One of the requirements of this yoga teacher training program is to read 4 different yoga books, then submit a brief report/reflection on each one. I have finished my second required text: The Hatha Yoga Pradipika. So here is my reflective report. :)
“Five minutes into reading Brian Akers’ introduction to his translation of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, I was struck by the bold honesty of an early comment: ‘Some practices in this book I don’t recommend at all. (You’ll know them when you read them.) This is nothing new…You can see there have long been different opinions on what should and shouldn’t be practiced.’ (p. ix-x)
For the first 33 years of my life, I was a devout rule-follower. If an authority figure told me to do something, I did it – no questions asked. Fortunately, the authorities who comprised my life experience up to that point were mostly loving, kind, and well-intentioned; I’m deeply grateful that I wasn’t exposed to malicious or ill-intentioned ‘leaders’ who might have led me down a different, less-positive life path. That being said, I have only very recently learned that I not only can question, but should question the words, experiences, and attitudes sent my way by others – regardless of how authoritative these individuals may seem. I am responsible for my own life path; ultimately I am responsible for the choices I make, and the actions I take.
So I read the Hatha Yoga Pradipika with an open-yet-discriminating mind; and I think this served me well. I wonder if Svatmarama intentionally made somewhat wild assertions, in the attempt to challenge yoga practitioners not to rely solely on a charismatic swami, but instead to begin to think a bit for themselves? As I read this text, and encountered some truly wild and bizarre claims (such as the notion that holding a specific posture for half a second will spare a person from disease, old age, and death; or the idea that to swallow a cloth four feet long is a good way to internally cleanse oneself), I began to read with the intention of not taking the words on the page literally, but instead to digest the spirit of the message; retaining the main ideas of Svatmarama’s helpful sentiments (such as the importance of practice, not just talk; the benefits of breathing and of [moderate] self-restraint; etc.) and letting the details pass by.
Perhaps I am missing the point; perhaps I am ‘unenlightened’; perhaps with the guidance of a teacher I might see and understand this difficult text differently. However, for today, for this reading, for this stage in my yoga practice, I choose to hold my relationship with this ‘authoritative’ text sincerely, yet also lightly.