Ergas, Oren. Overcoming the Philosophy/Life, Body/Mind Rift: Demonstrating Yoga as embodied-lived-philosophical-practice

Ergas, Oren. “Overcoming the Philosophy/Life, Body/Mind Rift: Demonstrating Yoga as embodied-lived-philosophical-practice.” Educational Philosophy and Theory (2012): 1-13. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.


Philosophy’s essence depicted by Socrates lies in its role as pedagogy for living, yet its traditional treatment of ‘body’ as a hindrance to ‘knowledge’ in fact severs it from life, transforming it into ‘an escape from life’ (James, 1978, p. 18).The philosophy/life dichotomy is thus an inherent flaw preventing philosophy as traditionally taught and engaged in, from fulfilling its original goal.

Recent rejections of the Cartesian nature of Western curriculum, such as O’Loughlin’s ‘Embodiment and Education: Exploring creatural existence’ (2006), constitute an impor- tant theoretical paradigm shift, yet still fail to translate to substantial pedagogies which explore the ‘body’ and its relation to ‘mind’ directly. This article suggests a reorientation of philosophy teaching from its present disembodied pedagogy, towards an embodied-lived-philosophical- practice. By the description and exemplification of modern postural yoga (De Michelis, 2004) I will depict the twofold role of the ‘body’ in philosophy teaching: 1) The ‘body’ as pedagogical vehicle serving the emergence of philosophical discourse, and 2) The body as yielding livingness to mean embodied-lived-philosophy as opposed to disembodied-lofty-philosophical escape from life. It will thus be suggested that yoga be incorporated as an integral part of philosophy teaching reclaiming its educational ethos.

To remember:

  • Life’s essential goal as expounded by Socrates is to live a ‘virtuous life’ which is to serve one’s well-being (eudaimonia). Achieving this goal requires the unraveling of the principles underlying such a life. The methodology undertaken for such endeavor is the constant probing into moral questions or in other words, the engagement in philosophical discourse (1).
  • Socrates defines education as ‘the art of turning around’ (518c8-dI).1 Man’s proper orientation abandons the temporal doxastic world represented by the shadows in the cave, turning to the a-temporal dianoetic world represented by the objects outside the cave—the ‘forms’. Once oriented towards the absolute ‘forms’, one is bound to act morally in accordance with truth.The method for the achievement of such excellence is no other than philosophical discourse. Philosophy for Socrates constitutes no less than the pedagogy teaching how one should live (1)

  • [for Epictetus] Philosophy will teach one how to endure changes in fortune (2.13, 14–15), how to bear sickness, thirst etc. (3.6, 10). Thus, to engage in philosophy is the means to become educated and ‘to live well’ (1).
  • Reading Socrates and Epictetus it appears that life and philosophy were intended to be unified within what I later refer to as livingness. Philosophy was not to be engaged in as a mere discourse, it was rather meant to transform one into an ideal of morality. It was intended as a practical ‘science/art of life’ (1).

  • [Philosophy] has become severed from the very life it was to transform in this Jamesian depiction of it as an aloof discourse devoid of its therapeutic initial qualities  … Philosophy should be a pedagogy of livingness (Socrates), but philosophy is indeed alienated from life (James).
  • Through reclaiming ‘body’s’ proper place within philosophy I wish to reclaim philosophy’s original educational ethos as I suggest its embodied-lived pedagogy (2).

  • the term embodied … represents an insistence on the centrality of ‘body’ within livingness; within philosophy; within education … The conceptualization of philosophy as embodied-lived philosophy seeks to acknowledge both the healing of the philosophy/life rift and the crucial role which the ‘body’ plays within such life and within philosophy as pedagogy … [livingness/lived-embodied-philosophy] heal[s] the rift between philosophy as discourse and philosophy as embodied virtuous living (2).

  • Indeed, if we view ‘body’ as a representation of sensing and feeling, this ethos has ‘crippled’ our ‘body’, in its disengagement from feeling, and its remaining within sensing-in-order-to-know; to know a world without. The scientific ethos has ‘configured’ the ‘body’ as an instrument to be used/ abused in order to know this world without while disengaging from those aspects representing the personal/subjective/idiosyncratic (3).

