Prasara Yoga - An Integral Yoga for a Postmodern World
“Editor’s Note – What follows are my personal impressions and interpretations of Scott Sonnon’s latest book, Prasara Yoga: Flow Without Thought. My use of the term “integral,” both in the title of this article and throughout the body of it, to describe Coach Sonnon’s work is not meant in any way to confuse it with nor to marginalize Sri Swami Satchidinanda’s Integral Yoga Hatha or Sri Aurobindo’s The Integral Yoga, both of which stand on their own as seminal works. I only mean to indicate how Scott’s approach employs the primary integral strategy (which produces the All-Quadrant integral model described in my article on Integral Fitness) of assimilating truths from all sources available, whether ancient, modern, or somewhere in between, in order to present the most complete picture of human development possible.
I’d like to start by thanking one of my readers, Duff (of fallingfruit.tv and precisionchange.com), for turning me on to the work of martial arts champion and Circular Strength Training® developer Scott Sonnon. For a voracious seeker of light like myself, personal development can be charted along a path upon which the most significant twists and turns are tied to landmarks such as the reading of a specific book or the discovery of a specific writer or teacher.
At age 29, my own path has several of these major landmarks – Roshi Philip Kapleau’s The Three Pillar’s of Zen; the wonderful fiction of Tom Robbins, which led me to Alan Watt’s The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are; my first yoga teacher, Matt Krepps, who pointed me toward Godfrey Devereux’s Dynamic Yoga, and the work of Jed McKenna; the fiercely voluminous library of Ken Wilber; and now Scott Sonnon, who has empowered me to take yet another turn in my personal journey.
What Scott Sonnon presents in his latest book, Prasara Yoga: Flow Without Thought, is a digitally digestible, postmodern path to enlightenment. With the human body as the vehicle, it is an exquisitely sophisticated, integral approach to Hatha Yoga.
Hatha Yoga is just one of a great many forms of yoga practice, and it happens to be the one most Westerners immediately associate with the broad term “yoga.” Literally translated, “ha” means sun and “tha” means moon, and the word “yoga” itself is most commonly translated as “yolk” or “union.” Thus, Hatha Yoga seeks to unify the various opposing parts symbolized by the archetypal sun and moon. Since it does this via the complex mechanisms of the human body, it is also known as a physical or forceful yoga. Coach Sonnon posits that Hatha Yoga could be understood to mean “union by force,” and while I think that assessment overstates the point, his assertion is defensible.
Much is made in this book (and in Scott’s work as a whole) of the phenomenon of fear-reactivity. In his own words, “Fear-reactivity is the nonspecific, conditioned pattern of concrete, observable behavior involving movement, breathing, and structural alignment” in reaction to danger, stress, shock, trauma, etc. (p 57) For all you AQAL integral model buffs, this is the right-side functionality that would be accompanied by internal symptoms such as panic, anxiety, emotional co-dependence, etc. in the left-side quadrants. At any rate, fear-reactivity progresses through stages outlined in the Wheel of Dis-Ease, ultimately resulting in “bound flow.”
Flow, when unbound, is the entirely effortless movement through the vicissitudes of life, or the harmonious flow that rises spontaneously from the “balance of zeroing out excess.” (p 14) I described what this looks like from a mental/emotional perspective in The Search. Prasara Yoga is a physical approximation of this same experience. Coach Sonnon says as much himself by describing Prasara flow as the eighth limb of yoga (Samadhi).
I have great respect for Sonnon’s fearlessness in this regard. His first claim to fame is as a fighting champion and a coach of mixed martial artists. Yet he speaks freely of love, of conflict resolution, and of esoteric concepts like Samadhi, in spite of living in a world that doesn’t readily digest such things. In this way, he illustrates his own mastery of fear-reactivity, showing no fear of being misunderstood or marginalized. He knows the truth of his words, has experienced the efficacy of his techniques, and he cannot help but share that truth and efficacy with the rest of us.
