Saturday, 26 June 2010

Tarot and Yoga - unlikely bedfellows?

I was asked recently why yoga and tarot work together? Although they are both things I feel passionate about and have been practising for a number of years, I hadn't really articulated how or why I think they go together. Certainly, any number of people from either field may object to the linkage, but for me they are both a daily part of my life and my belief system.

I love the physical practice of yoga asana, the breath, the sweat, the strength and flexibility I have developed. However, the spiritual aspect of it is largely left to one side in many classes. And where it is included, it sometimes falls into what I've taken to calling the "yogier than thou" attitude.

For instance, one person talks about eating a vegetarian diet, the next chimes in with being vegan, and the one after that eats only raw foods. Or the teacher who talks about how we should all be grateful that we live somewhere that we can attend yoga classes. Yes, that's true, but it's also true that we can still have problems that are very real. Just because I'm not starving and homeless doesn't mean I have a perfect life and no right to sometimes feel less than absolute gratitude to the universe.

Another issue is that most yogic philosophy is quoted in sanskrit. I can understand the idea behind this - that the language itself has a certain sacred resonance is not a claim restricted to yogis, as anyone who has studied anything to do with the Golden Dawn and Kabbalah will know. Still, as I sit and try to remember which is aparigraha (non-attachment), which ahimsa (non-violence) and which asteya (non-stealing), I don't feel a real connection to these principles of how to live a good life (though I'm working on it).

Also, this sometimes feels like an approach in which all the principles are given equal weight. How, then, can I be aware of which principle I need to focus on today? Sometimes it might be very clear, but other times I am not aware enough, or perhaps just don't have anything pressing for my attention.

Finally, in terms of meditation, many of the traditional practices of yoga are once again quite rigid or, dare I say, boring. Watching my own breath has never managed to inspire me. Gazing at a candle until my eyes overflow with tears is really hard work. And I don't seem to be very good at visualizations of that kind - I cannot clearly picture a lotus blossom, or even a flame.  While Ganga White, co-founder of White Lotus Yoga and author of "Yoga Beyond Belief", advocates that anything which encourages you to try to better understand yourself and the universe be counted as meditation (giving the example of a starlight walk) this is far from what many yogis teach.

For this spiritual aspect, tarot and other "psychic development" exercises come to the fore, for me. By choosing a daily card, I have a visual as well as mental focus for a practice of mindfulness. Because it is based on a picture, often of a person, it feels real and grounded, and I can relate to it.

If I'm having trouble knowing what's going on for me in a pose, or with a given situation, I can draw a single card or lay a spread and use what arises for me either logically or intuitively to guide my sense of how to resolve the issue, or what I need to stay present with.

As for meditation, I've had amazingly powerful experiences through entering into cards. Perhaps because it's a more playful method, or perhaps because it does not rigidly require me to stick to one sense or approach, I find it far easier to engage with this practice. If I'm not seeing or smelling or texturally feeling the image, I can perhaps still sense it in a more "getting the vibe" way. Not something I've ever heard of in a yogic meditation, but if it works, why not?

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that yoga isn't spiritual, or is too rigid. I'm just saying that much of the spiritual side doesn't really work for me personally. And so I find tarot supplements and supports that side of developing myself. Donna Farhi, another wonderful yoga teacher and author, says that all aspects of yoga practice will naturally develop in tandem, even if you just work on one. I think this is true, but how it is expressed can vary widely. So, my tarot practice is actually a limb of my yoga practice, and vice versa.

How about you? Perhaps reading tarot doesn't make you feel like standing on your head, but has it ever encouraged you to go out for a walk, or be more mindful of what you take into your body? This is all part of yoga, too. Maybe, then, you're a yogi/ni and don't even realise it! So, what does tarot or yoga mean to you, I'd love to hear your point of view!

The image above is "The Tree" (equivalent to the Hanged Man) from the Gaian Tarot.

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