Yoga at the British Museum

yoga at british musem.jpgLast night I went to a panel discussion at the British Museum called “Yoga: austerity, passion and peace”. I was encouraged to go by Jason Birch now at SOAS and working with James Mallinson and Mark Singleton on a fascinating research project documenting the history of Haṭha Yoga. I encountered Jason as the patient tutor of an online philosophy course I completed last summer so it was interesting to see him ‘for real’ at this event. (Jason’s presentation is available here).

british museum.JPGThe British Museum (or ‘Museum of British Imperialism’ as Hubby prefers to call it 😉 ) is quite special after hours. I wish we could have stayed to wander around and enjoy the quiet atmosphere.

We both enjoyed the talks and we argued good-naturedly over dinner about modern postural yoga, about the modern cult of Patañjali (the privileging of this text over others), and about religion vs spirituality. And we talked about some of the benefits of yoga we’ve each experienced in a very personal way. Amusingly, for him this includes a more acute sense of smell — which we put to the test in a wine-sniff-n-taste since we were both convinced the waitress had mistaken Montepulciano for Merlot!

The next day we sat having coffee in the café in Russell Square gardens watching people hurrying past in the rain. We speculated about them, picking out tourists from ‘the natives’, commenting on fashions and family likeness and so on.

Two women on the table next to us were talking about meditation and yoga. I overheard one of them describing how she used seed mantras and showing how she counted them on the fingers of one hand. Behind us two sisters met and embraced, one of them tearful. Her young son was in a wheelchair and as they sat and talked one of them held his hand and the other held up a mirror for him to see his own smiling face reflected.

I’m not quite there with understanding Brahman and the universality of god, but looking at all these variations in humanity, these little lives all crossing momentarily, something touched me and I felt full of care for the strangers around me, each part of their own network of loved ones, each with their own stories of joy and suffering. Yoga does that too, though I don’t understand how any more than I can explain Hubby’s better sense of smell after a lifetime of little awareness at all!

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