  • Socrates is a fine example, as he promoted the ‘art of life’ as an ‘art of disengagement from body’; a life of continuous tending to the antipode of the mundane body; to the soul … Contemplation is to purify one from this desiring body and free the soul towards its ultimate ideal of the contemplation of ‘form’ (3).

  • Platonic forms seem like a completely different realm which has no bearing on how we live life; on how we conduct our days which are very much riddled with that same ‘lesser’ quotidian aspect which at the end of the day is our life. It is the constant turmoil of our distrustful senses, our agonies, our ecstasies; our emotional flux; our mundane nature which constitutes life. It seems that conceptualizing these through discourse is indeed an escape from the actuality of experience. All these emotions/ feelings/moods are embodied lived experiences, which described by language, even when articulated by pure reason, constitute but a pale shadow within the platonic cave itself.8 Is not Socrates trading one form of shadows for another in his philosophical pedagogy of disengage- ment from lived-experience? I claim that we cannot simply ‘speak away’ all these emotions, retaining their ‘distilled’ discursive form. Such pedagogy remains rather sterile, and in its sterility cannot become a substantial transformative pedagogy, as philosophy was initially intended to be (4).

  • Remaining within discourse, within ‘mind’ as a representation of reason, cannot but reduce living to the realm of ‘mind’, while living, as we have seen, has so much to do with pain/rage/fear/ hope/pleasure/hate which are all experienced through our being bodies, not merely minds (4).

  • Does our curriculum teach livingness? In other words does it cultivate lived-philosophically-grounded-morality serving wellbeing as philosophy indeed intended originally? (4).

  • livingness remains mostly outside school doors. Western curriculum deals solely with knowing a world which lies outside us through a discourse mediated by thoughts, indeed ‘speaking away’ bodily existence. In failing to explore the embodied aspects of living, not merely philosophy which James referred to, but our entire curriculum becomes ‘far less an account of this actual world than a clear addition built upon it … a way of escape’ (James, 1978, pp. 17–18) (5).

  • My claim is that the ‘body’ should become the locus of the pedagogy. O’Loughlin’s and Eisner’s approach is still instrumental, as their gaze is turned to the world. The ‘body’ is still used/abused in this sense; not respected fully, and its enigmatic intertwinedness with ‘mind’ is completely neglected. I suggest that once our gaze turns to the body, rather than to our ‘mind’s’ constant framing of experience within discourse, we come in close contact with the makings of fear, joy, rage, hate, happiness etc; the makings of lived-experience (5).

  • Perhaps developing this embodied-lived pedagogy for philosophy as livingness is not enough. Perhaps the language of ‘body’/‘mind’/thoughts/sensation etc. fails to encompass the full span of livingness. There may be a need to point to the above mentioned unfathomable found within concepts such as soul or spirit … paradoxically turning our gaze to ‘body’, commonly perceived as lesser than ‘mind’ (or reason), may very well be the springboard to that which lies beyond body and mind. In fact, turning our gaze to ‘body’ as yoga postures require us to do, begins to dissolve this dualistic imprisonment which traditional philosophy has been subjected to (6).

  • Yoga has been referred to as various combinations of philosophy, science, practice, path and more.12 The authentic practice is a self-research of the questions ‘who am I?’, and ‘how am I to conduct myself?’. These two questions lie at the heart of Western philosophy as well, yet while Western philosophy has offered reason alone, in fact disembodiment, as the vehicle for such exploration, yoga treats the ‘body’ as an indispensable means for embarking on such research (6).

  • The assumption of classical yoga is that in our ‘normal’ state we do not perceive reality as it truly is. Our perception is confused as it is colored by a natural idiosyncrasy. In a sense this is no other than the conclusion of the forefathers of Western science … Yoga on the other hand claims that both reason and senses are actually of the same making. They are both so-called prakriti (nature)—belonging to the objective world, as they both yield sensations and thoughts which can be observed. Anything which can be observed is thus an object whether it is tangible or not … Descartes’ res cogitans still does not cross over to the safety of ‘objective truth’, but rather remains within what yoga would claim to be a still-confused state. Conversely, yoga posits a True Self (namely purusha), which is an uninvolved perceiver. Being uninvolved in the natural processes of body-mind it perceives reality with complete clarity (6).

