Status of union

Yoga is often translated as “union.”  Union of what, you might say? It depends on the school of thought: some say union of the individual self with the Higher Self; others say union of the soul with God or Universe; while still others say “union with your highest potential.”  In some sense, each sense of the word “union” listed above carries a sense of surrender, of letting go of individuality and merging into something greater, something larger than what we can conceive.  In fact, translating yoga as union is so commonplace that we often lose the immensity of what it may be pointing to.

This is not to say that the translation is inaccurate, incorrect, or misleading.  If hundreds of years of yoga texts and commentaries talk about yoga meaning “union, absorption,” then there is definitely reason to believe that this is one of its primary meanings.  But it may not be the most practical meaning of yoga when trying to describe what we are doing when we step on the yoga mat, or take a seat on the meditation cushion, or when we engage in community service.

Yoga, as a practice and a philosophy, is multifaceted – it has many faces, like a diamond.  And like a diamond of great worth, each facet of yoga provides a different view into the interior of the practice, of the philosophy of finding union within ourselves, with others, and with this weird thing we call the universe of reality.

What if we were to translate yoga as “connection?”  Or “network?”  Or “web?” These three words may have different Sanskrit counterparts, but what I find to be more important is the associations they provoke.  All three words hint at union, indicate a relationship between things, between individuals or entities.  All three point to the maintenance of individuality while recognizing the unmistakable stamp of relating to others, a relationship.  A relationship consists of, at its minimum, two individuals connected through their interactions.  It is actually three-in-one.

Further, “connection, network, web” are, as words, more visceral, more tangible, more penetrating than the rarefied translation of “union.”  Connection, network, web – ties that bind us together.  Indeed, the Yoga Sutras, considered to be one of, if not the, central texts of yoga philosophy, contains an obvious clue to how yoga stitches us up in various ways.  “Sutra” shares the same etymological root as “sutures,” the row of stitches which hold the two edges of a wound together while the tissue heals.   Isn’t interesting how people often say they come to yoga practice – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – to heal themselves?  To stitch up the wounds we feel from life, to connect us to our deeper sense of purpose and belonging, to integrate us into a web of existence with other people.  To weave us together into a net, a web of relationships and stories.

It’s with these thoughts in mind that I want to offer some of the connections I have made over the years and how they have influenced me.  The short list is eccentric in some ways – it includes a book or two, people I have met, experiences which have shaped my life.  This list is concentric in other way – many of these items share the same center of gravity: remaining heart-opened and clear-eyed when facing the joys and miseries of the world.  This list is personal – these books and friends have been present at my life in ways that continue to influence me months and years later.  Connection, network, web.

I am a firm believer that the people and things we cherish the most should be shared with others.

Here it goes:

  1. Novel:  Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.  This is a story that just rips your heart open and makes you want to visit India.  It is about an Australian convict who escapes a maximum-security prison and travels to India where he then becomes involved in the Bombay underworld.  The story is wide-ranging and beautifully written – I cannot suppress the memories of Mumbai when I first visited there, or of Bali when I first devoured this book.  Roberts is masterful in how he weaves deep truths into each character’s voice and how his own authorial voice shines through, like a dear friend confiding his deepest, most searingly honest secrets to you.  One of my favorite novels of all time.  It hooked me in the very first paragraph.
  2. Bodywork: Olivier Pelletier, Structural Alignment therapist.  I’ve worked with Olivier for over 10 years.  He saved me from nagging, persistent neck and lower back pain after an accident when I first moved back to DC.  His therapeutic approach is unparalleled, helping many of the people I have sent to him avoid costly surgery and prolonged pain.   Regardless of how active you are (and especially if you are active), schedule a session with him.
  3. Inspirational book: Choose Yourself by James Altucher.  This book was recommended to me by a very close friend shortly after my yoga studio closed, and I was struggling to make sense of the whole ordeal.  My business of 6 years had closed, I felt like I had let down my students, I was struggling to make ends meet, and four commercial loan companies were pursuing lawsuits against the business (and me! Lesson #1 in business: never personally guarantee a business loan) to the tune of a quarter million dollars.  I hit rock-bottom. Multiple times, every day, for weeks on end.  This book helped me to do exactly what the title says, choose myself – I had to continually remind myself to make choices and decisions which would help me to improve, help me to move forward a little bit each day, even if it was just one inch away from rock-bottom, it was still one inch away.  Nothing crazy – simple little actions to make sure I was taking care of myself – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
  4. Yoga philosophy and training: Hari-kirtana das.  It’s been an honor and a privilege to work with Hari-kirtana over the years.  He was one of the central teachers at my old studio, and he was an expert at building a loyal, engaged community through his discourses on yoga, philosophy and practical wisdom.  He continues to write a highly informative blog and offers programs and workshops, in addition to an online yoga philosophy classes.  If you want the real deal when it comes to yoga philosophy made practical for modern people, you cannot do better than Hari-kirtana das.

Also, I will be self-publishing a book on yoga in the next few weeks.  It will combine several posts from this website, edited for the book, in addition to new pieces on ways in which to practice yoga, consistently, creatively, and with sustained interest.

I am also setting up a business consultancy, where I will be offering advice and guidance to boutique business owners on how to avoid pitfalls, redefine their mission, and to achieve greater success in pursuit of their goals.  You can check it out at