The Secret, Ambiguous Relationship between Yoga and Power - The Historical and Philosophical Roots
“Trust your body as the utmost authority, for within your body there is more wisdom than in any doctrine or philosophy. – Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Pretext: The Battle at Thaneshwar
In the 16th century, the Battle of Thaneshwar from the Mughal chronicle of Akbar-nama depicted the battle between different groups of yogis for prime bathing spots on the Ganges was interpreted through the painting by Basawan, wherein the sage Jallandharnath used powers through yoga that included, among others, flight.
Although many of these purported powers from yoga, or Siddhis as they are known in Sanskrit, are, for all intents and purposes, apocryphal by most accounts. This is one of the many layers of complexity in the long history of yoga as both a philosophy and a path to radiant health.
For this very reason, whenever people scoff at yoga, especially the jocular, machismo types who prefer the “manly” life of lifting weights and having bulging muscles, it’s rather silly when taking into account the wisdom and reputation of the purported powers that the practice of yoga could eventually bestow upon its students. After all, a king could afford to train and arm thousands of men in mere months, but a lifetime of the abundant wisdom and power of yoga was coveted and priceless.
What This Means For Us Today
Obviously, in the modern world, people like to make silly assumptions and focus on superficial appearances, which includes taking one look at a yoga class in session and concluding that it will not serve their purposes. Chief amongst these individuals are those aforementioned jocular bodybuilder types and those who dislike yoga’s admittedly different cosmology (compared to most Occidental views) and dismiss it as merely something for “wussies”.
The truth is, many of these bulging bodybuilder types who give one yoga session a try, whether it be Hatha or Ashtanga, find themselves thoroughly schooled and exhausted in a way they have never been before. In the physical sense, the calisthenics of yoga work the tendons and muscle groups from the resistance, angles, movements, and stances that merely lifting weights or heavy cardio training won’t utilize much. In the metaphysical sense, the subtle body is affected greatly as well (notably the deflation of the ego), because breath work (Pranayama) and visualization during the flow and stillness of each form force them to be mindful instead of turning on the music in their earphones and robotically lifting weights. In short, they are 1) learning to listen to their bodies and 2) having their body move as one rather than isolated parts of the whole.
The book Real Men Do Yoga: 21 Star Athletes Reveal Their Secrets for Strength, Flexibility and Peak Performance by John Copouya is one of those books that recognizes that puzzling sentiment of disdain that the machismo types still hold onto with their views on yoga, and sets out to dispel them by showing how well-known athletic celebrities encourage people to do yoga, with one star who goes on the record to say that if he were to do only one workout per day, it would be yoga, not the usual sport he practices. Chief among the benefits they cite are how yoga has helped their chronic back pain, improved their recovery and athletic performance, and seriously affected their sexual performance.
In knowing these benefits and recognizing the problems of image and the absurdities of trying to be “macho”, it is crucial to recognize that exercise and the above benefits of yoga are only the beginning, just as the mystery of the power behind yoga centuries ago conveyed. Perhaps it is time to reawaken the mystery in order to encourage others to embrace yoga (or at least parts of it) into their lives.
Yogasync Me! If you want to learn the secrets of strength and flexibility, start here with some yoga basics: