You're an animal, baby

Creative Commons image by Stig Nygaard.
Creative Commons image by Stig Nygaard.

Recently, in a Facebook thread that was critical of the state of modern yoga, someone cautioned that if we aren't careful, we run the risk of becoming “monkeys jumping around”. This isn't the first time I've heard this phrase used in regards to North American yoga. Not only do I find it extremely snobbish (as in, my yoga is better than your yoga), but to me, it also reeks of that popular belief that humans are somehow greater than (non-human) animals.

From my perspective, what I'm doing in my asana practice is to become exactly that — "a monkey jumping around". Or a dog stretching. Or an eagle flying. Or a... well, you get the idea.

I'm pretty sure the ancient yogis understood that in order for us to ascend spiritually, we must first return to our animal nature—completely devoid of ego, that clingy, possessive, “I-ness” that taints our every thought and action. Why else were they mimicking and honouring just about every animal under the sun with their asana and shatkriya cleansing practices? From elephants to yes, monkeys, they're all in there, right alongside the gods and saints. The humble tree pose as important as the one dedicated to the sage Marichi, son of the creator Brahma.

“Yoga was created to free people in all ways...from the limitations of our minds and bodies, from teachers, teachings, attachments, expectations, from dependency on any person or thing. It is a personal, private journey to liberation.” — Danny Paradise

One of the big lessons I've learned from my time practicing a particular brand of South American shamanism is that if we can become more like animals, we can become more in tune not only with our true nature, but with Nature herself. We are after all, just as much a part of Nature as any other animal. The biggest barrier to us realizing this is, of course, our uniquely big brains and the egos that were included, no assembly required (but much disassembly needed). The fact that my yoga practice helps me deal with the problems of the ego and helps me connect to the world around me—nature, other people, animals—is exactly why I consider it a shamanic practice.

I'm confident that this concept of becoming attuned to our animal nature as we practice asana is what TKV Desikachar was talking about when he said:

“Do not kill the instinct of the body for the glory of  the pose.”

Animals are always in a state of Yoga. They are inextricably linked to Nature, they have never become separated from it—and in order for us to experience Yoga for ourselves, we need to let go of our "selves" and remember that we too are a part of Nature.

The funny irony of that phrase, "jumping around like monkeys", is that if we actually succeed in doing just that, then we'll no longer need to practice Yoga... we'll just beYoga.

Further Reading

Interview with Danny Paradise, Wild Yogi magazine