Centered Yoga

Wu-Wei

Wu-Wei or Not-Doing as Philosophy

In fifty years of studying, practicing and teaching yoga I have developed a way of working with the body, the breath and the mind, which is at once simple and sophisticated. After having been exposed to so many religions and philosophies, with their myriad rules and regulations, I finally condensed both the technique of yoga as well as my personal philosophy down to the simple Taoist practice of wei-wu-wei, or doing-without-doing. This is the technique where, according to Taoist practices, one acts like water, flowing with the stream instead of fighting it, to obtain results. In Greek philosophy pantha rhei means everything is in flux. As human beings the art is to go with the flow, not to offer resistance but to move with the forces that move us. Fighting the forces, the body, and the mind to obtain results is called doing. This is the way most people spend their lives, and in this there is a lot of friction and loss of energy.

Not-doing or wu-wei is to move fluently with the forces, the body, and the mind, not fighting our way through things. For this, the mind and body have to be in a state of quiescence in order to reflect without distortion the here and now. Patanjali states that the mind should be colorless like a crystal which reflects whatever object it is put on. The Greeks said: gnoti seauton, or know yourself. This self-knowledge is the self-reflection of the mind and the body, emptied of all thought and actions. Then the mind and body are in direct contact with the here and now in which the observer, the observed and the act of observation are one (the core of both Patanjali’s and Krishnamurti’s teaching). Once the body and mind are made quiet through self-reflection, one can stay in this state for a while, or one can move back into acting. Projecting an act, a wish or intent in this state of mental and physical quiescence has extraordinary power to self-fulfill, as there are no thoughts, actions and emotions to interfere with it. This is called jan-zu, or the act-that-does-itself, and has been amply described in such classics as “Zen or the art of Archery” by Herrigel.

Wu-Wei or Not-Doing in the Art of Yoga

As far as yoga is concerned, most students practice the asanas from the point of view of the physical body, as a purely physical exercise. This is called doing. Wu-wei or not-doing applied to the practice of yoga means that the attention is focused on the inner energy body more than on the outer physical body. Though the classical Hatha yoga asanas are performed with great mental and physical precision, they are at the same time integrated with a specific kind of breathing which forms the bridge between the outer physical body and the inner energy body. Aligning each posture on the force of gravity with its inherent rebound effect, which renders the body light and fluid, this breathing is guided to fill the inner energy body and to make it strong, resilient and vital. Thus, there is an enhanced capacity for recuperation from the negative influences of daily life. At the same time, the daily wear and tear on the body is minimized, as the body does not move from a mere muscular point of view, but rather from the vitality of the inner energy body. Moving the body from the inner energy body is called doing-without-doing, in which the postures flow like water (the-act-that-does-itself). This technique is well known in the Far East, and the years spent in Indonesia, where dancing in this way is natural, have undoubtedly contributed to developing this concept in the art of yoga.