I live in Denver, which happens to be one of the fortunate cities that caught some portion of last week's eclipse shenanigans. An eclipse is a truly unique experience in so many ways, but what really struck me was just how deeply unifying it felt in a communal sense.
I was headed to a local gym where I occasionally teach when the partial eclipse was at its peak. Young families with their dogs were milling around outside the nearby ice cream shop, sharing sets of flimsy glasses as couples excitedly observed the oddity of patterns in tree shadows. Everyone was elated and kinda weirded out together in a supremely beautiful way.
Obviously, the implicit natural-ness of something like an eclipse doesn’t need to be overstated, but what struck me was that the attitude of the few people that opted to take a yoga class at that very time just looked jazzed about life in general.
This is pretty much a straight up op-ed piece on my behalf, but I couldn’t help but note the parallels between the giddy joy of watching an eclipse and the centered sobriety of thought that one encounters after completing a vigorous yoga practice.
Both events are purely “natural” in the most literal way: they both involve acknowledgment of the inherent beauty of the moment and they allow us to revel in the sheer magnificence of simply being alive on this planet.
Most importantly perhaps, is that they both provide an opportunity for us humans to share an experience together; with a knowing nod and wink you can turn to the person next to you and know that what’s happening is something that has been happening for millennia, and will continue to be observed and marveled at long after any of us current mortals are done walking on two feet.
As it applies to both an eclipse and yoga, there is also an element of innate spirituality that can’t be overlooked. It’s fairly well known at this point that many ancient civilizations were genuinely frightened by the occurrence of an eclipse, often equating them with the temporary arrival of sun-devouring animals or demons. Likewise, Yoga has an extensive lineage of creating meaning behind yoga poses based on creatures, people, and gods, even going so far as to relate the practicing yogi to an actual god through mastery of a pose.
If you’ve been reading this blog at any length, you know that I fall into the skeptical side of the spiritual stuff, but this correlation speaks directly to the long history that both Yoga and the eclipse phenomenon share. Despite my tendency to look past a lot of the ‘woo-woo’, these equations to gods and monsters only serve to illustrate the Yoga is old.
Like really, really old.
So old, in fact, that the question of who created the mythology of the practice is as murky as the folks who came up with the idea of a sun-devouring bat in ancient Paraguay when an eclipse darkened the skies.
So next time you hit your mat, take a second to think about the history in which you are taking part. Yoga, although not as old as the sun and the moon, is old enough that we don’t know who originally created it. Some accounts date up to ten thousand years of human history wrapped up in doing headstands, splits and elaborate breathing exercises.
Regardless, when you practice, you’re participating in the direct lineage of people who have been contemplating the great mysteries of the world— especially our minds and our bodies as they relate to our immediate environment-- for many, many ages. Don’t let it pass you by without a quick glimpse into our collective history.
Over and out.