Two ideas have been colliding in my head: (1) yoga is about liberation, and (2) education is about liberation. This smouldering confrontation between approaches to liberation has been sparked into flame by the repeated queries of yoga enthusiasts (or the not-so-enthusiasts undergoing history modules on teacher trainings): ‘What is the relevance of all this history and philosophy of yoga to my yoga world – my body, my practice, my teaching?’
I am captivated by the many varied appeals to liberation. The premodern yoga conceptualisation of liberation was freedom from the round of rebirth, freedom from death and life, freedom from the wheel of becoming—mokṣa. Mokṣa is to be set free, let loose, like an arrow from a bow. To be liberated is to be free from suffering—duḥkha. Duḥkha is the existential angst of the constant interminable frustrations wrought by change, by the loss of our loves.
In today’s global Yogaland liberation means many things. Freedom from ‘housewife syndrome’ (Suzanne Newcombe), freedom to be ‘spiritual but not religious’, freedom to adopt alternative religious and cultural ideas – the appeal of the exotic ‘other’ (Edward Said), freedom to cultivate the ‘Self’. Yet these freedoms collide with and are compromised by other freedoms – resistance to imperialistic cultural plunder, coercion of inner freedom into disciplined bodies serving the nation and the market—the Yoga Industrial Complex as a bastion of neoliberalism.
Education—and theory—as liberation has been championed by many including Paulo Friere and bell hooks. Turning away from education as an exercise in force-feeding students with facts, can we instead empower engagement, dialogue, and critique? bell hooks joined my worlds of yoga and theory—and stole my soul—with her manifesto for theory to make our pain go away. The worlds of yoga and education collide. We are challenged to study and critique with our bodies and our minds to feel freedom.
My challenge to yoga enthusiasts (yes, and the not-so-enthusiasts): deconstruct the bricolage of your practice and beliefs. Dive back in time, across languages and cultures, historise and contextualise practices and practitioners, doctrines and dogmas. Then unravel the agendas and politics of today’s Yogaland, your yogaland—not that yoga is definitely dead (www.yogaisdeadpodcast.com) —but to critique and see the construction and value of your practice now.
Freire, Paulo. 1972. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.
Newcombe, Suzanne. 2019. Yoga in Britain: Stretching Spirituality and Educating Yogis. Sheffield: Equinox.
Said, Edward W. 1978. Orientalism. London.