Sunday, March 30, 2008

Happy thoughts

I'm not into the spiritual aspect of yoga, I'm just in it for the stretching. (I know, I know, white people like yoga, but so do my tendons.) Perhaps this is hypocritical, but I'm hoping this is mitigated by the fact that I'm doing it quietly in the privacy of my own home without making any spiritual claims. I doubt even the Vatican would mind if people spent some time going sit-stand-kneel-stand-sit in the privacy of their own homes. At any rate, my point is that when the yoga lady on TV is talking about the spiritual aspects, I'm usually off googling something, waiting for the stretching to start.

But today something she said piqued my interest. I don't have an exact quote because I was only half listening, but she said something to the effect that if you find yourself thinking bad thoughts you should replace them with good thoughts, in order to achieve a state of bliss. And apparently in yoga, pushing away bad thoughts and thinking good thoughts and achieving bliss are all a good thing spiritually.

Now this is interesting to me, because I've been deliberately trying to do this for the past few months. I'm not doing this for any grand spiritual reason, I'm just doing it because it makes my life easier. It was the complete opposite of a diligent virtuous New Year's resolution to buckle down and start living life perfectly - it was a resolution to practically embrace my flaws and in fact live them even more enthusiastically, not even trying to do stuff I find hard. It was an anti-resolution specifically designed to fly in the face of what resolutions usually do. So I was very surprised to see something similar as part of a legitimate religious/spiritual thing.

The thing is though, as I've been aggressively pushing away my bad thoughts, Catholic guilt and Protestant work ethic have been teaming up to make me feel guilty for doing so. (It's amazing what you can do if you put aside your historical differences and work together!) Most of my bad thoughts are the result of bona fide personal failings, so I feel like by pushing them away I'm shirking the deserved punishment for my failings. I fucked that thing up and I should know better so I should be agonizing over it and replaying the most cringe-worthy moments in my head, not thinking about the wonders of the human tongue or laughing at the latest thing on YouTube.

So I was thinking about this and googling around it, and I found that some people actually consider this to be a xian principle too. They tend to cite Romans 12:21, which says "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Now to me this says "Do good things instead of bad things" and if you google neutrally for interpretations of the verse the general consensus agrees with my interpretation, but I did find a number of different sources citing this verse as evidence that when you find yourself thinking bad thoughts you should think good thoughts instead. So this suggests that somewhere out there, there are xians who would applaud me for rejecting my guilt in favour of happier thoughts.

Of course, I think what the ancient yogis (or St. Paul for that matter) had in mind was that I should use the sheer strength of my mental discipline to push the bad thoughts out of my mind and meditate on the beauty of the lily or something. I don't know if they would quite approve of my technique of eating white chocolate and dancing around the apartment singing along to Nugget (warning: shitloads of swear words) at the top of my lungs.


L-girl said...

" Catholic guilt and Protestant work ethic have been teaming up to make me feel guilty for doing so. (It's amazing what you can do if you put aside your historical differences and work together!) "

Excellent, I love it. Very interesting post.

Most people I know who do yoga have no spiritual component to it. Or at least none they cop to.

impudent strumpet said...

My understanding is that it's an important part of Hinduism, but the physical part is very small compared with the spiritual aspect and intended as an integral part of the spiritual aspect. So I'm always a bit cautious because doing yoga just for the stretching seems a bit like going to mass just because you like the taste of the eucharist or something.

L-girl said...

I think the physical practice of yoga got disconnected from any Hindu spiritual practice long ago. Like meditation not being specifically Buddhist - they can be linked, but you can do one without the other, and lots of people do. I think you can proceed without caution (or guilt).