Teacher’s Training Course in BARPS method of Asana Practice – A Review
End-November, we completed the course work of our first Teacher’s Training Course (TTC-300 hours), in the BARPS Method of Asana, at Studio Abhyas. The year long course focused equally on practice and theory. The students attended two online practice sessions and one lecture, each week. While the practice sessions revolved around the practice of asana inspired by a string of carefully selected keywords, the theory component involved a close study of various body-friendly texts, Samkhyakarika, Yoga Sutras, Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra to see how these may apply to somatic practice. The course culminated with a one month course on the History of Modern Yoga, which examined the re-constructive processes, the narratives and the idealisms that may have resulted in the popular imagination regarding yoga over the last century and a half.
BARPS is a method to practice asana, however, it attempts to distance asana from the hype that has come to surround yoga today, particularly ideas that see yoga more in terms of form, advocate standardization and mastery of form, and subject the practice to external ideals, be they physical, moral or spiritual. Instead, it adheres itself to the philosophy of Samkhya Yoga that steadfastly focuses on the distilling processes inherent within matter alone. Samkhya breaks down matter into gross and subtle evolutes, each with their respective inner-drives—proclivities, appetites, predispositions, influences and sensitivities; and aims to cause a reversal of attention to focus back upon the material self—body, mind, buddhi (intelligence) and breath, all being matter according to this school of thought. It does this for the purpose of percolating attention through layers of conditionings, progressively making it more subtle, sensitive, introspective and intuitive to eventually abide in clarity of the self. Interestingly, Samkhya does not concern itself with external ideals or even morals, and in fact, very steadfastly maintains silence on the issue of God.
I feel that the principles and processes of the BARPS Method have been effectively transmitted over the year as is evident from the trainees’ levels of immersion, availability, enquiry and the insightful observations they brought into discussions through the year. The course attracted an interesting mix of like-minded people who are genuinely enquiring into the possibilities of the body; the majority of them being performers, artists and scholars, a good number of them being PhD students.
Post coursework, we have been holding regular meetings to further discuss the possibilities and future of BARPS and giving it a succinct definition. Over six weeks, we had three meetings, and I must admit, that reviewing the Method with a bunch of intelligent young people, who are seriously invested in the practice, has been like opening a Pandora’s Box. On the very outset I want to share that one of the underlying purposes of the BARPS Method was to bring back subjectivity, intuition, autonomy and even ambiguity into the embodied practice. Therefore, not surprisingly, the two main issues that emerged in the review meetings were, a) whether or not we need to even give into the pressure of defining the BARPS Method, and b) whether BARPS is “yoga” or not.
The aim of Equanimity: We keep talking of equanimity as an aim of yoga, but it needs to be noted that equanimity cannot be mistaken for correctness as it is inherently a paradoxical condition that is not categorical, therefore, ambiguous. Vairagya or a state of detachment is a determining attribute of this condition. As both Samkhya and the Yoga Sutras tell us, vairagya can never, ever, be categorical. It implies the middle-path that is tentative, detached, and marked by indifference between two sets of opposites.
To answer the two questions raised above, I would like to say that BARPS is most definitely yoga, but most determinately steers clear of the perceptions, norms, and marketing of “yoga” as it popularly pertains today. But how does it do that?
Today, yoga has popularly come to be seen as something that is to be “done”, done better, perfected and mastered. And this mastery is focused on the “form” of yoga, i.e. the external form of asana. Such form-orientation of yoga is what has led it to becoming a billion dollar industry today; because only tangible objects can become products. But yoga is primarily a condition, a state of absorbedness in the moment. If we view absorption or integration as a primary criteria of yoga, then we must also pay cognizance to the fact that time within the moment of absorption and outside that moment of absorption belongs to two different universes; because the absorptive moment is in effect a tuning-into another realm that is completely carefree and indifferent to the realm of temporality. And both the fullness and the indifference of such a moment, however, fleeting, render definition redundant. But then a) tempering attention to become available to absorption in the moment, and b) making such a moment elastic so as to sustain and prolong suspension, may require a series of methodical practices. And the latter, i.e., the practice most likely does require definition for a variety of reasons. For one, practice or abhyasa, requires repetition, the parameters of which need to be carefully defined, delineated so they can be regularly revisited, revised, reinvented and reviewed. Thus, the guiding principles, underlying motives, tenets, even the methods, of the practice may need to be carefully marked and spelled out. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the doing of yoga is for the purpose of the condition of yoga that may not only be indefinable but also carefree of definitions. Therefore, an embodied practice for the purpose of immersion may be accorded an erasing-definition! Where definition is relative, a transitory tool, that may help moor the practice for the purposes of practice and even dissemination, but may not be deeply identified with, leave alone brandished. Perhaps, the integrity of an embodied practice lies in its remaining discreet.
