Month: May 2012

What I learnt from western yoga

Yesterday I joined a friend for yoga class. She highly recommended it telling me about the pain she had in her core for days after her last class. Out of curiosity and to get some workout I went for it. The first thought as always was skepticism. My understanding of yoga is that its not like regular workout. Its refreshing and stretches muscles without leaving any pain in muscles like most other forms of workout.
The one and half hour were the most excruciatingly painful workout I have ever done in life. And I call it western yoga because its a workout form inspired by yogasanas with namaste and definition of namaste at the end of it. The class used the most advanced asanas. It did incorporate the relaxations in between. What it did was merge a lot of asanas moving from one posture to another rather quickly. It did not provide simplified versions for beginners. Like, when I went for yoga earlier, the instructor asked us to do ardh-halasan if we couldn’t do halasana. Here the instructor pushed people to do halasana as much as they could do and not stop at ardh-halasana. During yoga what kept running in my head was that the smartness with which the eastern yoga form was modified to suit western needs. Westerners are more used to running and working out and they crave for stronger forms of workout. Yoga is low impact and has been modified.
This also got me thinking about use of namaste in Indian culture. Indians don’t always say namaste or even understand its meaning. We just join hands and bow our heads. The western instructor joined her hands bowed, said namaste and explained what it meant. I don’t remember my parents ever telling me why we do namaste, we just do it. Does the gesture not have its influence without really knowing what it means? Is it just a shallow gesture and does the meaning even completely explain the significance of the gesture.
One of the courses I did last year was on culture and communication. The course explained how language acted as a vehicle for cultural transmission and how culture influences cognition. Is language the best way to communicate? I always feel I am limited by language and that can be just about any language. In class we spoke about how children learn through individual cognition development and through socially relating with others. The more I am away from home, the more I am connecting with our culture. Indian culture where we don’t talk and just understand without words. A look or a touch can have a huge meaning. Does cultural cognition require language to develop? Do people who cannot speak and hear not embed their home culture or  not fully understand their home culture? How does telepathy fit into all this, or does it even exist?
Language has its limitations too. Metaphors have different meanings in different languages, interpretations can vary. Do we really have to depend on language to connect with people? \
Yes language has its own role to play, but is it as big a vehicle for culture transmission as researchers are making it to be? Is it primarily western because Eastern culture emphasizes on silence to connect with our inner self as a result connecting better with the world because we are at the end very relational.
I don’t know how to end this trail of thought now. There is research I have looked at on language and culture and it is rather interesting. May be someday someone will have answers to some of my questions.