Most of these thoughts come while "running the stairs" at Mt. Tabor, by the way. Something about bringing blood flow to the body helps boost curiosity, thought, and inquiry, I suppose. From Merriam-Webster: Definition of authentic:
1 obsolete: authoritative
2 a: worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact; authentic picture of our society?
b: conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features; authentic reproduction of a colonial farmhouse>
c: made or done the same way as an original; authentic Mexican fare>
4 a :of a church mode:
ranging upward from the
of a cadence
progressing from the dominant chord to the
true to one's own personality, spirit, or character
Of these, I like number 5 best. And number 1 (and part of 2) the least. There's something about the word "conform" that sets my teeth on edge. That is my preface to the following:
A student recently asked what "Classical Hatha" means. While I could have given him the text book answer - it is the system of yoga set out in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, consisting of specific asanas and pranayama, blah blah blah- it made me stop and think. Why do we call things classical? Classical music. Classical dance. What was yoga BEFORE "classical yoga" called? Weren't all what we now call "ancient practices" once modern? Will what we now practice one day be called "ancient practices?" Must we stick things in stone at a certain period of time and refuse to allow music, yoga, religion, etc. to evolve as the world evolves? These are the kinds of questions that got me kicked out of Sunday school as a kid!
But seriously. In the yoga world, the words "classical", "tradition" or "lineage" are often used as a means to differentiate those practitioners that have a grasp on the ancient texts of yoga, those who study under a guru, or maybe just those that understand how far back these practices go. It can be construed as positive, but can also be taken to the extreme. It is undeniable to anyone who practices or teaches the "modern yoga" of today's yoga studios that what we teach/practice is a mixture of ancient traditions and new, Westernized gymnastics. And I don't think that is anything to be ashamed of. Just because we honor the traditions and lineages that yoga comes from does not mean we cannot enjoy the fun of trying to stick our feet over our heads or stand on one arm (though some of my students often question my definition of the word "fun" and think maybe I mean "difficult.").
In my very humble, but vocal opinion, change is absolutely necessary and nothing we should fight against. The world is constantly evolving. And there will always be those people who reject or deny this evolution, for the sake of tradition (cue the Fiddler on the Roof music). Just watch an episode of Downton Abbey and see this theme played out brilliantly. There's the faction of people that are appalled at the changes happening around them and those that champion just that change (and I suppose a third who might be confused or stuck somewhere in the middle). Although I champion change, I DO believe that it is important to understand and know the roots of a tradition or lineage, as much as that is possible. However, in that knowing, I DON"T believe we should get stuck on definitions, right versus wrong, or hard and fast rules; which is probably why I never felt comfortable branding myself with one religion or teacher.
Thus, when we in the West search for what is "authentic" about our lives (and more specifically, our yoga or spiritual practices), I am convinced that authenticity must come from within (see definition number five again, above), and not what someone else has branded as the "real yoga," or "real music," no matter how convincing their argument might seem. What seems real and authentic to one person may not be anywhere near what another person connects with. There is a reason why there are so many religions, styles of yoga, styles of music, to name just a few. We all connect to things differently and even within our small life span, we may change our minds a few times, due to experience, meeting certain people, being exposed to a new way of thinking.
When I was younger, I was often branded as impressionable. And perhaps I still am to a certain degree, though I definitely more firm in my beliefs, even if those beliefs are to be malleable and open to change. What I am sure of is that authenticity must come from within and not be forced upon you by an outside person, doctrine, or ancient sacred text, though those things can certainly guide us on upon a path. And since yoga is transforming us with every breath, with every syllable we chant and with each seat we take, shouldn't we allow definitions to transform as well? I'll let you decide...
Thank you to Uma Nanda Saraswati from New York City for this quote that has stuck forever in my mind: "All that I know is that I do not know. And for that knowledge, I thank my gurus."