The Library

Digambar - sky clad


                                                DIGAMBAR - SKY CLAD


The history of yoga in recent centuries, has many similarities to that of Christianity, in its attitude towards the body.   The concept of the body as being a barrier to spritual freedom has been commonly held, manifested in the rigours and asceticisms of `holy men and women`.  In both Christian and yogic cultures, there has been a long period, during which there has been a general desire to achieve spritual freedom through mortification of the flesh.  The hermitage, cloisters, sack cloth and ashes of medieval Christianity have almost direct correlations in Indian yoga.  Today some of that asceticism has gone, but there still remains the feeling of guilt about the human body.  I would argue that, as is often the case with esoteric teachings, the message got clouded and diverted along the way.


I have a feeling that today, another aspect of the yogic pendulum has swung too far in some teachings.  So many people equate yoga with gentleness, calm, and a concentration on the so called higher aspects of meditation. and a perceived distant goal of realisation.  We float through our yogic existence wreathed in love, peace, beads, and incense.  Why?  As someone, who I can`t remember, said to me some time ago, `Where`s the blood, sex, rock and roll?`  And of course they do need to be there, along with all that peace and calm.


`In the beginning was the word`.  Familiar words to most of us.  In yoga we often equate that with the sound of OM.  We are told that OM contains within itself all sounds.  From the BIg Bang of the creation of our universe, modern physics, as I understand, suggests that all things are made of pure energy;  energy which was manifested as sound.  By that reckoning, all things are from the same source: that force which we sometimes call God.  God created the beauty of the heavens, the wonders of nature, man with his/her immortal soul, a fine intelligence to create great works of art, and the physical body with all its beauty, and imperfections.  Oh! and blood, sex and rock and roll     


For some reason, along the way, it is the physical body which has lost out in our evolution.  Civilization has seemed to favour the development of intellectual powers over physical ones.  The brute force of the barbarian has been subdued, and now homage is paid to the person of culture, reason and discernment.  The body byuilder, athlete, even the school PE teacher, are seen as less than the muscician, or man of letters.  What this has meant, is not that we have come into a state of balance, but that we have over reacted.  We have lost the Greek ideal of the healthy mind in the healthy body.   Indeed going beyond that to the union of physical and spiritual beauty, kallos.


When Budd Thompson, an American dancer/choreographer, was creating shows in the 60s and 70s, he discovered that even trained dancers, and particularly men, while technically good, lacked soul in their movement.  Essentially they were out of touch with their bodies.  It was by using yoga, a practice which he had used for himself for many years, that he was able to turn even untrained men, into dancers who were able to perform in public.  He had enabled them to bring together their physical prowess, with their creative and expressive nature.  One of the basic, and essential, aspects of his training, was that he and his students worked totally naked, a concept which he continued later in France when he developed Bodylife.


Tom Bianchi, is a Californian photographer, famous for photographing the nude.  As a gay man he portrays mainly, but not entirely, the male nude.  At times he has been castigated for apparently only ever portraying men of impeccable beauty.  In reply he wrote, and has published a little book, an essay, called `In Defense of Beauty`.  Quoting various sources, including the Veda, he makes the points that -

            `What we see, we become`.                     The Veda

            `We see the world, not as it is, but as we are - or as we

            are conditioned to see it.`                                    Covey

And he says,            `The wider we open our eyes to our potential to develop our beauty on every level, the more evidence we find to support our efforts.`  

In the essay he states that all that he has done is to see, and to bring out in his photographs, the beauty in his models, which others may not have seen.  It is that beauty which we all have within ourself.  As he says, `We all have one good angle`.


