BARPS is not a practice, it is first and foremost – to use one of my favourite terms of Navtej Johar – a promise. A promise that it is possible to experience Sukh, for everybody, even for the hunch I am, a promise to balance the interplay of the three gunas and last not least a promise that the body is not alone. Unfolding these three promises and following them along a stream of keywords that are used in the method, I will go deeper into what getting an insight into studying BARPS has meant to me.
A promise to experience Sukh
I started to engage with BARPS during the first Covid lockdown in spring 2020 when I was longing for a physical practice to deal with my constant back problems that resulted from several spinal prolapses diagnosed between 2016 and 2019 – at least that’s what the MRI scans said.
These prolapses were obviously symptoms, gross symptoms of a body that was working too much and too hard and that was not satisfied with it, a body that was neither well braced nor well aligned – to smuggle in two first keywords – in its surroundings. In both, the Asana based as well as the Somatic classes I realized two things quite quickly: Physical and mental practice are connected to each other on many different levels, they might even be the same and second: Practice has to be permanent and part of the everyday, it is a state of exception within in, yet has to be deeply rooted in it, too.
After about one year I slowly started to understand another principle of the method which has become one of my mantras in the meantime. Whenever I do, when I create, there is no right form, there is nobody to judge me except for myself. I know best what the practice and practice in general means to me. BARPS is not to be misunderstood as a way to cultivate egoism or individualism, on the opposite: There is interplay of availability and adhikar (authority), two more keywords, which are dear to me. On the one hand, there is a duality, a given that I have to become available to. It is not mine. On the other there is my own adhikar, my authority, to judge my observations on that engagement with what I have become available to. It’s where the method shows its connection to Samkhya and its duality of prakriti and purusha, but also to that simple, yet deeply human desire and question that plays out in the need for both, identity and community, this unsolvable dichotomy, dilemma.
Two other keywords I strongly connect to in the realm of the first promise are rigor and buoyancy. Especially in the Asana practice of BARPS their interplay is very amusing and lovely to observe. There is this beautiful force of gravity that makes me walk, stand, bump into other beings, the quality of earth, of the given. And there is buoyancy, lightness, the promise of floating. When simply standing on the floor one can engage with it beautifully, shifting between the floor as a surface of resistance and a surface that can lift me up, that can make me fly, that can fill the little bubbles of buoyancy under my crotch, under my shoulder, between my shoulder blades with air, probably even with space.
It’s these moments that give me a taste of what Sukh might be, what the promise of Sukh might mean – a state of grounded lightness, of walking and at the same time hovering through, and in extrapolating the space. A state that brings me to the second promise:
A promise to balance the interplay of the three gunas
Diagnosed and dealing with a paranoia disorder, more precisely a form of schizophrenia in the psychoanalytical realm – another lovely keyword showing up for the second time already – I understand the interplay between tamas and rajas far too well. I can easily be in an overdrive of anxiety and minutes later in a state of complete exhaustion. BARPS told me to love both conditions and to integrate them in my daily life which is, as mentioned above, my practice.
Applying different modes of breathing – another keyword – in different situations, yet in specific connections, I have learned how to first observe, then to balance and finally to harmonize rajas and tamas by bringing sattwic quality into their process as a deliberate, generative force. Sattwic experience – for the sake of a better word – works like a memory; and because I have been assured – during practice with and in the vicinity of Navtej – that it is always there, i can become available to it. As much as one owns the earth, one can earn the heavens. Maybe one does not even have to earn them; one has to be available to be in them. BARPS has given me tools and methodologies to get my states of mind into different states of motion, not trying to tone them down or manipulate them, but first of all to embrace them fully as mine. To use another beautiful quote, I learnt to cherish so much: “We are all poets.”
