I’ve been doing yoga, mostly hatha (body focused) yoga (or what I thought was hatha yoga) off and on for some 30 years, for the last 8 years, breathing practices, and in the past 3 years, I have taken it to the next level, adding mediation. When I finally got to this point, I found I wanted to know more about the yoga theory behind these practices and so I began a more intense exploration of the foundations of it. Most of this work has been on myself, a personal endeavor. But I have felt for many years that there is a connection to be made with museum work and theory. Please note that I am far from an expert on yoga philosophy, only an inspired student of it and I am still trying to sort out so many parts of it and how they all fit together. If I get something wrong, I am happy to have it noted.
I have started writing a blog post trying to link yoga to museums many times, but never knew where to start. Perhaps I was ahead of myself and simply needed to learn more. But recently, I read a fantastic article that beautifully explains how the Yoga Sutras might help with the librarian-patron interaction, The Yoga Sutra. Of librarianship: Towards and understanding of holistic advocacy, by Block and Proctor (2020). Yes, library, but if you’ve read any of my work, you’ll know that I think there is a strong alignment to be made between museums and libraries and the education of those who work in them. So, I often find inspiration in library research. And indeed this article inspired me. There’s another tidbit in this article that speaks to me: a holistic, integrated approach (another two topics I’ve written a lot about). Rather than waiting until I “know enough,” I am inspired to just share some thoughts. In this post, I will focus on one aspect from yoga theory, the Yoga Sutras, and two specific sets of guides from them, the yamas and niyamas, making the link from these to museums. There is so much more to say, but for now, this will be a good start.
What are the Yoga Sutras?
Yoga is a philosophy and spiritual science. Despite popular understanding, it is not solely about poses or even the body. It gives guidance on how to live in the world but not of it, providing a spiritual technology for living (Lee, 2018). As Iyengar (2012) states, “yoga is neither faith nor superstition; it is a subject with a well-defined philosophy, grammar and goal, and epitomizes India’s spirituality,” (xxi). It is a system—a practical method—that unites the body, mind, and soul, and with a larger unity, which might be referred to as “God,” making one’s life more purposeful (Iyengar, 1993, ix; my emphasis). The (possible) first appearance of the word ‘yoga’ was in the Taittīrya Upanishad, dating from the sixth century BCE (2600 years ago) (Iyengar, 2012, xxi). Indeed, it is an ancient and wise system, and has withstood the test of time.
Yoga philosophy is very complicated, built over many years, it has grown and branched and influenced other systems, hence the long explanation here. Buddhism, which seems to be most well-known in western cultures, is derived from the ancient oral texts of yoga philosophy. But, there is no simple way to “define” the yoga system and its origins. What it has become today, at least in western world, is yet another branch on the long path yoga has taken.
There are several sources of this system such as the Upanishads and the Baghavad Gita. From these, come the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, a classic Indian text, written at least 1700 years ago based on Samkhya theory (Milcetich, n.d.). The Sutras consist of a 196 succinct bits of knowledge that guide one in the art, science, and philosophy of life (Iyengar, 1993). Divided into four chapters, or books—on contemplation, on practice, on properties and powers, and on emancipation and freedom—many interpretations exist, emphasizing some parts over others, for thousands of years (Iyengar, 1993). The Sutras are aphorisms providing a way of helping a person to learn from within. The most well-known of these are from book 2, the Eight Limbs of Yoga, the Yamas and Niyamas, guidance on how to live one’s life, both inner and outer.
The dont’s and do’s of the Yoga Sutras
In the Yoga Sutras, within the 8-limbed path are the five Yamas (dont’s) and five Niyamas (do’s). They are as follows (including my own words for them, built from many sources over the years):
Non-violence (peace): Kindness and compassion to self and others
Non-lying (truthfulness): Expressing uniqueness and authenticity
Non-stealing (generosity): Cultivate new skills and abilities
Non-excess (balance): Appreciation and pleasure without excess
Non-posessiveness (acceptance): Intimacy without possession
Cleanliness (purity/simplicity): Cleansing our bodies, speech, thoughts, and space.
Contentment: Falling in love with your own life.
Self-discipline (refinement): Consciously choosing discipline and growth
Self-study (introspection, freedom): Knowing the self
Surrender (harmony): Paying attention to what life is asking us
These guides are meant to be a guide for a life well lived. There is so much that can be said about these, but I ask the reader to explore the many sources of material on these available (and if you don’t know where to start, you can use my references here). My intention is to see how these might speak to Museum Being. Let’s take a tippy toe into museumland, and apply them to a museum well-lived. Inspired by the original yamas and niyamas, I tentatively suggest the museum yamas (dont’s) and niyamas (do’s) as guides for all museum work (and being):
Do no harm. Seek peace.
Be truthful. Have integrity.
Be generous. Cultivate curiosity.
Unclutter. Be intentional.
Create joy. Enable contentment.
Consciously choose growth.
Be self-aware. Enable freedom.
Pay attention. Harmonize.
Yoga philosophy has been guiding people successfully for thousands of years. Today, in fact, modern science (in particular neuroscience and quantum physics) is starting to find evidence-based connections to these aphorisms (Goleman & Davidson, 2017). With such evidence for its value, it is worth a consideration in our museum organizations. Museums today are not only going through a reckoning with the pandemic and racial justice but in general, are trying to find their place in today’s society and how they can be relevant into the future. Perhaps guidance from thousands of years of wisdom can inspire them to be in the world in a new way.
Stay tuned. There will be more on this. It’s a rich area to explore, so, more to come.
References and other useful sources:
Adele, D. (2014). The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice. Two Harbors: On-Word Bound Books.
Bawra, B. V., Milcetich, W., Milcetich, M. (2008). Kapil's samkhya Patanjali's yoga: Commentary inspired from lectures of Brahmrishi Vishvatma Bawra; compiled and edited by William and Margot Milcetich. Ravenna, Ohio: Brahmrishi Yoga Publications.
Block, C. M., & Proctor, C. L. (June 01, 2020). The Yoga Sutra of librarianship: Towards an understanding of holistic advocacy. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 52, 2, 549-561.
Goleman, D. & Davidson, R. (2017). Altered Traits: Science reveals how meditation changes your mind, brain, and body. New York: Penguin Random House.
Iyengar, B. K. S. (2015). Core of the yoga sutras: The definitive guide to the philosophy of yoga. New York: HarperCollins.
Iyengar, B. K. S. (1993). Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. London: Aquarian/Thorsons.
Lee, J. (2018). Breathing love: Meditation in action. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Worldwide.
Lee, J. (2016). True yoga: Practicing with the yoga sutras for happiness & spiritual fulfillment. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Worldwide.
Milcetich, M. (n.d.) Yoga and Vedic History.
Milcetich, M. (2014). Brahmrishi Yoga: 200 Teacher Training. Brahmrishi Yoga Publications.
Pondering curiosity, wonder, meaning, and the foundations of museology.