(First published Sept 20th 2021 in the Newcastle Herald)
In the Himalayas, Newcastle yoga teacher Josh Pryor found a new way to communicate about yoga.
“During my years practicing physical yoga, I had been studying Sanskrit texts from Indian libraries that had recently been made available online,” Josh said.
“More recently I had studied the language of Sanskrit itself at ANU [Australian National University].
“On one of my visits to India, I became aware of a way to communicate spirituality that I had not seen in popular books. See, I always maintained that modern books on yoga are unnecessary – all the information has already been written in the beautifully concise language of Sanskrit and translated into English.
“But in the Himalayas I was made aware of ways to communicate this, to help people implement it quickly without having to study Sanskrit first.”ADVERTISING
Originally, he intended to write two books, keeping the spirituality and yoga-class topics separate.
“But when I started writing, I found it impossible to keep them apart.”
And so, his new book is titled The Spirit of the Matter.
Josh, head teacher of Ashtanga Yoga Newcastle, said his practice of yoga involved “recalling awareness of the unified consciousness that permeates all of time, space and the multiverse”.
His practice also honours and enjoys “the sense of individual physical existence that our culture embraces”.
He teaches the yoga practice commonly known as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, which is a set of poses that “you gradually make your way through over a couple of decades”.
“The sequences start by addressing fundamental health requirements of the body – digestion, muscular strength, joint health and breath support,” he said.
He added that they later move into “enhancing endocrine function, mental focus, delving into beliefs and assumptions around sensation, intention, fear and excitement, along with more mystical elements”.
Josh first began yoga in high school.
“That planted the seed,” he said.
“Many years later at around age 30, in the final years of my IT career, I found myself appreciating physical health and play more than ever before. I had lost 25 kilograms and found yoga as part of a weight loss and fitness kick.”
Yoga had made him strong and flexible and healed injury.
“Yoga has shown me a path to preferred states of consciousness that involves constant fun and healthy challenges. It has allowed me to quickly and persistently connect with aspects of myself I frequently desired but infrequently accessed.”
The Higher Self
In the book, he talks about the higher self.
“The higher self is the locus of consciousness that has simultaneous and immediate access to the superset of all experience. That is, all memory and fantasy, all desire and inspiration, everything you have in past, present, future,” he said.
“Practically speaking, when we talk about identifying with the higher self, it means to have a perspective that sees a great deal, that sees everything that needs to be seen in any situation – all points of view, all context.
“With this perspective, we can make great decisions and express ourselves in a way that feels accurate and true to who we really are, rather than being influenced by trauma or greed. When we are free from a sense of externally imposed obligation, or internally generated fear, guilt or doubt, our ideation and action in the world is optimal.”
In the book, he also writes about the “metaphorical mountain of consciousness”.
“It is well known that we remember everything, every little thing that we experience. It is the ability to recall from our memory that remains our practical challenge. Accurately finding the information we seek in the mind is the project we are working on.
“This high level mental function is developed through things like tertiary education, musicianship, caring for flora and fauna, practicing and teaching yoga and many other projects of mankind.”
The mountain is the metaphor for this process. “We can actually imagine ourselves ascending up the mountain of our own memories and imagination. There is even a feeling of elation as we find measures of success in the process, just as there is when climbing a real mountain.
“Conversely, there can be a feeling of despair if we find ourselves having tumbled down from a previous position, losing access to context and intelligence and having to work our way back up.”
Concentrate and Relax
Yoga has a strong focus on concentration and relaxation, which Josh said was often imbalanced in people.
“Someone might be overly fixated on certain topics in their life and unable to relax as a result. Or, someone might struggle to find a target for their energy that motivates them sufficiently to take action in the world.”
When life is lived in a certain way, the ability to “both concentrate and relax is developed”.
“The higher self is found in increasing measure and great decisions are made. Quite naturally, life will then include playfulness, excitement and a passionate pursuit of what truly interests you.
“An eagerness to move and explore, to fully embrace the gift of physical existence is the most automatic urge a human can have. It is quite a bizarre characteristic of western adulthood that it is squeezed into very short segments of the day.
“After all, what could be more fulfilling in any moment than to throw open your arms and fling your head back in laughter, having dropped all sense of stress and worry, taking in the moment for all it’s worth, innocently enjoying the fresh air for its own sake.”