YOGA PHILOSOPHY AND PHOENIX RISING: Where do we fit?Liz King_headshot (1)
by Liz King

Liz King, a student in Level 3 in 2015, discusses her impressions of yoga philosophy from several different perspectives and how this connects to her understanding of Phoenix Rising.  We believe that she has covered some very significant points in relation to where we stand on the paradigm of yoga philosophy.  We agree that we lean towards Remski’s take on Patanjali, that we have definite Buddhist elements to our work, and that we are in the world in the 21st Century and want our work to land there in terms of contemporary psychological theory.  We offer this article for your contemplation.

What continues to draw me to the Work is its unassuming nature, that there is no right or wrong way for people to experience their bodies. All we can do as practitioners is meet our clients where they are at in a given moment and do our best to hold space and support them in cultivating awareness through listening to their bodies’ messages. While rooted in the traditions and philosophies of Patanjali, the Buddha, and Carl Rogers, Phoenix Rising offers a unique, non-directive process of healing and growth. This process is not exclusively bound by the rules of one tradition or another, nor does it limit its approach to a specific step-by-step formula. There is give and take within a well thought-out session framework that allows the practitioner to really listen and intuit the intention of the client while applying asana and dialogue techniques to help the client in his/her journey to fulfilling that intention. It is with this personal understanding and resonance that I approach this assignment.

I was excited to delve into threads of yoga as I have peripherally followed Matthew Remski for a few years now via his blog and writings around his upcoming book, What Are We Actually Doing in Asana. My previous interactions with his work had all been with my “yoga teacher hat” on, so I really enjoyed looking at his philosophies from a yoga therapy point of view this time around. What struck me most about Remski’s writing in threads of yoga, which didn’t exactly come as a surprise, were his authenticity and his unabashed approach to uncovering truths and applying them to today’s yoga culture. The lens through which he filtered his commentary reflected an honesty, authenticity, and integrity that is hard to come by in the yoga world today. That, combined with his intelligence and historical research, provided me with a refreshing read and welcome validation of some of my thoughts and feelings as both a yoga teacher and a yoga therapist.

Before diving into Remski, I’d like to start by discussing Karen Macklin’s article, “Does Buddhism Belong in Yoga?” as it provides a great starting place for me in organizing my thoughts on such a big overriding question. It seems as though as a human race we have always been in a search of one single truth. What is the correct path? What is the right answer? What is the meaning of life? For millennia, we have battled over religion, science, and philosophy, not just between the three but also within each category. And while we have made a little progress in very recent history in some of these areas, predominantly, the controversies still exist. And those controversies remain alive because they are embedded in social norms like political correctness or more recently, copyright laws and other legal protocol. (Note: I am not anti-PC or copyrighting, just highlighting a point.)

In her article, Macklin describes how she used Buddhist term to help highlight what she thought was a yogic term. It is a perfect example of how her knowledge and understanding – her ability to teach and inform through her writing – had been influenced by two philosophies. Editorial restriction (due to magazine policy, delineation of lineages, or whatever the reason) stifled her expression of her message, regardless of the power or influence of that message. When I read about her experience and the commentary that followed, I found myself internally debating the ethics of traditional lineage vs. hybridization, as clearly, Macklin is a thought leader in the yoga and writing industries. I have always respected the historical traditions and teachings that have survived over thousands of years; for me, there is something to be said for the grounding nature of passing knowledge through the generations. But in a world where everyone is becoming their own expert and combining modalities, knowledge, and traditions (both in the yoga world and beyond) – and some, like Macklin, are doing it with great success – I keep coming back to the questions: “What is right?” and “Does it matter?”

Enter Remski. Here is someone who noticed a gap between the ancient philosophy and the modern yogi and who used a blend of his knowledge of “philosophy, psychotherapy, literary theory, anthropology, and aesthetics” to take another look at the Yoga Sutras. Unlike his colleagues in the field, Remski did not offer just another language-based translation of the original Sanskrit; rather, he applied a different filter in order to create a new strategy for “nurturing the intersubjective.” His goal was to “bring the yoga sutra-s back into relationship with us as yogis, creative readers, and closet philosophers” – aka making them relevant and applicable in modern day society – by disrupting and reprogramming “both conscious and unconscious patterning with moments of perceptual wonderment and unexpected integration.” What he did instead, was draw from the wisdom of scholars, both of the Sutras and in the fields mentioned above to provide a foundation of credibility for his postulates.

Remski starts out by proposing that maybe Patanjali had gotten some of it wrong, that while his intention was clear, his methods of achieving ultimate enlightenment/wisdom were erred. He spends the entire book drawing from various experts in a number of established, post-modern disciplines to shed light on this proposal. I personally found much of Remski’s take on the Sutras to be quite refreshing and eye opening, as they helped me connect to this ancient text and my own yoga practice in a deeper and more profound way. Some of the many things that stood out in my reading which particularly influenced me as a PRYT practitioner included:

“Yoga is, among many other things, communion through dialogue…As my view of ‘what yoga is’ has expanded over the past decade, I have come to see every integrative pursuit as sharing the root of yoga. The ‘all’ of ‘we all’ includes for me scientists in labs, sociologists in the field, dancers on the stage, and writers in their garrets.”

