So, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to talk about superstition on Friday the 13th. I happen to love Friday the 13th. While I no longer enjoy horror movies, when I was a kid, scary movies were my indoctrination into the world of film. It happened when I was seven. My parents took my brother and I to a drive-in movie to see Herbie Goes Bananas in our wood paneled station wagon. While they were watching the humanized yellow VW in front of us (scary enough, actually), I was fascinated by Jamie Lee Curtis in Prom Night on the screen behind us. And there it was, a fascination with scary movies and superstition. So, how does that tie into yoga?
The word superstition means, quite literally, “over standing.” It’s derived from the Latin rootsuper, indicating “over,” and stare, to stand. Throughout history, religions and philosophies have become corrupt by extreme fundamentalism which has even led to war and genocide. Do I think that can happen with yoga? No. But, I do think that an “overstanding” of the tenets of yoga can create a war within ourselves. In other words, if we hyperfocus on the ‘letter of the law’ rather than becoming compassionately connected with the world around us, we’re not practicing yoga.
In fact, we can become stuck in our heads overanalyzing every act. “Was honking at the person in front of me to let them know the light is green an act of violence?” “Am I judging the man in line in front of me who’s screaming at the cashier?” “Damn, now I’m judging.” “Damn, now I’m judging myself.” You see how easily things can get out of hand, and off the rails.
Like the christian bible, some ancient yoga texts had their own ‘commandments’ that one could easily become exhausted trying to follow. For example, in Swami Swatmarama’s classical text, “The Hatha Yoga Pradipika,”there’s a passage about where to practice yoga that’s loosely translated as,
“The Yogi should practice Hatha Yoga in a small room, situated in a solitary place, being 4 cubits square, and free from stones, fire, water, disturbances of all kinds, and in a country where justice is properly administered, where good people live, and food can be obtained easily and plentifully. The room should have a small door, be free from holes, hollows, neither too high nor too low, well plastered with cow-dung and free from dirt, filth and insects. On its outside there should be bowers, raised platform (chabootra), a well, and a compound.”
Of course this an extreme example, but my point is that you could make superstitious academia out of anything, even yoga until it no longer resembles the path you’ve stepped upon.
I was guilty of being too literal at the beginning of my in-depth practice. However, I began to notice that as my meditation practice developed, my awareness of the yamas & niyamas, and a more natural ‘non-gymnastics’ asana practice began to arise from within.
Yes, I think it’s important to study spiritual texts, and be aware of our treatment of ourselves and others through the Yoga Sutras. But, I think the ultimate goal regardless of how you get there is get in synch with the universal current of energy.
Walk under a ladder, let a black cat cross your path, let go of yoga superstition and go with the flow.