Avoiding the Pre-Post Fallacy
During his analysis of Prasara Flow, Coach Sonnon truly brings an integral perspective, in that he ties the ancient wisdom of pioneers like Patanjali with more recent stores of knowledge uncovered by modern science and psychology. In so doing, Scott successfully avoids falling into what Ken Wilber has described as the Pre-Post Fallacy.
The Pre-Post Fallacy is the tendency of modern seekers to abandon all things scientific and rational for all things mystical and esoteric. This often means eulogizing and elevating practices that are foreign to a person’s own cultural context. At its least insidious, this manifests as the use of terminology “on loan” from other cultures. This terminology often lacks real meaning for the individual, because the long cultural heritage these terms draw upon is absent in his or her own life. In more extreme cases, we find things like the New Age movement, which overstate the value to be found in archaic practices as a revolt against modern technological evils.
To see how this functions in real life, let’s take a moment to look at Todd. Todd’s a 35-year-old American male, who has been afforded more than a few luxuries in his life. His more or less affluent, liberal upbringing has exposed him to, and perhaps slightly overemphasized, the evils of technology and modern urban development. So on the one hand, he has lived in the suburbs all his life, while listening to public radio and espousing the dangers of urban sprawl on the other. You can already see how this is a formula for pathology and fear-reactivity.
He’s in reasonably good shape, but his desk job has contributed to chronic tension throughout his neck and shoulders, in addition to a lack of mobility in his hips. To make matters worse, a lengthy commute takes away time with his family and the increasingly negative global political position of America weighs on his mind.
So, from this stressful and pessimistic vantage point, Todd looks back at a time before global warming, before 9/11 and the War on Terror, before the perversions of institutionalized religions, with a kind of nostalgic transference. He was never there, of course, but he imagines how simply wonderful things must have been back when man lived in harmony with nature.
This is perfectly understandable but also subtly insidious and pathological. It throws the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. Todd feels more and more guilty simply for living in the 21st Century, and he regresses further and further into an idealized foreign land of ancient practices and unfamiliar language. Whether consciously or unconsciously, he discounts the triumphs of the modern age, forgetting that in the idealized ancient world, women were second-class citizens, slavery was commonplace, tribal warfare was the norm, etc.
In contrast, the integral approach respects greatly how far we’ve come. It seeks to identify truths from Patanjali to Iyengar and beyond, integrating them into a cultural context already familiar to the seekers. Scott does this perfectly in his articulation of Samadhi as flow, a flow-state, or as getting in the zone.
One of my favorite moments in the reading of this book was when Coach Sonnon mentioned the anonymous acronym FEAR – false evidence appearing real. We are bound by an illusion, held captive by something that isn’t even there. How tragic, right?
“Successful people,” Scott says, have a unique ability to “unhinge themselves from failed expectations.” (p 29) The flow-state is all about moving through life free of attachments by “letting go of expectations,” which become sticking points that distract us from the act of living and bind our flow. (p 30) This is not a new concept, of course, but in his book, Coach Sonnon frames it in a context that is especially familiar to me as a Westerner in the 21st Century.
Fear-reactivity is tied directly to unrealistic and overemphasized expectations. We develop deep-seated guilt because of our inability to meet the expectations hurled upon us from all angles, and this emotional trauma is reflected in the physical limitations of residual muscle tension, myofascial density, and sensory motor amnesia.
To crawl out from under these limitations is to live in the light of love, to finally live without blame or guilt, to stand tall in the midst of the storm. This is fearlessness. This is the zone, the Kingdom of Heaven, Samadhi.
This is Prasara Yoga: Flow Without Thought. In this book is a systematic way to use form and movement to break apart our calcified attachments to expectations and free us from the vicious cycle of fear-reactivity. Through this process, we unleash our true nature. In the words of Coach Sonnon, “Who we are is what is left when we burn away the slag that is our fears … Remove everything that is not our greatness. What remains is our flow.” (p 59)
Amen, Brother Sonnon!
I hope you enjoyed my little commentary here. If you have your own thoughts on Coach Sonnon’s book, or if you have thoughts on my thoughts, please share by commenting below, or you can always e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading!”