, etc, etc. Yoga is also a thing that we do in the world. Why not talk about it? Or maybe the idea is that the only things worth talking about are the nuts and bolts of the practice: how to get into such and such asana, anatomical issues, injuries (how to avoid them, how to heal from them if you have them, etc., etc.). Anything beyond these are intangible things that cannot be adequately expressed by words; indeed, any attempt to talk about these things may well result in misunderstanding and/or misinterpretation, which is dangerous. Perhaps this reluctance to go beyond these things is also motivated by a certain relativistic mindset: You are just as entitled to your version of the truth as I am entitled to mine. Who am I to impose my version of the truth on you by talking about my insights as if they are to be universally accepted (and vice versa)?
So, on this line of thinking, we should only restrict ourselves to talking about the very tangible nuts and bolts of the practice, and pass over everything else in silence. After all, the nuts-and-bolts are things that we can be pretty sure everybody needs to do their practice; moreover, being very physical and tangible in nature, they can be empirically and objectively verified, leaving no room for the sort of messy, contentious to-and-fro that often arises with discussions about spiritual matters. Hmm... sometimes I wonder if this is why I myself tend to writes mostly about such things :-)
But talking only about nut-and-bolt issues results, in Horton's words, in "other aspects of practice [remaining] relatively undeveloped...", so that beyond bodily focused thinking, 'the yoga community has generally hummed along to the tune of “get out of your head” in ways that start to sound suspiciously like “turn off your brain.”' So if Horton is right, there is then a need for an avenue in which yogis can think and reflect on their practices, and use the insights gained from such reflection to enrich their practice. And the blogosphere has at least the potential to serve this function; in this way, the blogosphere can serve as a tool through which contemporary yogis living in an increasingly fragmented world can connect, develop a community, and help one another to develop the remaining seven limbs of the yoga practice.
Fair enough. I actually like this idea very much. (I really do; I'm not being sarcastic). But something tells me that if the yoga blogosphere is to fulfill such an exalted function, we are going to need more objective standards for evaluating discussions of the spiritual aspects of the practice in the blogosphere. I do not know how these standards should be drawn up, or who should decide what these standards are (I think this "who" question is the really sticky one; why should person A or person B get to be the arbiter of all things spiritual?). But I can't get over the feeling that some set of objective standards needs to be in place if the blogosphere is to be able to step up to the plate, so to speak, and fulfill its lofty potential as a provider of spiritual resources. Yeah, I can already hear some of you out there hurling silent (or maybe not-so-silent) accusations about me trying to be the "spirituality police", or something to that effect. But before you hurl your e-stones at me, allow me to briefly categorize the kinds of blogs I have observed so far in my short time as a blogger (I only started blogging in October 2010). Most blogs do not fall neatly into one of these categories. More often, they fall into two or more of the categories below; for instance, in my estimation, this blog probably falls under both (1) and (3), with a little of (2) and (5) mixed in. The purpose of this categorization is also not to make any value judgment as to what kind of blog is "better". There are different kinds of blogs out there with different kinds of content, and I just try to tell it like it is. So, in my humble opinion, these are the categories:
(1) The tell-everything-under-the-sun blog: As the name suggests, in this kind of blog, the blogger basically says anything that strikes his or her fancy at that particular moment in time. Sometimes there is some kind of an attempt to relate whatever is being said to yoga, sometimes not.
(2) The pseudo-private journal/blog: This kind of blog is similar to (1) in many ways. The blogger basically says anything and everything that strikes his or her fancy at any particular moment in time. The difference is that the pseudo-private journal/blog usually has a more uncensored or unedited feel to it; the blogger is usually quite unreserved about venting or ranting or otherwise expressing his or her raw feelings about certain things in the immediate environment that either piss him or her off greatly, or make him or her super-ecstatic.
(3) The provider of nuts-and-bolts-information-about-yoga blog: In this kind of blog, the blogger tries to provide a service to the community by providing objectively verifiable information that he or she thinks would add value to readers' lives. Specifically, with yoga blogs, the idea is to provide objectively verifiable information that the reader can then use to further and enrich his or her yoga practice.
(4) The purveyor of all-kinds-of-information-about-yoga blog: This is somewhat similar to (3), except that it is more ambitious: In addition to providing nuts-and-bolts-information about yoga practice, it also tries as far as possible to provide unbiased reporting on developments in the yoga/spiritual community, in the hope that this information would help the seeker of spirituality become better-informed, and thus be in a better position to make sound decisions about his or her spiritual paths.
(5) Humor/satire blogs: These blogs seek to entertain and provoke by offering satire and spoofs of developments in the yoga/spiritual community.
(6) Blogs run by recognized senior teachers/figures in the spiritual community: As the name implies, these are blogs run by senior teachers or well-known spiritual figures who usually already have an established teaching career independently of their online presence. They use their blogs as an additional avenue to reach out to more people, and to provide information and resources to both existing and potential students.
Again, I want to emphasize that the purpose of coming up with these categories is not to make any kind of judgment as to which kind of blog is "better". Indeed, if we compare the blogosphere to a garden with many different kinds of flowers blooming, each of these kinds of blogs are valuable in their own right. But if the blogosphere is to be more than simply a garden, if it aspires to be a "vegetable farm" of spirituality which seeks to provide well-rounded nutrition to the spiritual seeker hungering for spiritual nourishment, we would surely need a more systematic and objective way of organizing the blogosphere, so that the seeker of spirituality does not consume too much of one kind of plant, or too little of another (or God forbid, gets poisoned by eating poisonous toadstools... well, maybe this analogy has gone too far... my apologies :-)).
Perhaps, looking at my categories, one might say that only (6) can qualify to serve as a "certified provider" of spiritual nourishment: After all, it can be argued, the established teacher running the blog already has a proven "track record" (excuse the mundane language) of providing reliable spiritual guidance to a sizable number of students. But if this is so, then it is the particular established teacher in question, and not the blogosphere as an independent entity, that has the ability to provide spiritual guidance. In this sense, the blogosphere is dependent (some might even say parasitic) for its worth on the "spiritual power" of these established teachers. All of the rest of us bloggers are just... flotsam (or worse... but I'm fine with that; I've never claimed to be anything lofty.).
So, to conclude, I guess what I'm saying is this: While I agree with Horton that the blogosphere has the potential to offer us the spiritual resources to carry out the other seven limbs of our yoga practice, I think that, given its present state, it is not yet capable of fulfilling this potential. But maybe you already knew this all along. Well, then, why the hell did I just spend half an afternoon writing this? For your entertainment and mine, of course! :-) Many thanks for reading this.