This article is by Abbie Galvin, one of my teachers at Katonah Yoga.
[Featured on Yoganonymous, January 2015]
I am constantly asked to describe Katonah Yoga.
Although there is no handy answer, Katonah Yoga is a Hatha practice with Chinese Taoist philosophy deeply embedded. In fact, it’s the main ingredient. Don’t worry it’s not as heady as it sounds. While most yoga practices reference Hinduism and Indian culture as their philosophical matriarch, we filter our practice through Taoist concepts.
Hinduism is a religion whose teachings advocate devotion to gods whose mythic dramas guide us through moral and ethical tribulations. The myths of the Hindu gods are meant to offer a set of stories with which to navigate life. Peppering the yoga practice with Hindu references seems to have become the norm. However at Katonah Yoga, we reference Taoism.
There are three main principles found in Taoism. The first is yin and yang, the second is that nature reveals its intelligence through pattern, and the third is that pattern repeats. Repetition of pattern develops our capacity for having a new insight. For example, the repetition of a wave hitting a rock over and over, changes the nature of that rock. Taoism takes us from nature to our bodies and to our minds via a very pragmatic methodology. Katonah Yoga uses the poses to help each student move from first nature, ones’s unconscious habitual patterns, to a second nature which is a conscious construction of a new more fully functioning self. This is the goal and the uniqueness of Katonah Yoga.
While Katonah Yoga poses are classically Hatha in nature, we use techniques of origami folding, geometric measure and the use of ancient numerical archetypes to infuse the practice with dimension, energy, and refinement. These techniques offer us a map with which to navigate a practice rather than using feelings or sensations. If a pose is measured well, if the geometry is correct, the body is supported by its own structure rather than relying on muscle. Real strength is not a muscular grip but a matrix that is consciously constructed in our minds. Reconstructing one’s own container, one’s body, through its structure, is a way to fight one’s own personal propensities that often don’t serve us. The poses are the tools with which to set up conditions in order to explore the magic of the practice. Yoga poses, like the Hindu gods and their dramas, are built on a system, wherein each pose being an archetype holds within it lessons and patterns of its own.
Taoist Principals in Katonah Yoga
Taoism teaches us to follow the organic patterns found in nature. The first principal that we play with in our yoga practice is the relationship between yin and yang. In reconciling any two polarities, a third factor is established which braids together the two principles which at first seem like opposites. Male and female are made necessary to each other through their opposing but complementary virtues. Alone we are but one facet of a whole, while together we can participate in creation. We see this paradox repeated in nature again and again. This grand schematic motif can be seen on the minute scale in the body. We have a left side, and we have a right side and our job is to find the middle thus cultivating a center; a third foot, a third hand, a third eye. Off the mat, learning to adjust our awareness of how much we give and take from relationships refines those relationships into healthy balances of power and receptivity. So while yin and yang appear as opposites, the usefulness of their relationship is the yin in the yang and yang in the yin; an integration mediated by a third thing, you. When you make pigtails, which require only two strands, into a braid, requiring three strands, it is less likely to unravel, to be messy, to loose contact. Two hands clapping, making contact, makes a third thing, sound. And not be obnoxious, but the orgasmic integration of your parents, two people, make a third, you.
The second principle of Taoism that we explore at Katonah Yoga is the universality of pattern found in nature, including the cycles of the sun, in the tidal rhythms of the ocean’s waves, menstrual cycles and as Freud taught us, the unconscious compulsion to repeat behavior. Everything that is part of nature reflects a larger pattern. The body is no different.
From the subtle patterns like our sleep cycles and digestive cycles, to more obvious patterns like the seasons or aging, we are part of the natural world. Our job in yoga is to manipulate the patterns that don’t serve us, and to cultivate and develop new ones that help us function better. And because the narrative of our lives is reflected in the body, changing physiology alters psychology.
Working on the mat becomes more than just doing poses.
It becomes a place for us to address the patterns in our lives via the patterns in our bodies. We can change a pattern only by being conscious of it. And the insight comes through conscious repetition.
The third principal of Taoism that we address in our practice is the idea of repetition. Repetition rouses insight. Rituals that are embodied, made physical, first engage one’s physical depths and then engage the mind. To repeat a pose in yoga refining it each time, is to build new habits, so as to install new and improved patterns into our physical and psychological lives.
Repetition is the soul of insight. Every time you consciously repeat a pose with new information utilizing origami folding, geometric measure and how one’s body fits itself rather using familiar habits, you evolve, you revolve and eventually your revolution becomes truly revolutionary and changes your awareness of who you are.
While I still don’t have a crisp response that describes Katonah yoga, my best counsel is: Come to class and we will help you have a revolution.