Vāk & Kāya: Language & Body
The body is all that I have. It is the means and end, the subject and object of self-realization, this realization itself being a deeply embodied experience. The sum total of all our aspirations, realizations, joys, sorrows and experience made manifest is the body. It is not simply a receptacle of the mind or consciousness. It is consciousness as such speaking through (and to) the elements. Any other conception of a homunculus is pure fantasy. The body is a universe that lives and breathes and reasons and senses and responds and much more.
I begin with the body. I am the body. The body is I, wholly, completely, and not merely a physical fragment of the I; it is the I as such. And this I-body radiates with the rays of sun, and expands with an expansive landscape, rises buoyant as a bubble in water, folds back into itself in repose, and grows like a tree with deep roots. It is nature, one, whole.
This is the first premise of BARPS practice. The body is all, and feels all. And it folds within its material receptacles—its bones, muscles, tendons, joints, skin and fat—all it has experienced and felt. It is clearer evidence of our history and biography than our thoughts laced with the aftertaste of memories. But then the body is not other than memory. It keeps for us our memory, safely ensconced in its material folds.
This sensorial I-body is the beginning of spiritual practice. Yoga understands this.
And tantra. Traditions of embodied experience. It takes a Nietzsche in modernity to declare the primacy of the body over the mind and its theology in the context of Western thought. But many Indic traditions not only begin with this premise, they also do not separate the mind from the body as two substances, res extensa and res cogitans. The body is mind materialized. Of the same nature, just energy vibrating differently.
Language enters. It mediates this materialization of mind, of subtle energy into grosser levels of evocation. Language is not just a scheme of signification and communication but the living energy behind words that unites the realms of mind and body. And breath. But breath is the accompanying measure of the I-body. Its reflection, shadow. Speech, aligned with breath, using breath to come forth and rise with each out-breath, is able to mediate between the realms of imagination, mind and body. It is most powerfully able to regulate and impel the prāṇa to flow around, here, there, inside, outside, upwards, backwards, through my thoughts and into my pelvis, my spine, sacrum. It is able to direct and locate energy at a single point, then divert it elsewhere in unison withbodily movement. It can evoke inspiration, expansion, experience. For it is laced with the memory of things. And it carries those things in itself, in its meanings, carrying them into the awareness that inspires movement.
So now movement gets laced with speech. Words. Images. This is the inner dynamics of the BARPS Keywords model. Each word evokes a web of meanings, memories and ideas that the breath and body can work with, can play with. And then I see the magic of this coming together of language and body, mind and breath. I don’t just flow with the new inspiration, the new conscious center of gravity, the mind, body and breath moving in tandem. I witness myself in process of being under such inspiration. I artificially seek to detach the watchful puruṣa from the active prakṛti—for they are not separate as may be presumed under the metaphysics of Sāṃkhya, as Advaita reminds us—and watch the prakritic body, mind and breath respond to the inner center of being evoked by each keyword.
Bhāvanā/ Dhāraṇā and the Three Birds
The planes of personal being are three—physical body (kāya/deha/śarīra), consciousness (caitanya/manas) and breath (prāṇa) or vital energy. They are like three birds on the same tree. Resonant birds, mirroring each other in their own dimension. They flow and fly and rest and eat in unison. Except that their sense of time is different. Each follows a different rhythm of life. Each has its own genius and nature. Mind is the first one to leap, to the adjoining branch, the body-bird often accompanies her. The breath-bird follows both of them, always under all circumstances. But it follows its own time. It is like the beating heart of the mind-bird and the body-bird, never losing a beat, but translating their sensual and imaginary experience in its own language of rhythms and pace, in the heaviness and shallowness of its breathing. It translates everything into its timekeeping rhythm of presence and absence, now there, now absent, now throbbing, now silent, the silence between the drumming. It is farthest removed from the business (and busyness) of life, watching, translating everything into its own dual rhythms, in-breath, out-breath.
