Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ty Landrum's New Paper, "Asana as Yoga"

About six years ago I met Ty Landrum at a Tim Miller workshop at Jennifer Elliott’s “Barn” in Charlottesville.  Ty had been practicing yoga for only a year or so, but already his practice was remarkably strong, fluid, precise and imbued with a beautiful meditative quality.  Subsequently, we became acquainted in a friendly way, seeing each other at workshops in Charlottesville and Richmond.  Ty has been encouraging of my work with inmates, and became interested in visiting the Richmond City Jail yoga class, but it hasn't happened yet due to conflicting commitments.  He's had a full schedule: teaching yoga in Charlottesville; maintaining a steadfast commitment to daily practice; attending lots of workshops that often entail travel; and, completing his Ph.D. in Philosophy at UVA in 2011, his research focusing on human worth, individuality, love, and virtue.

Ty seems to have a body almost perfectly designed for the Ashtanga Yoga practice -- but that means virtually nothing in terms of mastering these these practices.  No matter one’s physical gifts, no person could possibly achieve the level of proficiency Ty has now mastered, in just seven years of practice -- without applying incredible, deliberate, consistent daily effort -- and encountering continuous obstacles along the way.  Ty uses a great word in his paper to describe the level of care and attention required for the aspirant in yoga -- assisduous: marked by careful unremitting or persistent application. 

And just as remarkable as Ty’s prowess on the mat, is the genuine warmth and humility that emanates from this young man.  

Last month I googled Ty, and was surprised to find out that he had moved to Boulder, CO, and is teaching at the Yoga Workshop. Then I found and read his excellent new paper -- and I was very pleased:  for Ty, for my own luck in being acquainted with him, and for the legions of Ashtanga Yoga practitioners in the world today -- as well as for the yoga world at large: because I see an emerging young yoga master with a very keen mind, a clear voice and a benevolent heart, and I’m grateful that he is establishing himself.

Ty attended Richard Freeman’s month-long Teachers’ Intensive in the summer of 2012.  Richard Freeman is among a handful of the most senior and highly regarded yoga teachers in the Krishnamacharya lineage, and his 6-CD set, The Yoga Matrix, I have listened to many times and offered to students as gifts: it is a perfect gift for anyone interested in learning about the historical context and philosophical foundation of yoga practice. 

Ty was so taken with Boulder and his experience during the month-long intensive with Richard and his wife, Mary Taylor, that he decided to stay.  And they obviously were impressed with Ty, because it has to be rare for a student to attend the Teacher’s Intensive and begin teaching at the renowned Yoga Workshop almost immediately thereafter.

Maybe also it didn’t hurt the equation that Ty “unexpectedly met his wife” while in Boulder!  Congratulations to Ty and Shayan Santicola Landrum -- may your yoga be a boon to your union!

Now, the main reason I am making this post is that Ty Landrum has written one of the best treatments I’ve seen on the history and philosophy of Ashtanga Yoga practice, the surface of which I’ve been scratching -- albeit daily -- for 12 years.  This 20-page paper, “Asana as Yoga,” is as thorough a rendering of the subject as its brevity allows.  It is concise, accessible to anyone interested in the subject, and the prose is mellifluous.  This is not to say it is an easy subject:  it's always a difficult task to describe those aspects of yoga that are beyond the constructs of words and thought -- but Ty has done a stellar job.

The difficulty for me, when reading any description of the principles of Purusha and Prakriti, is the writer’s inevitable personalization of Purusha.  Prakriti is easier to understand: it is all manifested nature, including our bodies, minds, thoughts and feelings, and the whole universe external to our bodies.  But Purusha is more difficult to explain. Ty points out that the Sanskrit word “purusha” literally means “person,” but that in the context of Samkhya philosophy it refers to “the absolute emptiness of awareness that holds all other principles in its fold, thus the pure formless awareness that pervades all things without being confined to any of them.”  It is “unbounded by time and space ... changeless, formless ... beyond suffering, eternal and sublime ... the one unconditioned reality ... that illumines the entire cosmos.”

While writers attempting to describe Purusha always acknowledge the need for metaphor, I have difficulty when Purusha is also described as the Seer, whose sight is impaired by the obstruction of Prakriti, and who is in some way deluded by identification with Prakriti, until relief from this delusion is provided by Shaktipat or assiduous practice.  This propensity to be deluded implies to me an entity that is less than “infinitely perfect unbounded consciousness that illumines the entire cosmos.” 

I would argue that Purusha just “is,” and that since it is never trapped or contained, it can't be deluded or have its sight occluded, or even be an active Seer; and that all delusion is the purview solely of unawakened Prakriti -- that it is the Prakriti that mis-identifies with Prakriti, until it is awakened to its true nature of being infused with timeless Purusha. 

I’m sure Ty can help me understand this better ... and I hope readers of this blog will read his paper.

Whenever I read or hear descriptions of Purusha, I am reminded of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Christian/Neoplatonist theologian and philosopher of the late 5th and early 6th century, to whose brief “Mystical Theology” I return periodically, as a profound example of the beauty, poetry and semantics involved in attempting to evoke a sense of God or The Absolute.

Ty tells me he is planning to write a book on the Yamas and Niyamas, which will be a welcome addition to my bookshelf.


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