How long did it take to write?
The question I get asked most often is “How long did it take you to write it?” And the honest answer is, I’m not sure. I started doing the research long before I knew I was writing a book.
Like a lot of us, I was attracted to mystical paths and altered states even as a teenager. I read everything I could, cobbled together a meditation practice, and studied it in college.
Fast forward to when I started the physical practices of Yoga, and I just wanted to learn everything I could about it. In a very real way, I fell in love with Yoga; it was like a mad crush. I wanted to know everything about it, to make it as much a part of my life, a part of me, as I could.
When I became a teacher, I felt like I needed to get a handle on the early texts and philosophy. So, I started studying with Georg Feuerstein.
And all along the way I’ve been fascinated by the question of how yoga went from being naked old men in the forests of India to scantily clad women in the studios and gyms of the U.S. It was a question I just kept picking at, as other people were at the same time.
Then, when Tamara asked me to do the Philosophy section for her teacher training last year (2015), I had the opportunity to put it all together, to tell the story. And this book is the expanded and polished version of my lecture notes for that training.
Short answer: I researched this book for roughly 26 years, and it took me seven months to write it.
The next question I really hope you want to ask, because I am going to answer it, is “What was your favorite part to research and write about?”
Oddly enough, it was what ended up going into the chapter called “Western Seekers, Eastern Lights,” that time frame from around the 1890s to the 1930s or '40s. This is when yoga really changed, and that is a fascinating story, but that wasn’t what gripped me.
Also in this time frame we have these incredibly earnest reports from Europeans who went to India as spiritual seekers and just had their socks knocked off by this thing called yoga. And these guys, these middle aged white men, these journalists and gentleman adventurers, it’s these guys who I really resonated with.
Once you get past the ethnocentrism and the outright racism, I could identify with these guys, these seekers who found what they were looking for in the consciousness-altering techniques of yoga. Their stories were captivating to me.
The yoga they describe is old school. It’s an all-encompassing commitment to shedding the attachments of the ego and seeking peace, bliss, and liberation. It’s a long, slow, painstaking journey urged on by the promise of eventual enlightenment.
It wasn’t pictured as easy or fun or comforting. It was a strictly disciplined life of single minded devotion to one end. And that end was radical freedom.
And my heart swoons for it.
Which leads me into the next question I’m happy to ask for you, “What effect did writing this book have on you?”
These stories about the old ways of yoga, and my process of coming to grips with seven or eight millennia of the various mystical paths of India had a few effects, which I think I can fit into four categories:
- It reminded me, constantly, day in and day out, of the true purpose of the practice. It really drove home the weight, the depth of the undertaking, giving it a sort of sense of urgency. A sense that rather than “your money or your life,” it’s “your ego attachments or your joy.” Pick now, pick in every precious moment.
- At the same time, the truly epic time frame of the process was made more real to me. The results of Yoga don’t happen quickly. Even people who may have been considered to be spiritually gifted had to spend decades slogging along, if you will. So, that has given me more space, more patience with my practice.
- I’ve gained a new slowness. Everything I read, just everything, pointed to this slowing down as indispensable. Especially those reports from the turn of the last century. Reading things like, “then we hold shavasana for an hour,” and “the perfection of padmasana comes when you can hold it comfortably for three hours.” So I guess I feel like holding a posture for a whole minute or even two is not that much to ask.
- Another freedom I’ve found came through being led back again and again to the old trope that all these paths, these many styles of yoga, are leading up the same mountain. And that, along with feeling really secure in my practice, has given me a freedom to investigate the paths of other traditions, other types of mysticism, from other religions.
Overall, I’d say the impact this book had on me was to drive home the gravity of the yogic endeavor. This is serious business, so serious that it was kept secret for hundreds of years. It was kept secret until it was threatened with dying out.
And because it was no longer secret, it was available and able to be modified and commodified. To be candid, I have conflicted feelings about that. Without it being made available, I might not have found it. But it also would never have become the watered down caricature that it’s presented as in the mainstream today.
So I guess, in my small way, I hope that this book helps usher in the next incarnation of yoga, where we can keep what’s been great from the last hundred years and also restore its magnitude, its great vastness and depth, where we can give yoga the reverence it deserves.
Thanks again everybody for all of your love and support!