In yoga we are accustomed to the idea of trying to realise love.  Shame, fear, guilt, and social conditioning have however conspired to place great barriers in the way of our being able to experience that love first of all in ourself, for ourself.  One of Budd Thompson`s first questions of students is,`When did you last say to yourself,"I love myself"?`  Because we feel that we are `not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table`, even less to love our Self, we feel we must make ammends through the only way we know how - by punishing ourselves.  In our efforts, we turn to that most obvious and easily reached aspect of ourself - the physical body.  We claim that by denying ourself the pleasures of the flesh, we shall burn away our failings of greed, anger, lust and vanity.  The results are seen, in the rigours of asceticism, through to the prim false modesty we impose on ourselves.


It would be sensible to assume that in our evolution, something which is pleasurable, enjoyable and life enhancing, should be good, physically, mentally and spiritually.  These things should give a greater chance of biological survival.  Conversely, it would seem to make sense that, that which is painful, unpleasant and unenjoyable is life denying and limiting, and ultimately damaging to our survival.


Such an argument leaves plenty of leeway for interpretation.  Food eaten in moderation, carefully and with awareness is enjoyable.  Gluttony, leading to bloating, indigestion and sickness has a price tag attached.  Wearing good shoes protect our feet without causing corns and bunions.  In the words of the song, `It`s not what you do, it`s the way that you do it`.  By that token we could take almost any experience, and find within it both good and bad.


If we see the beauty of creation in the human body, then we should see it in every part.  We cannot pick and choose over what God has created.  When we enter the world we are naked.  When we die we shall take none of our posessions with us.  Even when commonsense dictates that some form of clothing must be worn, and here I am thinking of the rigours of climate or physical safety in some activities, there remain particularly, those times when through our spiritual practice, we are seeking closer communion with God.  Clothing of any form in that context can only be seen like the veil in the temple, dividing God from man through shame, `because we are naked`.


There are many practical rational reasons for nudity.  I sincerely hope that one day the only beaches where bathing suits, swim slips, bikinis or what have you, must be worn, are in a minority, and strictly  enforced if necessary, for those who retain their hangups about seeing someone else naked.  Can anything be less commonsensical than having to wear a piece of tight material (which still manages to trap the sand) to lie on a beach in the sun, or for swimming.  Let those who are ashamed of the naked body cower together under the promenade of seaside towns.  Otherwise let there be choice, and freedom to celebrate our bodies.  At home, in the garden, even in public parks, and certainly in yoga classes, we should be free to be naked.  The Greek gymnasium was not just a sports arena where athletes of both sexes trained naked, it was also a place of learning, debate and erudition.


So the Shivaite naga (naked) plays an important part in our yogic learning.  By his antisocial behaviour and disregard for the norms of society he challenges all our preconceived ideas.  By provocative nudity he shouts, `Look at me if you want to.  I don`t give a fig for your petty ideas`.  Unfortunately then he goes on to shout  `I am beyond the pleasures of the body.  Sex hath no more dominion o`er me`.   He has renounced the body, and claimed to achieve spiritual freedom and fulfillment.  But by his debasement, he has only succeded in drawing attention to that which he has failed to acknowledge and honour, his body.


A common fear among men who are unaccustomed to being naked in public, is that they will get an erection.  Apart from the fact that this very seldom  happens, it still raises the question, `So what?`  Women appear to retain the guilt of Eve in their frequent attitude towards their own nudity.  However one of the overriding impressions which I have gained from naturist beaches is one of complete naturalness.  Gone is the beach towel dance of changing on a textile beach, and with it false modesty.  When all around are naked the lack of clothing is most noticeable by the fact that very soon you do not even realise that you are naked.  And yet somehow every movement has a new dimension.  The body has become whole, and with it, I would argue the mind, and the soul.


So let your yoga be DIGAMBAR - sky clad.  Let your bare feet feel the earth.  With your naked body, feel the freedom of every movement, and the wholeness of every pose.  Let your total body breath.  Let every pore be open to life giving prana.  Unlock the gate of your sexuality.  Allow yourself a glimpse of what samadhi may be, as you realise your kundalini energy, and realise that this does not mean an indulgence in licentiousness, but rather one of celebration of who and what you are - a complete being at one with the world, with God, and with your Self.