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Embodyoga®: Overcoming "Otherness"

by Matthew Andrews


In our modern ‘Western’ culture, perhaps more so than in any other culture in history, we’re taught to see and relate to surfaces.  Even when we dissect or disassemble things, we find within them more surfaces.  Atom, nucleus, electron, quark…on and on through layers of surfaces.  Underlying qualities and interconnections evade us, retreating from the spade as we dig deeper and deeper into the soil of matter. 


We can cut through the trunk of a tree, observe the rings and grain, name the tangible processes through which it derives nourishment from earth and sky, but what does this tree know?  How does it feel?  What is its inner, subjective, experience of the world, and how does it relate to and communicate with the forest?  We learn from a young age that these questions are inherently silly, childish.  We learn to dismiss an investigation into the mind of a tree or the subjective experience of a forest as unscientific and unreal.  And yet when we create a world in which only humans’ subjective experience is real, we become dead to the complex, living web of intelligence that surrounds and infuses our ecosystems, our bodies, and our minds. The illusion of aloneness is at best painful, and at worst the driving force behind Earth’s next mass extinction.


Confined to this philosophical rubric we become incapable of knowing except through abstraction - by identifying something as ‘other’ and examining its otherness and relationships to other ‘others’.  This ‘othering’ extends even to the space and substance within our own bodies.  My bones, my muscles, my organs, my glands, all appear as objects taking up space inside my skin.  My heart beats, my lungs breath, my blood flows, but all of these processes seem to have little to do with me as I experience myself - captain of the ship, observing the world from my perch up in and around my skull.


The practice of Embodyoga® invites us to step down from this perch and directly into life, starting with a very accessible place - our own bodies.  Instead of taking the body apart and examining the surfaces of its contents, objectifying our very selves, we go inside to discover the essential qualities of our physical structure.  The objective becomes subjective as we touch the consciousness that pervades all layers of self, from the most solidly material to the most etherial and formless.  


We begin by focusing our attention on the more abstract idea of bone, or muscle, or organ, or gland.  We then use imagination and sensation to explore and observe this ‘other’ with our awareness until suddenly, effortlessly, often surprisingly, we enter into a kind of communion with it.  Breaking through the perceptual bubble of the ego-mind, pouring into a subjective experience of gnosis, or knowledge through identity.  I know my liver because I am my liver.  The miracle of human subjective awareness, with its capacities for meta-cognition, infuses into the pre-rational self-awareness that pervades the body.  


This shift is a spiritual breakthrough with vast implications, and the essential opposite of theoretical, abstract, or disembodied.  It opens the door to a gnostic experience of the entire ecology around us.  Everything in the world can be communed with similarly.  We can know our surroundings, each other, the earth, the cosmos subjectively - by identity.  I know the tree because I am the tree, the sea because I am the sea, and I know you because I am you.  This ancient spiritual concept becomes accessible through simple embodiment practices.  And when all is experienced as the self, who is there to oppose, to fight, to fear?


Matthew Andrews is owner/director of Yoga Center Amherst, and has been practicing and studying yoga and mindfulness since 2000.  He is on the board of directors of Auroville International, USA, and runs annual trips to Auroville in South India.  He can be reached at info@yogacenteramherst.com



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