“Stripping Patanjali-s vision of its complex categorization and obscure abstractions is an implicit invitation to practitioners to value the eccentricity of their own wondermenttrances, rather than to interrupt them with constant comparison to hoary ideals…No sutra can define, quantify, or prescribe the quiet openings of the heart.”

“…Our pain comes from the feeling of being trapped and isolated from the livingworld…The seer (the observatory function of consciousness) must therefore remember its interdependence with perception and the other to avoid [awareness becoming inaccessible]…The answer, I believe, cannot lie in shutting off the movie (the guna-s, the world, relationship) but by recognizing that we are the guna-s, world, and relationship. We are within the thing that is within us.”

Interestingly enough, by the end of the book, Remski had added another source of wisdom – neuroscience – to the mix, which upon doing so, totally flipped his whole argument on its side. What if Patanjali wasn’t wrong? What if he was just approaching it from the wrong direction?

“Looking upwards or downwards, the goal is the same: the search is for the root of experience and how it may come to fuller coherence and resolution. Perhaps the highest levels of meditation in Patanjali-s system can be seen as access=points to the most primal layers of brain function. His upward reach may be seen as digging into the fertile mud of our evolutionary and developmental psychoneurology.”

Applying the neuroscience filter at the end of the book effectively started Remski’s inquiry all over again, which in essence proved that despite the beauty of tradition and lineage, the individual’s filters determine how we receive information. Depending on the filter, yoga philosophy, life, and the self can be interpreted in infinite ways. As it turns out, whether that filter is internal or external doesn’t matter. What does matter is how those filters present information and how we as individuals receive it – and that is unique for all of us. More simply stated, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Even the Holy Gospel of the Christian faith had four authors: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each told the same story but from his own perspective. No one knows exactly who was right, and most likely, Jesus himself would tell a slightly different version of what happened; it was His life after all! But like the Gospel, where each apostle’s interpretation resonates differently depending on the reader, so too are the Sutras and its translations.

Remski’s is just another take on its translation, but one drawn intelligently from multiple sources of wisdom. Traditionalists who read his work easily could scoff at his interpretation, saying that the blend of philosophy compromised the integrity of this historical legacy. But for many who are lost and confused, just trying to find a way to connect with the wisdom of the seemingly big and often inaccessible world of yoga philosophy (in an attempt to connect their experience on the mat to their everyday lives) – this book is a unique portal into the abyss of lifelong learning and integration.

Like Remski, Michael Lee also noticed a gap – a gap in the healing process. The traditional methods alone (yoga, meditation, therapy), while effective for some individuals, weren’t reaching the masses at optimal impact. With his own filters from years of experience, he performed his own analysis on healing and “wrote his own book” based on his findings. He named the “book” Phoenix Rising, a method he devised based on his analysis, and he began to put its message out into the world. He went out on a limb and bridged traditions to create his own tradition – something greater than any One alone. And it worked. It resonated. People began to hear its message and connect it to those disconnected places inside where awareness had not been able to access.

There will always be people who abuse the system, inventing methods built like a house of cards for fame or attention or simply just to get themselves on the map and make money in an increasing challenging economic culture. But I firmly believe that the cream rises to the top and that wisdom and integrity can endure all. There is a reason why lineages such as Iyengar Yoga and Ashtanga have been around for nearly a century and “Dance Party Yoga” is likely to be a flash in the pan. The PRYT methodology is built on this foundation of wisdom and integrity; Patanjali, Rogers, and the Buddha have endured the test of time and, woven together, have served as inspiration for a modality that is changing lives every day. So what if this modality falls under a category called “yoga therapy”, completely neglecting to name its Buddhist influences? Frankly, to date, it’s the closest name by which this Work could be categorized and receive the credibility it is due (via IAYT, Yoga Alliance, etc.). PRYT has always been a blend of asana, empathetic listening/dialogue, and embodied mindfulness – a hybrid rooted in wisdom and integrity. (And, Michael Lee was careful to name it Phoenix Rising, so as not to alienate any of its core influences). It has taken the best of three diverse lineages and woven them together like Remski’s “threads” to create a meaningful and impactful experience that meets today’s seekers where they are at. Just like Remski, Macklin, and the writers of the Gospel, PRYT weaves the pieces together in a way that is accessible and relevant to everyone.

From my experiences on the mat thus far as a practitioner, each client connects with these core influences in a different way. Some resonate more with asana, some with the dialogue, and some with the meditative component. Each person’s body is different and therefore receives the Work in its own unique manner. But ALL of my clients walk away from their sessions with a deeper understanding of their bodies and greater clarity about their lives. How did they get there? The beautiful hybrid of Phoenix Rising. Which part, you ask? To quote Macklin commentator, Rabbit Roo, “Does [it] really matter?”

What I have come to believe really does matter is that they got there with integrity, both in form (modality) and in presence of self. The rest is just details. PRYT honors the uniqueness of each person it touches with integrity, accessibility, and tradition. It’s an honor to be able to share that with the world. “Which direction are we heading now?” The same direction we have been heading for the last 30 years – but with greater awareness, purpose, and passion…because the world is beginning to awaken from a deep sleep and here we are with exactly what it needs.