This is the genius of the breath-bird. How it can read all life in all its diversity and richness purely in terms of its own grammar of up and down, inside and outside, in-breath and out-breath. For it caters and adapts to every nuance of thought and every flight of the body-bird. It adjusts to them, but on its own terms. An infinity within the simple flow of in- breath and out-breath. Perhaps this is why Desikachar would say, as Navtej reminds us, that breath is free, not susceptible to being easily conditioned, habituated, like the other birds.
The freest bird. At the foundation of BARPS practice. The Ujjayī is the mantra of this bird. What it chants day and night.
The three together make up the I. My (sense of) being. But what is this ‘I’ except its most recent inspiration, its most current influx of life and imagination, its most urgent preoccupation! This inspiration embodied is dhāraṇā. This inspiration as the sum total of what I am, my subjectivity, my individuality—cohering my synchronous present and my diachronous duration in time/history is bhāva. My body, my breath, my consciousness, at this moment and altogether, is my bhāva. This is the I. Always susceptible to an array of forces and inspirations, but also stable in its endurance through time, same and different, one and many. This tension as the I. BARPS basically works with the evocation of such bhāva and accompanying bhāvanā, the affective and generative dimension of this bhāva. Every āsana evokes a bhāva, leading me into a new be-ing, feeling, inhabiting. And every adjustment of an āsana, or tinkering with the āsana, making it respond to a certain keyword or idea or image, will result in the adoption of a distinct bhāva, however subtle.
It is called so for it is a key. To unlock the door of a bhāva. But not all keys open all doors. This is the risk of keywords. The same key doesn’t work for everyone. Or for the same person every time. Today the keyword ‘reciprocity’ does not speak to me. I don’t understand when it is said that the body is not alone. The keyword is loaded and supplemented with a host of further images and words. They help. As words align into sentences and sentences into meaningful images and wholes, something gives way.
Something responds, from within this multitudinous organism of a body. From then on its easier. I have a plank to stay afloat. But is always a risk, a play, an experiment. Navtej begins with a keyword and is hopeful. Anticipative, trying from every corner to evoke a bhāva. This works, this doesn’t work. Something will unlock the river of being (bhāva) to flow. Every session is a risk. An invitation.
Puruṣa & Poetry
But this triplicate being or I—mind, body, breath— and its configuration at any point in time, its bhāva, is only one half of the equation. The manifest half or palpable half. The half pervious to technique. The other half is that something nameless, impalpable, to whose calling I respond. One may call it puruṣa, spirit or whatever. It needn’t be named but only sensed. It is the invisible center of BARPS practice. In its absence yoga is just physical exercise or culture. In its presence yoga is poetry.
Poetry as a response to the unnameable. To that which beckons us and resonates within us, stretching, extending my being beyond myself, my body. A poetry composed by the body, inscribed into its fleshly grooves and folds. This is, as I understand, Navtej’s contribution to the tradition, one may say, bringing together three divergent movements and schools of thought-praxis—the poetic genius of KāśmīraŚaivism, its poetics of resonance and response, the askesis and embodied practices of Yoga, and the dynamics of spectatorship and the seeing puruṣa of Sāṃkhya. One may add here a fourth, Advaita, insofar as the self, the puruṣa, must realize its immersion in, its oneness and continuity with all of existence, all nature, i.e., the sarvātmabhāva of Advaita. All these four elements, then, come together in BARPS practice which, for that reason, may be seen as a distillation of and conversation amongst diverse traditions of Indic thought and praxis.
The use of the past, of tradition, however, is deeply open-ended here. It is a collection of signposts, indications, suggestions collected over centuries that can inform our own practice without determining it, guide without controlling it. It is a tradition of ceaseless experiment that must respond to who I am, my reality and presence, and singularity as an individual point of creative expression. The engagement with tradition, text and authority is therefore grounded in my own anubhava, my experience as a thoughtful, sensitive and creative response to the embodied wisdoms of those who came before.
Without this authority, this adhikāra, yogic practice is repetition not resonance.
