Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Yoga Conflates and History Conceals

What Does it Mean to Mean Something?

The conflation of the word "yoga" is its very history. The word is defined by associations and claims, by _usage_ rather than specific common actions. What "yoga" means in Indian sources, in Sanskrit and any other language, is so varied, complex, and nuanced that we should understand all of the phenomena to which "yoga" _might_ refer have no normative guidelines, no simple definitions. Yoga means what any author in those sources say it means and no two ever completely agree. You are in effect no different when you use the word "yoga." There is no "real" yoga in any empirical sense but to discover meanings in the _use_ of the word by those who use it. The history of yoga is the history of the appropriation of the word and all words appear in cultures. So deciding its meaning is itself to appropriate from within cultures: words don't belong to cultures, they are used in them to mean what people think they mean.

The same must be said of "tantra" or even "kundalini" or other vocabulary that inhabits the language-worlds of "yoga"---pick nearly any word that was once used in other languages and now is an ersatz-english word. Did you know that "nirvana" is in English dictionaries? What it means in English is difficult enough to fathom, how much more so in Sanskrit where its definitions are formed in entirely different worlds of meaning. The transference of the vocabulary in complex histories of use and into differing linguistic and cultural settings is what we are _really_ studying. We're not studying "yoga" as such, we're studying what we _think_ people mean when they say the word.

I'd contend that something like modern postural yoga (MPY) is what is meant by "yoga" now in America in the meme-sense, in the sense of a broader identification. It's what I call the Aisle 11a argument. (Aisle 11a is where you find YOGA next to CANDLES and OUTDOOR GOODS at our local supermarket.) Yoga is sold there next to other stuff that smells, some organic fiber clothes, and right next to various kinds of bottled water that purport to be good for you. Yoga is _by association_ being defined as well. My point is that the argument over how the word is used in our common parlance is largely over and I am not here to dispute that. We are studying associations and uses and, for the most part, when we say "yoga" in America it refers postures. There is no "real" yoga anymore than there is a false use of any word.

How one is led to make associations with words is the issue but there is no misleading, there can be no this is _it_. I mean, think about it, how did Pringles make it into the potato chip aisle? Are they _really_ potato chips?

How teachers of yoga conflate meanings is the new yoga. What's "spiritual" about it? What's primarily exercise?
What yoga was is all mixed up with what yoga is nowadays and that is not easy to sort out. When yoga is religion ---and it is indeed that by any traditional empirical account--- it is liable to the same hucksterism, abuse, and snake oil as any religion. As for "yoga ethics" I think we can be clear about one thing: there are no special ethical rules for yoga teachers who teach modern postural yoga except those that would apply to anyone who touches someone else. When we are conflating with religion or even "spirituality," then you must beware the usuals of all religious power plays, and don't put yourself where you're not invited, using every ounce of your awareness and care. Err on the side of less. Yoga is now _yours_ to define and what you decide it includes or is about, what you decide it means is not some new age appropriation. The history of "yoga" shows us that the meaning of yoga has _always_ been the history of the word and its applications. To define yoga is to do yoga: apply yourself to meaning and you will define what you mean.