Again, if we state that BARPS is indeed yoga but the kind that is attempting to distance itself from popular notions of yoga today, then does it mean that it is trying to reclaim “authentic” yoga? Given our post-colonial history, the word “authentic” rings alarm bells, as in not too distant a past, our Reformers tried to re-authenticate our practices by cleansing them, divorcing them from their hereditary practitioners, aligning them to idealist texts, and, in short, rendering them categorical. The results proved to be undesirable, if not disastrous, leading to exactly that which we are now trying to undo, i.e. the correct-by-the-book version of an embodied practice which is zealously emptied out of ambiguity, the very stuff of the body; thereby reducing it into a cultural object, and subsequently, a product.
When I say “stuff” of the body, I allude to an excess that is part and parcel of the body, that is distinctly palpable though intangible, and which can never ever be contained within a word or text; because the experience of the body shall always exceed the word. This is the underlying truth of the body that BARPS is invested in. By consciously stepping aside from the “corrected” versions dictated by external ideals, it puts subjectivity back into the fold, no matter how messy or imperfect it might be. Because this messiness is and will remain the real stuff of “my” practice! It is this messiness that is my lot; the stuff that I need to truthfully “see”, acknowledge, temper, treat, de-clutter, sort through in order to extricate attention from it. And for this purpose BARPS attempts to offer a practice that is informed by materialist and body-friendly texts like Samkhya, where the tools are the respective natures of different faculties of the body, their sensitivity, intelligence, discretion, and most supremely, the body’s innate appetite for immersion and vairagya.
Keywords: BARPS is not invested in offering a plethora of asanas. For one, today, the Google universe makes a variety of asanas, their methods and adaptations to easily available for those wanting to expand their repertoire of asanas. In fact, it even tells us how to sequence asanas and practice them safely, which for the longest time remained the primary concern of any responsible teacher. Instead, BARPS is curious about the alchemy that pertains between body and word, a suggestive word, to be more precise. Because my body will respond, reciprocate and even reconfigure itself under the influence of every suggestion. Suggestion may foster shapes to organically grow from within the body. Each keyword acts like a lens to rescan the body, and each time attention is mindfully placed upon the body, it will respond and begin to murmur and “turn”, at times, even revealing an underside, slowly moving towards possibilities of reflection, reconciliation, repose, indifference, abstraction and eventual immersion. Seeing the sensory responses of body makes attention curious, even delights it, fostering sweet-marvel or preeti in attention vis-à-vis body and eventually the self. And this is what we are looking for, not correctness or mastery, but self-acknowledgement, self-marvel that leads to self-care and self-love that can only come from the practice of seeing. Popular yoga, however, has today become an exercise in “showing”.
For these reasons and purposes, the BARPS Method is determinately not progressive, linear, normative, idealist or perfectionist. It brings the body back into the practice. My body is and shall always remain the touchstone of my practice, it is with its sensitivity and innate intelligence that I will authenticate my practice and the aftereffects it leaves me with. Because what we are talking of is my body! Therefore, it shall be my practice and in turn, it will be guided by my informed, honest and sensitized judgments! BARPS is eventually a self-regulatory practice with adhikaar or autonomy at the centre. However, like the erasing-definition that we spoke about earlier, this adhikaar may also be viewed as an erasing-adhikaar, but it is critical to immersion, because there is no becoming available to immersion if not from the sure-footed and carefree disposition that only adhikaar may foster. Keeping in mind that within the care-freeness of the immersive moment, all norms, definitions and predispositions will become redundant, suspending the immersive moment outside temporal time, making it available to the draw of another realm.