Saturday, September 18, 2010

Poise, Posturing, and Posture

Let me say upfront: I am NOT against postures. I am NOT against bodily exercises. I am NOT against bodily existence.

I am asking, however, whether poise is not more important than posture and whether all too often, yogic posture ends up as posturing. What do I mean by “poise”? According to the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (that`s a mouthful!), the word “poise” has several connotations, and one meaning conveys “elegant bodily carriage.” In the 16th century, the term was associated with “weight” and “weightiness” or “importance.” Another relevant connotation is “balance” or “steadiness.” For an object (i.e., the human body) moving through space, these are obviously desirable qualities. My own definition of “poise” would be something like: The physical disposition of the body sustained by an attitude of inner (i.e., mental) balance and mindfulness.

“Posturing” is first of all not mindful, not poised. It is a false stance springing from a false inner attitude. What is false about it is that it is shot through with egocentrism. By comparison, poise has a quality of self-transcendence to it.

The Yoga-SÅ«tra (2.46) defines posture as a meditation seat that is “easeful” and “stable.” It involves (2.47) a measure of relaxation and (2.48) of sensory inhibition.

A properly executed yogic posture thus includes mental poise, as understood above. Posture is poised and not postured. In other words, posture serves the ultimate purpose of Yoga, which is spiritual liberation.

In contemporary Yoga practice, posture is all too often pursued in a egocentric manner and without bearing its traditional objective in mind. It resembles more posturing than poise. While a postured Yoga posture can still benefit a practitioner in terms of health and fitness, its spiritual potential remains untapped. This, I think, is unfortunate. What is your opinion?

Georg Feuerstein