Spontaneity through Conditioning

Andre Van Lysebeth, Belgium

One of the rare objections to yoga is that it constitutes strict muscular, nervous and mental conditioning, even to the point of reconditioning the unconscious levels of the psyche. Out of ignorance, some people claim that yoga deprives the adept of any spontaneity. For some people, spontaneity is synonymous with freedom, eliminating conditioning as a means for liberation. The final goal of yoga is to transcend old conditioning and attain complete freedom, born out of a conscious and voluntary acceptance of new conditioning.

Each social conditioning is considered as a restriction of our freedom in action. One example is the wild animal living in nature with very spontaneous behaviour. When it feels tired, it will find a quiet, well protected place, and just sleep without worrying about time. Man, on the other hand, can only sleep at precise times, which are specified by social regulations. If the animal is hungry, he will look for food and eat. There is no comparison between the complete freedom of the hovering eagle in the air and the accountant closed in his office, condemned to his desk and chair, writing numbers all year long.

Conditioning of man

Yoga is a human discipline because no animal can be a yogi! The animal is free only through the conditioning imposed by the species, through its instinctive behaviour. Man comes into the world with a minimum of conditioning, and must learn everything. He must learn to adjust his appetite to suit a schedule, to sleep at certain times, all of which are not necessary for the animal.

As he grows, he is conditioned by his social group, which controls his way of life, his habits, and even his thoughts. The school is the greatest conditioning centre and, as a social animal, he must adjust his behaviour to suit the norms of society. He must become obedient, submissive, and attend classes, when he really wants to climb trees or play with his friends.

Then he is socially conditioned for a profession, where he plays a role in the society. This role controls his attitude and actions throughout life. His freedom, his spontaneous behaviour has all but disappeared.

And yoga?

Then comes yoga, discipline through numerous techniques, which brings more conditioning! By slow and patient practice, the body is conditioned to asanas, requiring steadiness, when the body wants to move; to pranayama when the breath wants to come and go without strain. The mind that desires free associations, and wants to wallow in fantasy, is now compelled to concentrate on a simple chosen object. Meditation and its sequence of psycho-physioiogical states constitutes a method of psychic conditioning - even the unconscious mind is disciplined and ruled.

Where is the spontaneity in all that? Why add more conditioning to what is already imposed by the modern world, perpetuating the training which started with our first cry on this planet? Yogis affirm that real human spontaneity occurs through chosen conditioning.

External conditioning which suppresses our real nature and personality, impedes our progress. The real human freedom consists in choosing our conditioning, with objectives of spontaneity and freedom. Suppose, for example, a man who has never skied before puts on skis and goes skiing. His behaviour will be perfectly spontaneous, but he will fall so many times! Compare him now with a champion, who will automatically do what is necessary to manage in the snow. He has maximum freedom, but only through patient, long term conditioning. Each position, each muscle movement has been repeated several thousand times, until his body reacts automatically and immediately in any circumstance. In a similar way, yoga creates freedom through yogic conditioning.

Another example of spontaneous behaviour is to place someone who has never practised in front of a piano, and see how he plays. Alternatively, a person who has conditioned and trained his fingers for years, will have the skill to create beautiful music. The accepted conditioning then becomes an incomparable tool of freedom.

In yogic terms, the adept has taught his body to accept asanas, and to localize all the unconscious tensions in order to dissolve them. He disciplines his breath and mind and thereby becomes strong and free. What is the difference between the concentrated and disciplined mind of a yogi, and the restless, unruly mind of another person? The same as between a laser and an ordinary torch! Both give a projected light, but the laser has more power and can burn a hole even in metal!

In a similar way, the body and psyche of a yogi acquire different powers, special capacities allowing him greater scope of action and increased freedom. As his consciousness expands, he ceases to be merely an individual expression in time, and slowly becomes more integrated in the cosmic life.

Courtesy 'Yoga Revue', Belgium