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On Yoga

Yoga has played an important role in changing the way I think about and relate to my body. It helped me to see that my body is part of me, not separate.

A number of years ago, a neighbour from across the road knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to join a Yoga class that she would be teaching from her home. I agreed to come, mainly because I wanted to support her in her new endeavour, and make sure that she didn’t start her first class with nobody there!

What I found, was … fascinating. The movements were not too unfamiliar - I’ve done a fair amount of exercise classes in my life, but … my teacher had a way of speaking that was refreshingly different. There was respect and acceptance between members in the group that I have rarely seen in groups like these. I didn’t know what made it so - if it was her (the teacher) or if it was yoga, so I went on to explore it in another setting.

I started to attend hot Yoga classes at a studio. Hot yoga is done in a heated room – about 40 deg. HOT!! Because of the heat, participants wear as little as possible - men wear shorts, the women shorts with sports bras. There are bodies of all shapes and sizes, baring their flesh in this uniform … but no shame. The sleek, skinny ones don’t strut around like proud pigeons, hogging the spot closest to the mirror, and the bigger ones don’t hide beneath layers of clothing, or cower in the back of the room, far away from the mirrors. All behave as equals. This really got me intrigued! What made the atmosphere here so completely different from what I have experienced at gyms? Yoga means 'yoking'. It aims to yoke the mind, body and spirit. It originated in ancient India, and is the oldest physical discipline known to humankind. My (limited) experience with yoga has highlighted to me how very un-yoked typical westerners are - and how that has cost us!

The West

If you grew up in modern Western culture, like I did, you inherited “Cartesian Dualism” as part of your world view.

Cartesian Dualism is traced to the seventeenth-century French philosopher Rene Descartes, who proposed a clear distinction between matter and mind. He pictured the material world as a vast machine moving in fixed patterns set by natural laws, subject to mathematical necessity. By contrast, the human mind or spirit was the realm of thought, perception, emotions and will. The novelist Walker Percy speaks of the “dread chasm that has rent the soul of Western man ever since Descartes ripped body loose from mind and turned the very soul into a ghost that haunts its own house”.

Put more simply, what Descartes has managed to put into the mind of the Western thinker, is the notion that the body and the mind/spirit are separate entities. This idea sowed the first seeds of the objectification of the human body, so rampant in Western culture.


To objectify a person, means to see them as a physical object that can be looked at and acted upon - and fail to see them as subjective beings with thoughts, histories, and emotions. To objectify someone, then, is to reduce them exclusively to the level of the physical.

My experience at the “houses of exercise” that I have been to in the past, is that visitors are welcome to leave their mind, and spirit outside the door. This is about the body, and about the body only. Passing one another, the objects have forgotten who they are. They are arms and legs and hair and boobs and lips and abs and bums and tums.

Typically, the mind is drowned out with loud, thumping music, television screens, etc. as the bodies line up in front of the mirror and go through the motions.

When they look into the mirror, they don’t see themselves, they see the appearance of their bodies. If this appearance pleases them, they feel proud and worthy, if not, shame and harsh criticism.

The East

Descartes’ ideas didn’t make inroads in the East. They have managed to hold on to the reality that bodies are connected to minds and spirits.

How Yoga brings about “yoking”:

  1. Yoga is practiced in silence. No blaring music to drown out thought. No television screens to distract. The mind plays and active role. At the beginning of class, you are invited to take a few deep breaths, and to “bring yourself into the room”. Your full presence is required - just being there in body with a mind that is wandering is not good enough.

  2. The greeting that is used, is the Sanskrit word: “Namaste”. Simply put, it means “the divine in me, honours the divine in you”. A reminder that there is a spiritual being inhabiting each person that you encounter. Each body that you see in the mirror, including your own, contains something sacred.

Can you see how this changes things?

De-objectifying the body

  1. Experiment looking at your body and other people’s body, remembering that there is a spiritual being inhabiting them. When you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, instead of noticing how you look, try saying “hi!” to yourself. Try to actually see your Self in the mirror, instead of just criticizing your appearance. Once we see ourselves as whole, we can see others as whole beings as well.

  2. Think “Namaste” when you see people. Think it when you look into the eyes of the cashier that packs your groceries, or when you look over to the person behind you in the queue at the bank, or the driver in the car next to you, or the pedestrian crossing the road. When you are used to doing that, try it on your husband, mother, children, colleagues, gym partners …

  3. When you see a picture of a model in a magazine, try thinking of the actual person in the picture. Wonder what her relationship with her mother is like. What are her hobbies? Does she have siblings? Where did she grow up? What is her home life like?

Be the change you want to see in the world!

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תגובה אחת

Thank you, Maya, for this refreshing piece of writing! It is liberating, compassionate and worth reading.

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