Gnoga is a system of physical activity and determined mental concentration that is designed to impart both physical and mental well being. It is a rational, simplified approach to yoga that requires no formal instruction.

The Twin Origins of Gnoga:
Eastern Yoga and Western Gnosis

Yoga: Eastern understanding

Over the last decades, Yoga has enjoyed steadily increasing popularity in the west, where it is commonly understood a system of stretching that leads to inner peace and physical health. But not only is this an oversimplistic understanding of Yoga, it is incorrect. Yoga is a multidimensional system of studies and practices designed to impart wisdom and strength to the practitioner so that he/she may better find their way to wisdom.

The part of yoga involving physical stretching and challenging poses, correctly called “hatha yoga” is only one branch of many that the Indian sage Patanjali codified 2200 years ago. At the center of yoga is meditation. Hatha Yoga was devised to strengthen the body in order that one could sit for long periods in meditation without discomfort. Plus, the holistic view inherent in Hinduism presupposed that the stronger the body, the stronger the mind.

And yet, hatha yoga was not seen as separate from meditation. Indeed, the mental aspect of hatha yoga was seen as the most crucial. The yogi puts all his concentration into each pose and endeavors to remain calm in the most awkward and sometimes painful positions. The implication here is almost poetic: Those who can remain calm in an awkward and difficult physical situation will be better able to remain calm in all awkward and difficult situations.

Now, the trouble with yoga is that it’s not easy to do without a teacher. Even advanced students of yoga regularly attend classes led by others. The poses are complex and detailed and one wrong placement of a limb can severely hamper the value of the position and even injure the practitioner. There is a great deal to be said about the efficacy of hatha yoga in improving physical health, but then, so are many types of exercise: running, jumping rope, weightlifting, swimming, etc. There is little evidence to support the idea that any exercise is better for you than any other. All have their respective virtues and all improve your long term physical and mental health.

Gnosis: Seekers of knowledge

Gnoga (pronounced “no-ga”) takes its name from yoga – the original eastern form of mysticism, and gnosis (pronounced “no-sis”) – one of the most famous forms of western mysticism, often said to have its roots in the hermetic philosophies of Egypt and ancient Greece. What yoga and gnosis have in common is an emphasis on the individual pursuit of truth and wisdom rather than the wholesale acceptance of a codified system handed down by an authority. Yoga, and its offshoot Buddhism, provided counterbalances to the ecclesiastical excesses of Hinduism just as Gnostic traditions did towards Christianity. Gnostic tradition ultimately influenced Judaism as well, resulting in the study of Kabbalah, and helped precipitate the renaissance and the enlightenment periods in Europe which saved civilization from the excesses of religion.

Gnoga: A practice for everyone

Honoring both these traditions, The Temple of Earth promotes a daily philosophical practice which involves physical exercise and mental concentration. Rather than require the student learn a complex system of poses, the TOE contends that any physical exercise done with disciplined mental concentration will produce similar effects as traditional hatha yoga.

Perhaps the most practical marriage of western exercise and mental concentration is weight training, only because it already involves intense concentration on individual points on the body. With weight training, gnoga is practiced by placing all one’s mental awareness in the individual muscle or group of muscle that is being exercised. Other exercises that involve this kind of concentrated attention are: simple stretching, calisthenics (pushups, sit-ups, squats, lunges, etc.), pilates, boxing and kickboxing training (striking a bag), stationary bicycling, etc. Of particular mention: sex. Total concentration during this physical exercise can provide all sorts of pleasant rewards.

Gnoga can also be practiced while engaging in other physical activities, although it may be more difficult if the activity involves the whole body or is practices in an uncontrolled environment. Total concentration on your legs while running down a busy street may have unfortunate consequences. Better to do this while running on a closed track or treadmill. Swimming as well involves the entire body and so may complicate one’s ability to focus the attention. Activities such as aerobics, which involve rapid changes in activity may be challenging for the beginning gnogi to maintain concentration. However, it is up to the practitioner to decide what works and what doesn’t work. As advanced gnogis can focus their mind on anything they can develop their gnogic abilities while engaged in any activity – even those that do not involve physical exercise. The ability to focus and remain calm and aware in all situations is the ultimate goal of Gnoga, as it enriches one’s life through an increase in perception of detail, a greater understanding of self and surroundings, a liberation from the swings of mood and emotion, and a greater ability to control the mind under any circumstances.

The Practice of Gnoga

Performing gnoga is so simple that it almost does not require any instruction at all. It is simply this: While engaged in an exercise, place all your concentration in the sensation of the muscle that is performing the exercise. Do so with complete deliberation and attention to form. Do not try to rush through the exercise in an attempt to dodge any pain or boredom. Instead of recoiling from any discomfort, immerse yourself in the feeling to the extent that, by embracing the negative, you can overcome the conditioned negative response and remain clear, calm and collected.

You will likely find that as you become better at gnoga the pain and discomfort will lessen and ultimately cease to be unpleasant. You should become more able to objectify it as a normal physical response and in doing so, disassociate your mind from the pain.

This can have profound effects on your overall psychology as you learn to train free your mind from the constraints of emotions and biology. This isn't to say that we try to avoid emotions or to ignore biological imperatives; only that we become their master, not we theirs. And as we grow to understand ourselves and our attendant complexes and weaknesses, we can work to overcome them. Ultimately, in understanding ourselves, we can work to better understand our world and our place in it.

c 1998-2005 Temple of Earth