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“Przekrój” Magazine brings to the English reader some of the best journalism from across Central and Eastern Europe, in such fields as culture, society, ecology and literature. Stand aside from the haste and fierceness of everyday news and join us now!

Przekrój
Back in the early 1980s, “Przekrój” was already instructing our younger readers on the yogic tree ...
1983-05-29

A National Asana
Yoga Branches Across Poland

Cover from the archives (no. 1581/1983)
A National Asana
A National Asana

To make it onto the cover of “Przekrój”, you had to not only be born a human being, but also to grow up into a kitten. No boy achieved this. The collection of Przekrój” kittens, although large, was solely comprised of girls. Anything becomes ordinary and ugly in excess so, from time to time, the kittens were interspersed with other species.

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Fairly regularly, seals, whales, stray and predatory cats, dogs, elephants, birds and even ants appeared on the cover. Plants and children were the least popular and only appeared sporadically. One year in the 1980s, towards the end of spring, a really unusual situation occurred; a vertical tree and two children in the asana yogic position appeared on the cover. Yoga was a long way from enjoying the popularity it has today, but it was not a complete novelty for “Przekrój” readers. The first mention of this technique appeared in 1955 and, as with the subsequent coverage, was aimed at adult readers of the magazine.

In May 1983, yoga made it onto the cover and the entire centre-spread was, for the first time, directed at children; information for parents occupied only a few sentences in one corner of the left-hand page. Eight basic positions were shown. Under the photographs of small children practising their asanas were instructions, written in verse, on how to do them. Barbara Korzon addressed similarly-aged children directly. “Become a bird, frog or tree”, encouraged the headline.

Cover from the archives (no. 1581/1983)
Cover from the archives (no. 1581/1983)

But yoga had made its debut in Poland much earlier than on the pages of “Przekrój”. It is impossible to identify the first Polish person to form these fancy asanas with their body. However, the first Polish citizen to write a book about it was, without doubt, Witold Lutosławski’s paternal uncle, Wincenty. In 1909, he published a handbook with the rather complicated title: Rozwój potęgi woli przez psychofizyczne ćwiczenia według dawnych aryjskich tradycji oraz własnych swoich doświadczeń podaje do użytku rodaków. [The Development of the Power of Will through Psychophysical Exercises according to Ancient Aryan Traditions and My own Experiences Given for the Use of my Compatriots]. Lutosławski devoted himself to the practise of yoga only after his reorganization of Plato’s Dialogues. Developing his own methodology, he put them into chronological order. His findings are still considered binding and the methodology itself has been applied to a range of research into source materials. Organizing the timeline assured him immortality among his friends, as Plato was among philosophers. Organizing time also turned out to be easier than coping with his states of mind, which could include depression, anxiety, panic attacks and anything else that hadn’t yet been defined. Despite this, he presented a comprehensive and chronological description of the development of the condition that we today call bipolar disorder.

The disorder initially appeared as a general feeling of exhaustion and tiredness, which neither sleep nor resting would fix. When Lutosławski understood the cyclicity of his own moods, he wrote:

“Sometimes a meeting with someone pleasant and lively gave an opportunity for resurrection. But most often, after a week or so of lethargy, I got up and immediately started a new life with such a complete illusion of having returned to full health that it seemed as if the lethargy I had just recovered from would be the last and would never return. Similar delusions regularly appeared when I fell into a lethargy and then it seemed as if the forces of life were definitively exhausted and would never return. These illusions were naturally resolved through understanding and the perpetual repetition of the experience of resurrecting from lethargy. These lethargies were states of physical incapacitation and were, in essence, caused by the enormous resistance posed by the body against any movement. They didn’t reach the soul, did not cause melancholy or pessimism, but sometimes awakened a great desire to free the soul from its infirm body. And the infirmity of the body was so great that I used to leave each movement – not just getting out of bed, but even turning over, opening the envelope of a letter received, and particularly writing the most indifferent postcard – to some overwhelming last resort. However, when the moral motive was sufficiently strong, I knew how to overcome these lethargies, through force of will, for a short time; get up, get dressed; go to university and give a lecture, after which I would immediately return home to bed. I should explain that throughout this illness I was constantly giving lectures; at university in Kraków, at the Swiss universities in Lausanne and Geneva and, last but not least, at London University; and I never missed a lecture, but I also never permitted myself to lecture more than once a week. The content of the lectures had been developed during a phase of health as well as during a lethargy if necessary. Lectures delivered during a lethargy, through a great effort of will, were without spark but in terms of content did not differ from lectures during a phase of health and, often, those who didn’t know me well couldn’t notice a great difference.”

The mood swings occurred irrespective of external conditions; neither faith, prayer or sacraments, nor diet, massages or physical exercise, nor change of environment had any influence on them. But yoga took Lutosławski out of his lethargic episodes, and no new ones occurred. It seemed appropriate therefore to inform others about this: “This handbook will give them tips on how to fill fruitfully every moment that is free of obligations. But one should never forget that exercise only helps those who banish from their lives the worst weaknesses of the soul and the body; specifically, debauchery, alcohol, tobacco, excessive eating and excessive haste in absorbing overly rich dishes. The more people there are who maintain at least these fundamental conditions for balance in body and mind, the sooner we will get down to conscious and targeted work.”

His yoga principles overlapped with the requirements laid down seven years earlier to members of the Eleusis organization, which was trying to fashion a new image of the Pole. Tobacco, debauchery, gambling and alcohol were banned. Lutosławski was the initiator of the movement; although he also broke his own rules, remarrying despite the continued validity of his first marriage. He was repeatedly accused of ignoring his own rules, and likewise of fallacious reasoning. One of the first reviewers of his pioneering handbook on yoga was Bolesław Prus, known by the majority of Poles as the author of The Doll, but less well-known as a thinker consumed by existential deliberations. Fundamentally, Prus agreed with Lutosławski on the importance of breath to human existence and the influence that breathing itself has on the quality of said existence. However, Lutosławski accused “the good-hearted Prus” of being in thrall to the superficial theories of German determinism, the Jewish ones too, which were very popular in Poland, but – according to Lutosławski – contained moral poison. In their very premise, they contradicted the notions of the immortality of the soul and freedom of will. Before he died, Lutosławski managed to contradict himself and exhorted others to be reborn in Jesus, and not liberate themselves through yoga. It remains unknown which option he chose after completing his earthly existence. He may have taken his place in the queue for purgatory. He may have returned in a new incarnation. Perhaps he decided upon another option that he hadn’t considered before death.

His explorations paved the way for multitudes of others seeking answers. Lutosławski’s abstinence association gave rise to the Polish scout movement, which had its roots in Eleusis. The nationalist ideology under the banner of Wincenty’s closest, lifelong friend, Roman Dmowski, also drew its strength from the same source. Yogic cleanliness met with approval among the supporters of racial and national purity, while ignoring the essence of yoga: connection.

In such polarized times as these, when we end up greeting the sun with the downward dog position it is worth remembering that ‘all is one’. Scouting, nationalism, New Age; the whole of humanity has common roots. It is easy to forget this. Thankfully the archive covers of “Przekrój” have survived! Amen!

 

Translated from the Polish by Annie Jaroszewicz

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