Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Empirical Blogging, chitta vrttis, and brahmacharya

I'm probably going to piss off a few people by writing this, but I really think the yoga blogosphere has become a very funny place recently. What do I mean? I get the sense that, rather than using their blogs as a place to share their own feelings about their own practice and life as it pertains to the practice, many bloggers seem to be increasingly using their blogs as platforms to air their views about the latest storms and/or scandals in the yoga world, both online and in the "real" world.

Why is this an issue? Well, in a sense, it's not. After all, our blogs are our own private virtual soapboxes, and we should be allowed to say whatever we want, right? Who am I to dictate what people should or should not blog about?

Fair enough, fair enough... but I always feel that in order for yoga blogging to be meaningful and authentic, it needs to be based as much as possible on thoughts and feelings about things that one has experienced directly.  These can be thoughts and feelings about the current state of one's own practice, thoughts and feelings about things that are happening in one's own life and environment, or thoughts and feelings about things and ideas that one is reading about or thinking about. I'm not quite sure how to express all this more succinctly, but the general idea is that blogging should be as close to one's first-hand empirical experience as possible. I've even coined a fancy term for this idea: Empirical Blogging.

But who says that blogging needs to be empirical? I do! Well, you may ask, what's so important about blogging's being empirical? Why should it be empirical?

To begin, the more one focuses on things that one directly experiences, the more one can come to understand what is going on in one's own life. In this way, blogging becomes a way of studying and understanding the self (i.e. svadhyaya or self-study). By contrast, the more one focuses on things in the greater world (even if it is the greater "yoga world") that may or may not have anything to do with one's own direct experience, the more likely one is to add to the already voluminous amount of vrtti that is in one's chitta. What's so bad about adding more vrtti to the chitta? Well, I can't answer this question. Only you can... 

Wow, I think my professional life is starting to spill over into my blogging life: I'm beginning to sound like the didactic, preachy professor that I am in "real life"! So I better sign off soon. I see that this is not a good blogging day (or maybe it's the full moon?). But I'm guessing you know what I'm trying to say here with all my talk of empirical and non-empirical blogging. Well, in case you don't, I'll give you a couple of recent examples of non-empirical blogging:

(1) All that blogging about that William Broad book about how yoga wrecks your body: I have no problem with blogging about books. I do that myself. But from what I can see, most of the bloggers who have blogged so far about the release of this book have been blogging about it second-hand: They basically quote reviews of the book that have been done by other people or news agencies.

Rather than quote some review or other which I can go find and read myself online, wouldn't it far more valuable to go read the book yourself, and then write up a detailed, balanced appraisal of what is in the book based on your own reading? (Need I say more?)

(2) All that blogging about that John-Friend-Anusara affair: I really have no idea what is going on in this affair (which is why I don't blog about it!). Again, it seems that whatever blogging I have seen so far involves some kind of secondhand quoting of this or that source that may or may not know anything about what is actually going on.

But seriously, do I really need to know anything about what John Friend is or is not doing? If it's a matter of Famous Yogi X having sex consensually with not-so-famous-but-very-physically-attractive Yogini Y, and then going on to have sex consensually with another not-so-famous-but-also-very-physically-attractive Yogini Z, and so and so forth... why would I need to know any of this? I mean, don't people have sex with each other/one another all the time? Granted, Famous Yogi X, being a Famous--and therefore supposedly Self-realized--Yogi, shouldn't be running around having sex with a bunch of people. It's bad for his brahmacharya, and probably also for the brahmacharyas of all the people he's having sex with. But again, why do I need to know any of this? Knowing somebody's non-observance of brahmacharya isn't going to help me with my brahmacharya (nor, I suspect, with yours...). And moreover, the information, being secondhand, may or may not be accurate. So we are stuck with a very bad deal: We get some (admittedly juicy) information that may or may not be accurate, which benefits us in no tangible manner, and which most certainly adds to our collective chitta vrtti, and does nothing to help with our collective brahmacharya (or, I might add, with the other yamas, most particularly Satya, or truth).

So what gives?


  1. It may just be we all have different "missions" for our blogs. Mine/ours is actually to try to avoid just talking about my (or, in our case, "our") practice. Unless there's something "universal" about it that we think would have some meaning or resonance for readers.

    [In the case of Broad's book, I'm assuming folks will want to easily access reviews of it, and so, voila! It's what I'd want to find, rather than spending time trying to find them.]

    Another topic to try to write on: just something that maybe brings a smile and laugh to people's day.

