As I’ve been editing and posting Father Clooney’s reflections on Lent and the Yoga Sutras for the past few weeks, I’ve been struck--again--by how much the practice of yoga prepares the body for prayer and meditation, for being still before God.
Now I take up the sixth and seventh of these limbs, those dealing most directly with meditation: holding (dharana) and meditation (dhyana)... The place where one holds one's attention could therefore be entirely neutral with respect to our relationship to God, or Christ; or it could be a simple, long gaze upon what is local for the Christian in Lent, in Holy Week, the Christ with whom we sit at Table, or with whom we pray in the Garden, or at whose Cross we stand.
The next section of the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras is the famous account of the eight-limbs (asta anga) of yoga, a famed list that is most often used to structure any account of yoga. Contrasted with some of the more subtle points I had to deal with in my previous entries in this series (one, two, three) this is a list that seems rather more easily useful in Lent, particularly if we think of Lent as a time when we are to do things that inculcate focus and discipline.
The final question I wish to address has to do with the end of the two texts: if a person practices yoga as understood by Patañjali, or meditation as taught by Ignatius, and if she or he reaches a fairly advanced state (by effort, by grace) — then what kind of person is this, and how does she or he live? Do Ignatius and Patañjali produce very different kinds of persons?
One of the things that most attracts people to yoga, I think, is that it is wholesome, challenging, and able to bring a deep sense of well-being to body, mind, and spirit — all without seeming to impose an alien worship on the practitioner. Even in the ancient Indian traditions, and certainly now in America, it has always seemed possible to practice yoga and at the same time maintain, even deepen, our original and continuing faith commitments. But at the same time, this very point is a source of worry for others, since yoga seems blithely unconcerned about matters of religion: as if its energies were elsewhere, making religious commitment seem not so much a problem, as simply optional. If yoga is a powerful religious system, shouldn’t it conflict in a more direct way with Christian commitment? Or are we missing something?
Yoga is extremely supple in its ability to take on various rationales -- nondualist, devotional, health-oriented, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. -- and my impression is that even expert teachers of disciplined yoga practice are rather fluid -- sometimes unhelpfully vague -- in their explanations as to what it is all for. The Sutras help pin down a succinct attitude toward the practice and its purpose.