  • Classical yoga thus suggests a methodical practice condensed in Patanjali’s yogasutra (arguably dated to 100 CE).The practice is to heal this confused state by bringing forth ‘the restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness’ as Patanjali’s second sutra declares. What are these fluctuations?—They are our sensations and thoughts (prakriti). Simply put then, once our mind-body settles down from its frenzied yet natural process of ceaselessly producing thoughts and sensation True Self is realized (purusha), and one becomes enlightened, as one’s perception is cleansed (7).

  • Firstly, the yogic posture is the most direct means to convey yoga as an embodied-lived- philosophical-practice/pedagogy as opposed to philosophy’s traditional pedagogy depicted earlier as disembodied. Secondly attending to modern-postural-yoga brings us most closely to what a contemporary Westerner may be familiar with. In this sense it is slightly ‘disarmed’ from the sectarian-religious aura attributed to it, which draws antagonism from some. Modern-postural yoga lends itself both to a secular rendition of the embodied education that O’Loughlin (2006) promotes and to a resacralized approach as called for by Wexler (2000, 2008). Thirdly, the potential of bodily postures to bring forth philosophical discourse is infinite and should be given this separate attention … Fourthly, any attempt to deal with the final limbs of the practice (samyama) throws us into the realm of the non-rational Purusha (or perhaps soul as discussed earlier), which should definitely be explored but requires a long excursion which cannot be handled within this framework. And finally it seems to me that applying postures within the classroom is feasible and may appeal to students more than the other limbs of the ashtanga yoga (7).

  • as a normative statement, I am here challenging the myth of the philosopher as a rational secluded enclave of ‘mind’ in favor of a philosopher-yogi embodying-living- philosophy.This new philosopher will not settle for less than becoming enacted wisdom. Indeed this is an ideal, yet if we aspire to overcome the philosophy/life rift, we cannot settle for less than teachers who do not merely teach but rather are the teaching in every aspect of their being (10).

  • Recent researchers have identified the urgent need of incorporating ‘body’ within the curriculum. To claim that I agree would be an understatement, yet it is my sense that these calls remain theoretical and disembodied themselves, unless a substantial technology which embraces ‘body’ not merely instrumentally is developed as a vehicle of educational transformation (10).

  • It seems that we have outgrown the conventions imposed by Western Enlightenment. Perhaps it is time to integrate Eastern enlightenment into our discourse, our philosophy, our pedagogy and life.Yet, such exalted phrasing may fail to convey the very mundane approach attempted here. So as not to trade one loftiness for another we need to ground ourselves through our ‘body’ (11).

Sample lesson/rationale/connection:



  • how does socrates’ “art of life” add to/complicate plato’s art/techne? how does ergas’ “livingness” cooperate?
  • do yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, then, serve as a sort of rhetoric-strengthening exercise (6)?
  • what are the complications with teaching “morality”?

To consume:

  • William James, Pragmatism and The Meaning of TruthThe Principles of Psychology
  • Plato, Plato’s Republic, Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo
  • Hanan Alexander, Reclaiming Goodness
  • Elliot W Eisner, The Kinds of Schools We Need
  • Marjorie O’Loughlin, Paying Attention to Bodies in Education: theoretical resources and practical suggestions, Embodiment and Education: Exploring creatural existence
  • Epictetus, Handbook of Epictetus [Enchiridion]
  • Philip Wexler, The Mystical Society, Symbolic Movement
  • Michelle Mary Lelwica, Embodying Learning: Post-Cartesian pedagogy and the academic study of religion
  • Elizabeth De Michelis, A History of Modern Yoga: Patanjali and Western Esotericism

  • Nel Noddings, Happiness and Education, Critical Lessons
  • John P Miller, The Holistic Education
  • George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh
  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty, A Phenomenology of Perception (embodied subject)
  • Juhani Pallasmaa, Embodied Experience and Sensory Thought
  • Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition
  • BKS Iyengar, The Tree of Yoga
  • Heidegger, Being and Time (Dasein concept)

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