There is no such thing as right or wrong, not even on the most abstract, the most non-material level. There is a personal, which is not to be confused with a subjectiveness of being; it is a personal of hanging in Poise, of hovering, of surrendering to it. Poise and Surrender, probably my two favourite keywords of the practice as they share this complexity, spanning from a very concrete physical experience to a conceptional political attitude towards not only the world, but to what might exist beyond her, or before or after. Time is a tricky concept. There cannot be an experience without surrender; there cannot be an experience without sensuality. It is here where the Samkhya influence of BARPS is left behind and where it shifts to the spaces of tantric and artistic appetites – appetite, such an important keyword, too – that have also influenced it. Two terminologies that cannot be more than tokens here or probably a stirrup to bring me to the third promise.
A promise that the body is not alone
“The body is not alone” as a core promise of BARPS operates on many different levels. Two have already been mentioned: First the inevitable interconnectedness of purusha and prakriti of the observer and that which is observed and second, the play between the body and the breath. I would like to give another thought to both of them but from a different perspective:
What keeps the practice alive and never makes it boring is its capacity to turn this interconnectedness of observer and that which has to be observed into a funny and beautiful intermingled-ness. Listening to the sounds generated the gulping and bubbling, feeling the shifts in the muscles, ligaments and bones makes me wonder each time, what is part of me and what is not? What is my inside and what is my outside, what is an inside and an outside in general? Do they exist? Of course I am lazy, bored or not in the mood sometimes when I go to the mat for Asana or when I sit, but this specific question always brings back the mood, sometimes makes me angry because I feel out of tune or fat or not flexible enough or it makes me anxious or… only to remind me again and again that these sensations are exactly the rajasic or tamasic elements of myself that I should look at, that I should name, that I can make disappear by naming them.
This is where the BARPS magic starts: Naming is a very powerful magical practice. The craft of the bard used to be considered much higher than the craft of the magician or the sorcerer in pre- modern Europe. Whilst a magician could curse you and cripple your legs or a sorcerer make you suffer with an intoxicating poison, the bard and his spell, his song could not only destroy you but your whole family and offspring for generations. What a power it has when it’s used for beauty, when it’s longing for beauty.
The naming game is directly connected to the interplay of body and breath. I cannot not breathe. So as much as there is always movement, there is always standing still because the inhale needs a pause, after the exhale before it can start again, and the other way round. Both qualities are and will always be there, already in this most basic process my ‘Me-ing’ that is constantly busy with itself and with making it breathe, whether consciously or subconsciously. Breath is not only inside and outside of my body, it also belongs to me and at the same time does not, it alienates me while it connects me and vice versa. It puts me in a constant in-between, leads me to the last and central magic of BARPS:
There is something that is always cradling me, something that I experience, that touches my chest, that sits behind me and caresses my shoulders, that goes right through me and is all around me at the same time: A pocket of space that is as much me as my physical appearance even though I cannot see it. Yes, I can! Not with my eyes, not with my heart, not with my brain to use these stupid, simplifying terminologies that are often dropped in such contexts. No, it is something that has to and wants to be experienced. I don’t even have a choice, it is something I sense, constantly, permanently, steady. Matter and space are companions and it is their companionship and comradery that brings the big words of sense, truth, the meaning of life into the picture. BARPS is not only a promise that my body is not alone; it is a promise that in a sensual world nobody is alone. It is a highly political practice, political in its true sense, political in its conviction that I am and we are many. BARPS is a planet with a different history and a different future; we have to insist on it.
Bio – Karla Max Aschenbrenner started their personal dispute with the arts at the Theater der Welt 2010 festival and continued it as artistic director of Südpol Luzern and head of the programming team of Wiener Festwochen and of Asian Arts Theatre Gwangju. He works as a dramaturge and performer with Vegard Vinge or Barbara Ehnes and creates his own solo shows. His international work is a persuasion and artistic confrontation with globalization and phallocracy, structures they try to tickle and bug. Karla completed his teacher training course in The BARPS Method of Asana, with Navtej Johar in 2022.