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Monday, September 16, 2013

Yoga and war. Schutzen raises some eyebrows

"It’s okay, I don’t expect you to like me after this performance"
These were words that Danish performance artist, Cecilie Ullerup Schmidt used in response to some poignant questions posed in Toronto on her North American premier of Schutzen, a performance trilogy on bodies shaped by weapons. Schutzen is the brilliant manifestation and theatrical interpretation of Cecilie’s research on the ways weapons/ war/ shooting/ killing produces bodies. For me, I was fascinated by the promise of exploring the role of yoga in the machinery of violence as depicted in an email advertising the event:
Every morning before they start work, the US Nevada Control Station’s drone pilots meet for a yoga session. And before they return to their normal lives in the evenings, half an hour of collective meditation helps them let go of the “battle mind” that they need for war. These are strategies designed to protect those involved in modern warfare – mentally if not physically – from overload.

I was excited to see elements of physical Hatha yoga at the very outset of the work such as in Cecilie’s focus on breath and alignment but I was quiet perturbed by the role of these principles in effecting better shooting/ killing experiences. Cecilie’s own shooting training in a range in Berlin involved the beautiful, albeit emotionally imbalanced, use of Tadasana. She described her stance as one rooted like a tree or as I saw it, like a mountain. Seeing her flawless alignment was inspirational but becoming the target of her extended arm that was mimicking the hold of a gun was unnerving. How can these things coexist? How can yoga, that ancient non violent tradition, provide the ammunition to this mindlessness? Is shooting in a range a mindless action in the first place or is it in fact an extremely mindful exercise? What would Krishna say to Arjuna who was in the midst of an epic battle in the Bhagavad Gita? Would he say that yoga is perfect evenness of mind (2.48) or yoga is skill in action (2.50)? During the play, I felt certain that yoga would lend itself perfectly to the making of efficient warriors.
Cecilie reassured me that the part of the performance where the drone pilots practice morning warrior Asanas (Virabhadrasana) is not happening in reality and that yoga is prescribed and practiced only in the healing sectors of the American army. That reassurance made me feel a little better but why should it? Cecilie’s play made me wonder about the potential use of physical yoga for destructive ends. Einstein could not stop Hiroshima and Nagasaki from happening, why should we be any less naive? Maybe Cecilie intended to challenge our dualistic thinking; “Schützen” after all means someone who shoots and also the verb to shield, protect or prevent in German. Should we not then start a conversation about the role of morality, ethics and responsibility in the world of physical yoga? Could the spiritualpaths of yoga be of any help here? Is there not a duty on every Hatha Yoga instructor to instill the
Cecilie Ullerup Schmidt (on right) and Diana Younes
practice of honoring one of the four paths of yoga?

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