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My agonising path to enlightenment
by Graeme J. Davidson,
4 July 2009

My body should feel revitalised but it still objects loudly to its rebirth. I’m obviously far from the state of yoga where pain vanishes and peace and tranquillity rein.

... I think I’m suffering a touch of the Stockholm syndrome, which got its name after employees were held for six-days during a bank robbery in Stockholm in 1973. Despite threats to their lives, the hostages empathised with their captors and defended their actions afterwards. Identifying with our abusers is a survival mechanism. And, while my life isn’t under threat – quite the opposite, my charming captors tell me – the Stockholm syndrome is the only explanation I can think of for why I keep going to yoga classes.
For 90 minutes I act like a victim of torturers who cajole me into contorting, twisting and straining my unwilling body into downward dog, the tree, lotus, plow, warrior and a host of other positions with unpronounceable names, against which my reluctant muscles vigorously rebel.
When I accuse my teachers of learning their techniques at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, they smile sweetly and assure me that the “gentle routines” they are putting me through will rejuvenate the body, free the mind from negative feelings and help overcome obstacles to health and spiritual contentment. They entice me to persevere with promises of doing 15-minute headstands.
I succumb to their charms and at the end of the class, I dutifully thank my beguiling tormentors for “helping” me. It’s like thanking them for coaxing me into doing a serious bout of head banging because it feels good when I stop.
My body should feel revitalised but it still objects loudly to its rebirth. I’m obviously far from the state of yoga where pain vanishes and peace and tranquillity rein.
In Sanskrit yoga means “yoke,” the uniting of body, mind and soul to the Divine Spirit. It’s a means of controlling the mind and senses so that we can be in harmony. The ancient Hindu scriptures, the Upanishads, describe it this way: ”When all senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not – then, say the wise, is reached the highest state. This calm of the senses and the mind has been defined as yoga.”
There are various forms of yoga – karma yoga, the way of action; jnana yoga, the way of knowledge; bhakti yoga, the way of devotion and faith; japa yoga, which emphasises mantra chanting; laya or kundalini yoga, which concentrates on hidden power centres within the body; raja yoga, literally “the king of yoga,” which combines many elements from the other schools in an eight point programme. These eight points or limbs include observing moral commandments, self-discipline and purification, postures, controlled breathing, detachment, concentration on a fixed point, meditation and Samadhi or superconscious union with the subject of contemplation.
The form of yoga that’s most popular in the West is the simplest and most basic, hatha yoga, which emphasises the breathing exercises or pranayamas and eighty-four stylised postures or asanas. The aim of the stretches, twists, bends and upside down asana poses, and controlled breathing, is to increase the circulation of the blood, purge it of toxins, rectify poor posture and bring strength and stamina.
The Iyengar variation I’m enduring uses props such as bolsters, chairs, blocks and belts and involves spending long periods in each pose.
The Hindu religious elements have taken a back seat in the Western world, where yoga’s promoted as a means for self control, confidence and better health from within ourselves rather than divine union. Nevertheless, some Christians have adopted yoga routines when they pray, replacing the Hindu concept of the Universal Spirit with the Holy Trinity.
I spend long periods at the computer and the self-inflicted yoga contortions will hopefully keep back and shoulder pains at bay. And what do my teachers think of my views about Stockholm syndrome and their torture routines? Maybe lurking deep within the souls of these gurus there’s a hint of the Nightingale syndrome, which is when the nurse over-sympathises with the distressed patient. But I suspect they patiently await my enlightenment – the day when I’ll be happy going to yoga classes.




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