Many of us are introduced to the practice of yoga through postures. In my last article, I explored how in pursuing this physical practice we get attached to various approaches and styles of study. Our ego thinks that by mastering these postures we've arrived somewhere, and we never even move beyond these pursuits. But why is this the case? Why aren't we simply practicing postures as one step of many in pursuing a spiritually-guided life?
The prominence of yoga postures is a reflection of a simple reality that was most succinctly expressed by Madonna back in 1984: We are living in a material world.
Everything from the homes we keep to the foods we eat is evidence of our material excess. We indulge in large meals of decadent foods and go back for seconds. We have greater rates of obesity, more people on medication, and a higher incidence of health issues than ever before. Rather than seek the contentment and peace that emerges through the pursuit of a spiritual path, we have a continuous affinity for heavier, more burdensome experiences through which we gratify our senses.
We can even use the popularity of various figures of today's culture to demonstrate a disparity between the material and the spiritual: An icon like Madonna has more than twice as many Facebook fans than His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and recording artists like Lady Gaga and Rihanna have many more times than Madonna. Even following someone like His Holiness on Facebook is evidence of the material nature of how we relate to such a path. When we've attempted to gratify our senses through the large meal or the sensational music, we go in for more. We don't just listen to music by a recording artist, we buy paraphernalia, wear clothes like them, and buy their line of cosmetics. As we attempt to be as close to them as we can, we lose our sense of self.
What is less apparent to most people, however, is that all of this density is happening for a reason.
The density of the material world is an indication of something that yogic scholars have observed over the course of millennia. We seek out sensational experiences and live in such a state of excess because we happen to be living in the densest stage of a four-stage cycle -- stages that are known as yugas.
Though different scholars interpret this tradition in different ways, the general consensus is that we now live at the time of the Kali Yuga. This is the densest branch of the cycle which will last many thousands of years. It is then followed by the three other yugas of ever-increasing spiritual presence: Dvapara Yuga, Treta Yuga, and Satya Yuga. In Satya Yuga, we live the longest and perpetuate a state of intrinsic godliness. Once we reach the Satya Yuga, we will descend back down to Kali and, as it has always done, the cycle will repeat.
Our natural inclination is to veer toward capitalism and materialism. Though we live in this dense material state, some of us still have a pull toward a spiritual path. There are 5 million people who like His Holiness on Facebook, and though this is a smaller number than of those who like the pop stars, it is still a greater number than the population of large cities like Los Angeles and Chicago. But despite trying different practices, buying different books, and doing all sorts of other things, and although we know capitalism and materialism won't ultimately bring us contentment, it remains difficult for us to maintain a commitment to a spiritual path. It is more time-consuming and difficult to get results from higher practices like concentration and meditation, so we get attached to the postures. We even get attached to those who teach the spiritual path through material means; perhaps this is best captured by a T-shirt featuring His Holiness above a caption that reads, "I'll catch you on the flipside."
Our time in the Kali Yuga ensures that our spiritual pursuits will remain difficult for quite some time. Some of us may have a smoother ride because we have reincarnated from a more spiritually present path, but nevertheless it will remain a bumpy journey. We very much are living in a material world, and unless we advance enough through spiritual practices we will not be able to find peace in this lifetime. In my next article, I'll explore how Yogic traditions can serve us in fulfilling this path.
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