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A Phenomenological Approach to Yoga (Part 1: Introduction)

For those unfamiliar with phenomenology/existentialism, consider reading this more general (heuristic) introduction to phenomenology.

 

The phenomenological approach to (classical) yoga is guided by direct experience.

  1. A phenomenological approach to yoga does not constitute an(other) ontology/metaphysics, epistemology or ethics—it is not a collection of arguments for a certain conclusion about yoga. A student looking for “reasons” (moral/psychological, scientific/physiological, cosmological/metaphysical, etc.) as to why one ought to begin/continue their practice will gain little/nothing from a phenomenological approach to yoga.

  2. A phenomenological approach to yoga is not committed to a(ny) version of history and/or any particular historical doctrine/tradition—it is not collection of historical/doctrinal truth claims. A student looking to mine this collection for already-established “facts” about yoga will gain little/nothing from a phenomenological approach to yoga.

  3. A phenomenological approach to yoga does not produce a collection of rules/regulations, the memorisation/enacting of which will necessarily produce yoga. A student looking for process/ritual that (can be mechanically performed in order to) guarantee yoga will gain little/nothing from a phenomenological approach to yoga. Yoga exceeds (any particular) process; it exceeds the sum of parts.

Teachings guided by a phenomenological approach to yoga are intended to orient and attune the practitioner to the spirit and living sense of yoga—to reaffirm the spirit and reanimate the living sense—so that it may direct a practitioner’s every practice (regardless of what said practice is). Phenomenological teachings are intended to lead the practitioner to a direct knowing of this spirit/sense, that is, to the way or nature of yoga.


Orienting and attuning oneself to the spirit/sense of yoga is not an intellectual exercise. The utility of this collection lies precisely in the practitioner’s willingness to turn to their own experience in reading each entry instead of reading passively in order to accumulate (more) ideas. This means that engaging with a phenomenology of yoga requires your active participation. You—the practitioner—are required to actively turn your attention to your own experience and be open to noticing therein something new (and transformatively new) about the nature/texture of experiencing itself, something that perhaps isn’t contained in the descriptions/explanations you’ve inherited and/or to which you’ve become accustomed.


Ganesha, Hindu god of astrology and remover of obstacles

Phenomenology is, most simply, a description of the form of our pre-reflective lived experiencing: the most immediate way in which experience is, in which what is is ‘given’. We use the word given to describe the most basic character of experience: appearing is happening, and this appearing (i.e., experience, or simply, awareness) is not subject to my will. It is thus, they say, ‘given’. It is a (rigorous) description of the pre-reflective ‘living through' of what is ‘given’, that stops short of offering up an explanation as to why something is. Phenomenology requires that we abandon explanation in so that we might make contact—as directly as possible—with experience itself.


Descriptions of the form of direct experiencing may not conform to the rules of philosophical prose or logic. It is because our guide is direct experience that we allow direct experience itself to guide how we present it. In other words, we allow the form of our expression to conform to the direct experiencing; we let the experiencing say itself. What guides the composition of these teachings is the texture of the experiencing itself as it shows itself, and not an unthinking loyalty to any concepts/traditions.


As such, this collection often deploys language in unfamiliar ways, giving new life to our inherited/established ways of expressing and understanding what yoga is/does, creating the conditions for insight to reveal itself. This unfamiliar deployment of language produces what is better described as a ‘poetics’ than as a ‘logic’ or ‘science’. In fact, this collection of reflections is perhaps best described as a poetics of freedom.


To know/see directly the nature/way of yoga—to know the yoga of yoga—is an experience of affective insight, an insight that discloses itself in and as flesh—the flesh of the world.


 

Further Reading:

The Yoga of Yoga further discusses the issue of suffering and the cause of suffering. Prakṛti & Puruṣa: Phenomenological Reflections further discusses our (inextricably “entangled”) existential situation, and Self-Awareness & Other People focuses specifically on how we are inextricably entangled with other people. Yoga & The Meaning of (Your) Life discusses what it a “meaningful” life might look like from a yogic perspective. The Best Astrological Remedies: A Yogic Perspective discusses the shortcomings of more common ways we hope to solve our worldly problems (and what we might do instead). What is Phenomenology? (Part 1: Defining Phenomenology) provides a heuristic introduction to phenomenology.


Phenomenological Reflections on Yoga:

Yoga & Embodiment: Collected Notes on the Lived Body

Yoga & Other People: Collected Notes

Yoga & Freedom: Collected Notes


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