Yoga: A Wabi-sabi Contemplation

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Yoga: A Wabi-sabi Contemplation Photograph courtesy of Dr. Judit Torok

Yoga: A Wabi-sabi Contemplation

In today’s media-saturated world, we’re told that our bodies are not perfect. Everywhere we turn, we feel overwhelmed by the glorified ideals of male and female bodies. There is a sense that we need to live up to these deceiving expectations of beauty and this urges us to purchase more products and services to change our physical appearance or hide our supposed imperfections. It’s so easy to fall prey to this style of consumerism and targeted advertisements that it’s no wonder we get obsessed with looking young and perfect all the time.

Perfection and symmetry are adherent values of this commercialized world. A regard for universal laws and a search for the eternal underlie these viewpoints. Promoting ideal human bodies as a way to achieve those values fits within the Western worldview quite well.

...Yoga is a path toward forming an intimate relationship with our lives and ourselves

There are, however, other perspectives on beauty and life that might serve us better. One such philosophy is in the spirit of Sen no Rikyu, a 15th-century Japanese monk who established chanoyu, or the “Way of Tea.” The sentiment that stems from Rikyu’s teaching is called wabi-sabi, which emphasizes impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness. A rustic tea cup that’s slightly chipped on the edges is an example of this aesthetic view. This vision calls for the wisdom of natural simplicity and flawed beauty. But in today’s complicated and perfectionist society, wabi-sabi values are often under-appreciated.

There are ways we can bring more wabi-sabi values back into our everyday lives. Let’s observe the beauty of distortions as we walk down a crooked path. A sense of melancholy appeases our senses. Why not pay more attention to the sensations of other living things instead of technological devices? Humans, animals and plants. We will appreciate pure flavors by preparing whole ingredients and consuming natural foods. Mindfulness in everyday tasks will guide us to come to terms with our impermanence.

Yoga is a path toward forming an intimate relationship with our lives and ourselves. A lot of people join yoga classes to change their bodies, but losing weight is merely a byproduct, not the goal of yoga. Through a yoga routine, we can come to notice our bodies without judgment. Instead of hating and constantly trying to change our bodies, through yoga we become grounded. It’s a process of self-inquiry through contemplation that helps us to develop a spiritual path to accepting imperfection. It’s a wabi-sabi sentiment.

Every day when I step onto the yoga mat, my body feels different. It’s sort of asymmetrical: my left shoulder is a little stiffer and I’ve got a pain on my right knee. But that’s okay. As I practice yoga, I recognize that my poses are imperfect and never complete. Maybe today I can bend down a little more, but I still can’t quite reach my toes. Nevertheless, I don’t mind. Through practicing a breath-centered yoga, my sensitivity for all my imperfections and impermanence blooms while a sense of wabi-sabi appreciation expands.

I’ll leave you with a haiku by Matsuo Basho, the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan, to contemplate so that it may bring a little wabi-sabi into your day.


take no ko to naru
hito no hate

Sad nodes
we're all the bamboo's children
in the end

− Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)

The complete article can be found in Issue #279 of the Tokyo Journal.

Written By:

Judit Torok

Tokyo Journal columnist Dr. Judit Torok is a philosopher, intercultural thinker and yoga instructor. She was born in Hungary and learned Japanese fluently at an early age. She has visited Japan many times and worked for a Japanese company for more than a decade. She received her doctorate degree in philosophy at the New School University and uses her intercultural background and education as a springboard to focus on theories of ethics, aesthetics and multicultural marginality. She is an energetic, creative and certified yoga instructor who promotes a holistic and healthy lifestyle for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, incorporating general wellness, alternative medicine and nutrition into her classes.


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