    1. I see the wisdom in not just talking about one's own practice on one's blog; it can easily become self-indulgent, not to mention boring for the reader. But on the other hand, the practice is a big part of our yoga lives, and in Ashtanga, asana is supposed to ground the other seven limbs. So if one does not talk about the practice on one's blog, one risks becoming "unhinged" or "ungrounded" in one's blogging. This is my opinion, anyway; I'm sure others will disagree.

  2. Unhinged is a great title for a book Nobel. Then you can subtitle it with an Ashtangi remedy. :)
    I realize I am a blog comment behind...

    1. "Unhinged"... Hmm... great idea. I'll go think about this some more. I'm suddenly having a flood of possible book titles...

  3. Well, Nobel, I agree that one has to be one's own observer during practice. Hence, writing is a way to verbalize and crystallize the observations because you are your best teacher. However, if the act of writing about the practice is the only goal, then a simple notebook, a journal would do. So then why is there even a need to share through a blog? In my opinion, the need to share arises from our instinct to want to have our observations validated by outside sources, potentially also to find a common bond with other yogis out there. Today's yoga practice is all about the community. As to the plethora of articles appearing of late on yoga, injuries in yoga, different kinds of yoga, it is only testament of the growing pains that yoga itself is experiencing. Everyone wants it to be what they want it to be, but wants it validated by others as well. As for the empiricism of blogging, if you are a yoga teacher, you have to develop an almost sixth sense about what others are feeling in class. You feel it as acutely as if you yourself are experiencing it. If you don't, you are going to have people injure themselves left and right because you are not able to stop them before the injury occurs. Yoga does refine your senses, not only about your own empirical self, but about others as well. Hence, maybe? that is why these blogs are about others. Peace.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Yuna Shin. I agree with many of the things you say.

      "In my opinion, the need to share arises from our instinct to want to have our observations validated by outside sources, potentially also to find a common bond with other yogis out there. Today's yoga practice is all about the community."

      I think this is true. Except that I'm not sure I see how the recent plethora of articles on said topics is really advancing community in any meaningful way, other than fostering a lot of hype and groundless speculation about things which may or may not be true.

      I agree with the need to develop a sort of sixth sense with regard to teaching. I haven't taught lately, but I really respect teachers who have this ability.

  4. Hi Nobel, long time, no talk. I've lurked periodically to keep up with your blog and the blogs of others I enjoy. I just felt moved to comment here because I can so relate to your comments about empirical blogging and how blogging can be a means of self study or it can simply add to the clutter of the mind. Or worse. I took down my blog just under a year ago. I started writing it because...well because I felt lonely and practice alone and wanted to engage with others who do what I do. I also wanted to write about things I was going through in my practice and talk it about with other people. It didn't take long for me to become overly attached to the results of my blog...to become distracted by it, to allow blogging to reinforce many of the tendencies I aim to undo, or to at least observe with detachment, through practice. I let it drag me outward until, in a fit of, "this is all b.s.!" I took it down without further adieu. Now, that was a little rash and I could have been more diplomatic about it. I also wish I hadn't deleted all my posts.

    As to Mr. Broad, I heard him talk on NPR yesterday. Did you hear his interview? I haven't read the book and don't really feel inclined to but I found it very interesting to listen to him talk about his book and research first hand. I suppose you can find it online. I don't come to the same conclusions he did, but it helped me understand his perspective a better.

    Coincidentally, I've been thinking I might blog soon (a little lonely maybe) - and hopefully this time with much more awareness about how blogging can stoke my negative tendencies. I aim to blog from a position of focused attention, commitment and surrender of results, just like practice. Blogging as a manifestaion of the eight limbs? Who knew?

    Kristen (formerly of abreathingpractice)

    1. Great to hear from you, Kristen. Long time no talk/blog! I was really wondering for a long while what happened to you and your blog. Now I know :-)

      You know how they say you create your own reality? Nowhere is this more true than in blogging? I have discovered that the more I blog from a place of an honest, authentic voice that tries to stick as close to my own experience as possible, the more blogging reinforces my practice. Conversely, if I do the opposite, then blogging can, as you mention, reinforce many of the tendencies that we are trying to undo.

      One thing that I have found very helpful in this regard is to do my practice first thing in the morning, and go online and blog only after I have done my practice. This way, I feel that I tend to approach the blogosphere with more equanimity. I know that this may not work for many people, due to their schedules/lifestyles, but it works very well for me.

      Great to hear from you. Be sure to let me know about the launch of your new blog :-)

  5. I know, right? I didn't even say "goodbye." So great to be in contact with you again, Nobel. I'll let you know, and in the meantime, I'm out here in practice land reading your blog. Have a great weekend - Kristen