The Primacy of the Body

January 7, 2020 11:26 am Published by Comments Off on The Primacy of the Body

For much western history, it is understood that we were the center of the universe. The sun and all the stars revolved around us. Only 500 years ago, Nicolaus Copernicus stepped outside of this narrative by acknowledging something people experience every day. From his perspective of the rising sun and retrograde motion, he developed a theory which argued that the earth revolved around the sun, challenging thousands of years of strongly held beliefs. At first, many people vehemently disagreed but as the growing amount of research supported his theory, opposition slowly subsided and a new story of human history emerged. While most would agree that Copernicus set in motion a chain of events that took humanity out of the universal spotlight, the true essence of his discovery was ignored – the primacy of the human body.  

Our body is the primary way human beings experience the world. But too often, our body is governed by culture, tradition or belief, that ignore our body and our unique experiences being in the world. When we are left to only think about our body and the world, we are drawn into a story that we blindly accept and become complicit in perpetuating.

Throughout history and to this day, most of us perform as we are told, in a world of inherited expectations. We exist as part of a constructed reality without questioning, without critically thinking, and especially without acknowledging our own human experience. Philosophical, Scientific, Religious and Yoga Communities frequently continue to uphold these stories. They perpetuate a narrative based on a set of facts or beliefs that are available at the time. In those rare incidences when members of these communities challenge these narratives, final conclusions too often shy away from including all parts of the human experience. They ignore the inconsistent, unstable, and impermanence, and, instead, articulate a stable and permanent narrative for us to accept. By unquestionably accepting this constructed reality, we move further away from a Truth and into a deeply, deceptive malaise.

Take for example the perception of retrograde. Some people swear when Mercury is in retrograde it wreaks havoc on technologies, relationships, and all life on Earth but this movement of Mercury’s orbit is actually just an illusion specific to people viewing it from Earth. This experience of retrograde can be compared to being on a train that slowly moves forward. From our perspective, the train on the opposite track appears to be moving backwards. Again, this perceived movement is an illusion based on our body’s unique position in space. Yet, our egocentric vanities continue to spin narratives about a planet or God causing widespread destruction rather than experiencing the very real inconvenience, struggle, uncomfortability, and fear that emerges from our confusion and the unknown.

Yoga Communities have embraced the body to help facilitate many ways for us to move through difficult times, cultivating qualities that ground and support us. I have personally witnessed tremendous change in both myself and others in how we manage our suffering. However, as yoga continues to spread throughout the world, and in particular, during the last 18 years, I am witnessing how the trajectory of Yoga, as a system of discovery, is moving in retrograde – where the constructed reality is ignoring the body and thus diluting the practice and conflating the essence into a monetized narrative.   

As a yoga teacher, my role is not the same as that of a fitness instructor, health coach or Doctor of Medicine. My role is not to make students sweat, or feel good or bad and I am not here to judge, abuse or conspire. As a yoga teacher, my purpose is to teach others how to get into the body to witness the unseen, to learn the unknown, and to accept the impermanence and instability of our human experience.  My role as a yoga teacher is to quiet the mind and slow down the body so that when we actually look up in the sky, we are able witness an illusion.

As a student of yoga, my practice is not to perpetuate myths or grandiose stories, but to experience the rising of the sun and movement of the planets. My practice intends to draw my body away from the external distractions of my personal and other narratives to bear witness to an underlying Truth. Through my practice I work to reveal a depth of my being that goes beyond words to support myself and others in practice and in all the confusion, pain and suffering that comes with our being in our body. In these moments, I am learning to quiet these sufferings in order to discover my experience – an inner Beauty that swells with joy when touched – an experience that guides me on a journey where I am not alone on a rock spiraling out of control; but, instead, I am able to sit, unaffected by the narratives, for a Truth to carry me and the our community onward. 

Copernicus’ discovery is more than just a scientific breakthrough or even a history. From his perspective we have been given a choice.  We can either continue to spin, uncontrollably on preconceived narratives which predate our own experiences, or we can become present to the everyday experience and bear witness to our Truth.  By acknowledging the primacy of our body, unencumbered by theories, ideologies, stories and/or beliefs, we have the potential to rise above these narratives and embrace our body being in the world.

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This post was written by Michael Ruccolo

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