Jon at Surkanda Devi Shakti Peeth in the Himalayas, Uttarakhand, India.

Jon believes that yoga is essentially about building bridges across into more positive and engaged ways of experiencing and seeing the world, and that through sustained, careful and caring attention to our own embodied experience, we can make real changes to the way we think and feel day to day.

Jon has a sceptical mind set, and generally tries to avoid rigid belief systems or people with claims to authority in any context. As such, he is interested in the work of the Modern Yoga Research group, led by scholars such as Mark Singleton, Elizabeth DeMechalis, David Gordon White and James Mallinson, that have done pioneering work on the historical roots of yoga over the past 5 to 10 years. In 2016 Jon performed a new composition (with poet Kimberly Campanello) at the Modern Yoga Research conference in Krakow, Poland.

A cairn at the summit of Chandrashila peak, Himalayas, Uttarakhand, India (photo Jon Hughes).

“The way we ‘feel’ moment to moment in our lives is an emergent property of the interplay between our physical, emotional, and psychological states. As such, our bodies and our experience of being in them is just as much a part of our ‘self’ as any other experience we have. And so when our bodies become more supple, stronger, and more balanced, and when they develop a better and more fluid range of physical motion, then so do we. That’s because we are our bodies: our personality and sense of self is inextricably bound up with our physical experience, too much so to separate them out in a satisfying way. So Yoga, and other psycho-physical disciplines, give us tools to be able to make changes and interventions directly into the experience of being alive, both for ourselves, and for other people if we become teachers.

This, for me, is real spiritual work – to build a greater capacity for joy and experience through careful attention to the body/mind balance. For me yoga, and the arts more generally, is about elevating to prominence our feelings and experiences and remembering to give them their due weight and importance in daily life. This is something I struggle to remember to do, and that’s why I do yoga, and music for that matter. I maintain these practices because they give me tools and systems that help me return to working on important aspects of myself and my experience. Without the systems, I keep forgetting, and don’t feel so alive any more.

And there is an ethical dimension to this too, as it’s not about only paying attention and respecting one’s own feelings and experience, but other people’s. If people aren’t happy and feeling good just being alive, at work and school and going about their daily business, then there’s something very wrong in society that needs fixing. You can only know that when you feel it yourself, and yoga helps you feel like that on a daily basis. It keeps the candle burning.”

Jon Hughes