Monday, February 15, 2010

Essence and Intention

I came of age during the culture wars of the early 1990s. Fresh upon graduating with a B.A. in Art History, I headed to Washington D.C. with an internship at the Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art. This was the summer of 1991--a month after Tiananmen Square, two months after Senator Jesse Helms went after the National Endowment of the Arts for funding the work of such controversial artists as Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe. The Corcoran Museum decided to cancel its scheduled summer show of Mapplethorpe, to try and remove itself from the controversy. The DC Arts community rallied together and had protests and parties all over town. Mapplethorpe's work was projected onto the exterior of the Corcoran and the photos in question were displayed at another gallery space in town.

It was a heady time for a young art historian, and many heated discussions were had--Were these photos just pornography? Was "Piss Christ" government-sponsored blasphemy?
What do we want the country's art to say about us as a nation? Is this stuff even art, anyway? Congress responded by slashing the NEA's budget, and the question of what is "good" art that deserves state support still challenges us today.

Of course, our "what is/isn't yoga" discussions are nowhere near as loaded or vitriolic. But I've been reminded of the definition I cobbled together back in those days as to what really qualified as art for me. It all goes back to intention--if the piece in question is intended to communicate something to some one else, using an artistic medium as the expressive language, and the communication is relatively successful (whether agreed with or not), then it is art. Art is communication about the human condition--it needs a person with a message, a way to convey the message, and another person to receive it.

This had worked pretty well for me and I think it works for yoga, too. It is the intention behind the action that determines if something can be seen as yoga. If you are approaching an activity with an open mind and clear sense of purpose with the intention of discovering the true essence of the action in question--then it becomes yoga. So a cup of joe?--maybe or maybe not--but if you are coming to that cup of liquid with the intention of savoring it as an experience in and of itself, then I think you could call it yoga. If it's a quick slurp while glancing over your email, probably not.

Why quibble over definitions? Mostly I'm just working this out for myself. I've been puzzling over what I call "my" yoga and if I think that's a legitimate label. Since my exercise in defining art has helped me over the years in my creative endeavors, I figured like to have a way to think about my yoga practice, as well.

And, or course, I love a good discussion and the input I get from all of you out there--it almost always forces me to rethink and reevaluate. So, tell me true, how do define your yoga (if you define it at all...)?

(Robert Mapplethorpe, Derrick Cross, 1985)


Rebecca said...

I'm not sure that I define yoga per se. But as I have gone through a YTT program, I have come to understand what my practice means to me and how yoga is that practice. I went into the YTT program very differently than many of the other students. Many of them considered yoga the asana practice; I spend my days saying that yoga is a spiritual discipline. Interestingly, I have found refuge in the asanas, and they have enriched my spirit. Each day, I am better at finding what works for me, while discarding identities that no longer hold truth. Part of that is accepting that I enjoy coffee, even when gulped over email. I'm not sure I would ever define coffee as yoga, but I could say that being conscious, being present, being honest, being yogic is what yoga is all about. It is about union, about bringing together the crazy windowless office life into a life of consciousness, asana, and breath. So, in my view, we can bring yoga consciousness to our everyday actions, but that does not make them yoga. Yoga is just a way of being, and the more often we enter that "zone," the healthier and happier we are. Thanks for the insight and chance to reflect.

Rachel said...

I've stopped trying to define it. It is too powerful to define, beyond definition. It is too personal and means something different to each and everyone of us to ever be defined. Not in terms we try to define it in anyway.

La Gitane said...

I agree with both Rebecca and Rachel! Yoga is a practice. If we try to define it with words, it will escape us. We can find the perfect definition in the world of ideas, and then it can all fall apart the moment we leave our study.

The only way to find Yoga is to practice it. An imperfect practice is worth a hundred perfect definitions! But hey, I'm a karma yogi, I believe in actions! There are other types for whom the definition is the essence surely.

I guess the real Yoga is picking a path and sticking to it, no matter what path that is.

AdurableHeart (Cassandra Nicholson) said...

My Yoga is everything. Really, truly, everything. The grace and beauty of the asana translated to life. The calmness of the breath permeates every moment. The love for the practice translates to love for the universe and every-single-thing.