Contributed by Melissa Enfield.
The Tradition Trap
Yoga on Hot Rocks. It is a thing.
Recently I organized a yoga program for a new Ganban yoku spa in my beautiful home of Collingwood, Ontario.
If you know what I am talking about without accessing Wikipedia, you have officially surprised me and I love it. For the other 99% of us, Ganban yoku is a hot rock spa (and a spell check nightmare). Participants lay on heated granite beds to absorb the naturally emitted far infrared rays and negative ions. The benefits include, but are not limited to, improved serotonin levels, increased metabolism and decreased inflammation. Whether you are talking about depression, arthritis, weight loss or heart disease, it can help.
Go ahead and raise your eyebrows. I totally did. I am an eyebrow raiser by nature and have the creased forehead to prove it.
Then I went to the NCBI website (national center for biotechnology information which is also a thing) and found out there are quite a few studies that support this treatment. Go to www.get-fitt.com for a layman discussion and nerdier links. Or get out your high school science texts and hang out on the NCBI’s site. You know you want to….
So if lying on the rocks is beneficial, what if we practiced yoga on the beneficial rocks? Amazing, right?
But what do we call it? What style will it be? Is it like hot yoga? Will there be flow? And most important, does it have a traditional lineage? We can’t just make it up, can we? It has to have a name! It has to be a thing!
It is opportunities to expand the experience of yoga such as combining it with a hot rock spa that brings up one of my favorite yoga topics. Custom and modern yoga or, the tradition trap.
One the antonyms of tradition is innovation. Krishnamacharya(1888-1989), the father of modern yoga, was nothing if not an innovator. Before his work at Mysore in the 30’s, Asana, or the postures many of us equate with yoga, was not the dominant component of a yoga practice. Many ancient texts do not refer to Asana at all. There is no 5000 year old vase with an etching of Warrior II to be found in some obscure Indian museum. Seated meditation, kirtan and breath were the style of the day. If there was Asana, it was practiced by the lower caste often as forms of street entertainment. Krishnamacharya changed that.
He was a learned Hindu scholar steeped in tradition. He also recognized the needs of his time in a culture increasingly dominated by the desire to improve physically. Of course, we modern westerners don’t know anything about that. Krishnamacharya (I have now typed that 3 times) combined Asana from the hatha tradition, wrestling and gymnastics to develop a physical practice that is the root of every ashtanga and vinyasa styled class you have saluted the sun in. That’s right. Even Iyengar was doing a little more Mary Lou Retton and a little less Patanjali.
Does that make your practice less valuable? No. Does its brand name mean less? Maybe.
The names do not make things things. Tradition and lineage don’t make things valuable. Names provide context for expectation. I say Ganban Yoku is like hot yoga. You picture yourself sweating to death in eagle and think, sign me up or, kill me now. I say Ganban yoku is a yin practice. You think, bliss or, that’s not a workout. People want that context. But do we need it? Does it mean anything?
What if I said, the Ganban Yoku practice at IWA spa (a little plug there) is a low and slow practice. It is Yin-like in that way and almost anyone can do it. You feel like you just had a massage on a hot water bottle in a warm sauna.
Is that enough?
The rest you have to experience free of expectation.
Or, as our most modern of athletic slogans suggests – just do it.