Catching Up

It has been TOO long since I have posted on here. I’ve thought about it often, but a busy field hockey season, a chapter on the Meuse-Argonne offensive in WWI (a project I hope to be able to share with you soon), and, you know, teaching and grading got in the way. I’ve now planned and taught my entire unit on Hinduism, and would like to spend a few posts catching up on what I enjoy and find particularly challenging about teaching that faith. I also hope that this post can be the start of a return to a more regular posting schedule–I’m aiming for twice a week: Saturdays and Wednesdays. Hold me to it, fans!

In addition to posting more regularly, I have also been trying to integrate a more consistent yoga practice into my life. For me, it’s an opportunity to take some time to do something that makes me feel physically stronger but also gives me some time to check in with myself mentally and emotionally. While most yoga teachers I know don’t delve deeply into the faith of Hinduism, they use the sanskrit terms, they chant the universal sound (om), and they recognize the importance of cycles and balance. Further, most teachers recognize that in yoga there is the idea that everyone’s practice is different, but all are right (I think this is a sincere belief, and not just something they tell me to make me feel better about my tight hamstrings). This is true for the larger Hindu faith as well, and is the part of Hinduism that personally I connect to the most–this idea that there are many paths that can all take us to the same place. It’s the same wonderful quality that Yann Martel references in his book Life of Pi, when he describes how Pi meets Christianity and Islam through Hinduism. For example, here he explains a moment where multiple faiths come alive:

“I entered the church, without fear this time, for it was now my house too. I offered prayers to Christ, who is alive. Then I raced down the hill on the left and raced up the hill on the right—to offer thanks to Lord Krishna for having put Jesus of Nazareth, whose humanity I found so compelling, in my way.”

Usually I use Chapter 16 of Life of Pi to open this unit, as it exemplifies both the umbrella-like tolerance of Hinduism for other religious faiths and also the magical qualities of sound, smell, taste and color that characterize Hindu rites and rituals. It’s appealing to me to think of spirituality in this way–as some universal idea that we are each just following one route or another in order to get to. In my teaching, I emphasize this conception by looking at the different possible paths that exist within Hinduism.

In one of our early lessons, I start out class with a bit of optional “chair yoga.” It’s mostly for a hook–we consider: “What is “yoga” and in what ways is it religious?” But it’s also a great start to class because it feels so freeing! It’s surprisingly easy to get a roomful of self-conscious teenagers to take advantage of an opportunity to engage their muscles and breathe deeply for a bit. For some students, this is the first time they have been exposted to yoga (and what we are doing is a very simplified version), and I think it’s important for them to see this as an accessible and un-scary thing. From there, we explore yoga as the idea of “yoke” with the divine, and really as a name for a variety of methods to achieve unity with Brahman. This video, which I also share with my students, offers a simple to understand overview:

The question of how “Hindu” yoga actually is has been tackled been tackled by theologians and historians smarter than I. A New York Times article, here, reviews efforts by the Hindu American Foundation to “Take Back Yoga.” It seems to me, however, that rather than claiming yoga as a Hindu-only ritual, the organization should rather emphasize the flexibilty (punny!) of both the physical practice and the religious tradition. In this way, rather than scaring off pracitioners of other religious faiths, it would simply be extending a hand and inviting an intersection of beliefs and understandings, in the same way that Hinduism so admirably does.

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