We are not practitioners or yogis or conscientious rule-followers, we are rasikāḥ, says Navtej. We seek after rasa, joy, essence. Rasa is everywhere, if only we keep our sensual radars open, another aspiration of BARPS. We respond to the sensuousness of life, the sensible aftertaste of pouring rain, or the fragrance of a plant we walk past on the pavement, or the majesty of a mountain that both threatens and elevates us. Two things must be noted. First, all such experiences are sensorial, invitations from the senses. Second, they respond to and gravitate towards the concreteness of the object to which they respond. They are object-oriented.
In yoga, even in the traditional system of PātañjalaYogaśāstra, there is such a tendency and emphasis to gravitate towards such objectness of things, provided that we do not imagine objects to be dead, inert or animate. That is why ‘object’ is a poor word, burdened by the epistemic gaze of scientific Enlightenment. Everything prakritic resonates with the resonance of life. Everything is fertile and pregnant with emotivity and rasa, if only we approach it with the right eyes and the appropriate sort of attention. Eyes that don’t merely see, objectify but love and instil its object with love, which cannot help but respond and resonate with this love. The seeing of the puruṣa. But, eventually, unlike Sāṃkhya, the tendency is for the puruṣa to surrender, even submerge and obliterate itself, in the objectivity of the object. The subject losing itself in the object of its gaze. Becoming pure objectivity, that is, not turning inanimate or unresponsive, but resolving itself in the depth, the thickness and fullness of things.
Puruṣa after all is empty, pure spirit. It is perhaps definable, as Gerald Larsen reminds us, as a negation—that is, at any point in time; the puruṣa is what it is not, in its identifications with prakṛti and material evolution. Puruṣa‘is not’ all this, that is how we understand what it is. Puruṣa as an is-not.
And by yogic immersion, resolving finally into pure objectivity, no more defined by its negation, but now pure presence, the pure fullness of being of fully materialized and evolved prakṛti. We are back to Advaita, in its resolution of the seeming opposite pulls of Sāṃkhya and Yoga, towards the subject and object respectively. But finally they must be the same non-dual (advaita) Being of beings inhabiting everything, reducible to nothing. For rasa inhabits everything. One only has to find, perhaps, generate these infinite, insatiable tonguestasting the immanent joys of embodied being.
The Body is Not One Thing
The body is not one thing. It is a multiplicity within a seeming unit. Different parts, limbs, organs following their own natures. The body is a universe. Different symmetries, lines of flow crossing each other, making a dynamic map of crosscurrents, flowing along different energetic trajectories. The feet grounded like a solid tree trunk growing into the ground. The hands reaching out to the sky, grasping for something. The chest opening out into an open expanse, the heart a vulnerability socketed inside a skeletal frame. A Christian cross spread across the height and width of the body, a vertical axis of movement against a horizontal one. Or a few horizontal ones. But the body also as an inverted tree, the branches or limbs below, and the roots above, that is, the centers of energy in the neck, head and upper spine. Sucking nutrition from the atmosphere and channelling it down the spine. The spine as a pathway of seven stations across the torso, redistributing the energy. Culminating in the pelvis, another earth, another ground of the body, confluence of divergent organs and natures. This is the BARPS map, a dynamic map of bodily planes cutting and complementing each other. Producing a dynamic center of personhood. Single and syncretic. One and many.
Bio – Dhruv Raj Nagar is a philosopher and practitioner of Indian traditions of philosophy and embodied praxis. A Śāstrī in Vedānta and Vyākaraṇa from ArshaVijnanaGurukulam and KavikulaguruKalidasa Sanskrit University, he is finishing his doctorate at the University of Chicago Divinity School and has previously taught philosophy, religion and Sanskrit at Chicago and St. Stephens College, Delhi. His research interests include Indian philosophy, Sanskrit grammar and poetics, Yoga and embodied philosophy, Buddhism, Gender and Postcolonial Theory.
Dhruv completed his teacher training course in the BARPS Method of Asana Practice under Navtej Johar at Studio Abhyas.