contemplation & devotion: an interview with bill mahony

contemplation & devotion: an interview with bill mahony

The contemplative yoga scholar is a curious and intriguing phenomenon, with an ability to live a life of the mind rooted in a bodily practice.

Bill Mahony seems to be able to straddle the worlds of academic rigour and spiritual practice. The internationally respected scholar of yoga philosophy teaches courses on Hinduism, Buddhism, and topics in the comparative study of religions at Davidson College in North Carolina. Known for his warm and accessible teaching style, Mahony also leads philosophy workshops in yoga studios around North America and the world.

The author of several books, Mahony’s most recent publication is Exquisite Love: Heart-Centred Reflections on the Narada Bhakti Sutra, which is based on an 11th century Sanskrit text. Mahony has participated in the preservation of many otherwise endangered Sanskrit texts and travels to India frequently, spending extensive time in contemplative settings.

He will be presenting a workshop at Shri Yoga in Montreal on Monday, October 7.

Your upcoming talk at Shri is called “What is Yoga?” – why is it important that we keep revisiting this question?

One reason is simply that we can take joy in talking with each other and learning more about something in our lives or in the lives of others that we see in some way to be helpful and important. That said, there are rather superficial levels understandings of what yoga is. And there are deeper levels. In presentations such as this one at Shri Yoga, I like to move people’s attention toward the deeper levels and to share with them my sense of yoga beyond the mat, as it were, as an encompassing mode of being in the world.

How can the ancient tradition of yoga philosophy help us navigate the challenges of life in a complicated world?

While we live in a world that could not have been imagined in earlier eras, in some important ways the sages, philosophers and teachers of yoga in distant times faced the same challenges we do. Like us, for example, they sought to understand what it means to live a life touched by joy and illumined by compassion, understanding, and commitment, even in a world that can bring disappointment and sorrow.

You’re interested in the “contemplative and devotional sensibilities” of yoga. Do you feel that these are sometimes missing from modern yoga instruction? What fuels your fascination with these sensibilities?

The particular yoga instructors I know tend very much to appreciate the contemplative and devotional sensibilities that the yoga tradition itself holds to be foundational aspects of a deep yoga practice. Barrie and Mona [owners of Shri Yoga] certainly do. Whether most instructors in the larger culture approach their teaching from the same stance, I cannot say. I tend to think they do not. In any case, these are sensibilities that express and orient the contours of my own mind and heart, just as I sense from my studies they have for many people through the centuries.

Bill-Mahony-41Your work encompasses scholarly study and a personal yoga practice that spans decades. How do you bridge these two seemingly disparate practices?

My scholarly study and teaching keeps me intellectually responsive and responsible to what I see to be quite sophisticated philosophies of yoga. My practice allows me to integrate the dynamics of mind, body, spirit and heart. Both inform and illumine the other. Both serve the fullness and integrity of what I regard to be a meaningful spiritual life.

What is Yoga? with Professor Bill Mahony
Monday, October 7, 2013
7:30 – 9:00 pm
Shri Yoga
4846 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal

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  1. Thanks, Roseanne and Bill. I was stuck by this sentence in particular: “In some important ways the sages, philosophers and teachers of yoga in distant times faced the same challenges we do.”

    I have been having an ongoing cyber debate about this issue, with the other side maintaining that ancient people were so different than us that there is little of their thinking that we can relate to today.

    In a joking comment I wrote that I was going to have dinner Vyasa so he could clear this up once and for all, which led me to write the following, which I think you and your readers may enjoy:

    Selected for Best of Yoga Philosophy.

    Bob W. Editor

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