CLEARING THE CONFUSION
Recently I realized significant misunderstanding and confusion still orbiting around Yoga that I felt needed clarification. My personal practice began ten years ago—well I should clarify—my taking yoga seriously began ten years ago. Prior to that I was a dabbler. Tossing a down dog in here or there when my lower back and hamstrings tightened, which being a dancer and a bike enthusiast happened on a regular basis. The other day I overheard a tall stately woman on the corner of third and Pine declare that she was a “Christian” and therefore could not (or would not) partake in a yoga practice. She whispered, “It is against my beliefs to join a cult.” Tsk, I thought what a shame and a scam. I realized that this tall stately woman wearing Gucci boots and red lipstick thought, like many, that yoga is a religion. Yoga is not, I repeat—not a religion.
Although there are particular Yogas of meditation (which warrant their own in depth conversation) here I am discussing, Hatha Yoga where the committed atheist can stand mat to mat with the devout Catholic or Baptist or Jew or Muslim or whatever conviction one subscribes to and practice creed-less yoga. The chanting and om-ing that occurs in particular yoga classes does stem from an ideology but is not intended to indoctrinate. I admit it can be irritating listening to a two pound twenty year old pawn off her/his advice on how to live “organically” as they strut around in their Lulu Lemon attire preaching “Shanti” (peace in Sanskrit). But despite their well-meaning feet behind the ears intentions, this is far from authentic. Yoga is simply a way of connecting the outer body with the inner self by weaving the two together through the breath. Is there an element of spirituality or self-realization? Absolutely! But it is as unique to the individual as a finger print. Whatever whispers within your own heart, soul, or consciousness is what will echo through your practice. Imagine if you will that your mind is like a small turbulent pond rippling with the wind making it impossible to view a mirror image of yourself. Yoga calms the ripples to reveal a true reflection.
Personally, I am a language junkie and love to hear Sanskrit as much as I love to hear French and Italian. Sanskrit is an ancient language used by the original yogis and has been translated throughout the world. Yoga allows me to unplug from the demands of the day. Taking the time to practice I lengthen and strengthen my body while resting my mind. It is through the physical asana (posture) that whatever belief system or revelations are relevant to me, make their presence known.
Let me use an example to further simplify my point. Join me for a moment in a yoga class here in Philadelphia. In the class, which is instructed by me (yes I am a certified yoga instructor so I do know a thing or two) there is a woman from the Italian section of the city. She has never missed a mass in all of her fifty-four years as an adult. Next to her stands a man wearing baggy shorts and his body is painted with tattoos. He is a twenty-eight year old practitioner of Buddhism. Behind these two students stand a Jewish mother of two and a forty year old father who is Muslim. As we move through the breath into sun salutations followed by a rigorous asana (posture) practice each individual has their own working intentions. One may be trying to let go of tension the other to build strength. Regardless of their religious background—we all move together on our mats making our own unique connections with body and breath. All of us walk away with stronger bodies and more flexible joints. Whatever has transpired on an emotional or spiritual level is strictly personal.
Last week I had two new students whose doctors “prescribed yoga” as a treatment for their chronic pain and anxiety. The breathing exercises help alleviate stress by giving students a practical time tested way to quiet the nervous system. Increased flexibility through Yoga stems from the range of motion this full body practice includes. Rather than working one particular muscle at a time—Yoga works groups of muscles. Virabhadrasana Two or Warrior Two builds strength in the legs, abdomen, hips and arms.
I repeat, Yoga is not a religion. Yoga is a bridge to finding inner and outer resolve through breath and postures. The beauty of a Yoga practice is you can roll up your mat and take it anywhere in the world. It is a multicultural multilingual practice—Garudasana or eagle pose is the same in Vermont as it is in Milan. London, or Istanbul. So lay your reservations aside while you breathe through a Yoga session that will lighten your mental load while strengthening your body no matter where you happen to fall on the spiritual spectrum.
Causes Karen Devaney Supports
Eve Ensler and any organization that deals with issues supporting women and children and the advancement of their education.