When I roll out my mat and kneel, I bow and pray to all the gods. I know they are listening. They are ready to serve me and make me rich and make my life comfortable. Sometimes it isn’t the gods I pray to, rather I pray to myself. I know I hear myself and I serve myself above all else. Unless its all the gods. Or maybe the devil. And sometimes, when I roll out my mat, I meditate. You know, meditation is when my mind becomes empty so I can allow anything to come in. Anything at all. Whatever wants to come in while my mind is empty comes in. I am open and vulnerable to anything or anyone who wants into my mind while it is empty. Yoga started in India, I therefore feel a connection to the Buddha when I form my body in the shape of a triangle and especially when I stand on my head. The sequence of movements and shapes that I form by body into, which is really all that yoga is anyhow, aligns me with the movements and poses that the evil one seeks in his followers. Yoga isn’t me and my soul and spirit and what I bring when I roll out my mat. It really is simply a way for me to mindlessly follow a set of beliefs, behaviors, world views, practices, and ethics put in place by someone thousands of years ago.
Oh wait. *record scratch* *stop frame* (I hope JP Sears is paying attention because that needs to be his next satirical video.) But truthfully, this is one of the perceptions of yoga. Maybe I exaggerated *a bit*, but there is a real and true belief that yoga is a religion. Or maybe anti religion. Or maybe that God isn’t bigger than yoga.
Let’s first define religion. Religion is the collective, tribal path to God. A collection of people. A tribe of souls all moving in one direction to the same deity they deem as the supernatural ruler of the universe. Sometimes, when we look at or think about religion, we forgot the human part and instead focus on the religious rites themselves. Sometimes we forget that these practices are performed by individual souls and minds and bodies. Sometimes there are practices and postures which do connect us to the Divine. Lets take kneeling, for example. You can line 3 people up, all kneeling, and each one– because of the individual unseen nature of their souls–can be doing 3 different things. Praying? Probably. maybe. But maybe one to Allah, one to Jesus, and one to the winds of the west. The posture of kneeling itself doesn’t determine their heart, their mind, or their religion. That is determined by spirit. The spirit, the heart, the soul of each individual. If religion is the tribal path to God, spirituality is the individual’s path. I believe if you are going to have one, you also need the other.
So lets go back and extrapolate this idea that Yoga is a Religion. Let’s, for another example, make it Christian. I personally have been questioned about my faith because I teach/practice yoga. So lets, for fun, put Christian in front of Yoga. Remove anything in yoga that isn’t found in the Bible. Only play “Christian” music. Rename poses so they reflect the fruits of the spirit. Hmm. I feel like I’m right back in the same limiting space as my first extreme example. Being told how to think. What to believe. How to feel. What’s right. What’s wrong.
So if yoga is a collection of people, all doing the same postures with their bodies, all striving to live in a more unified and whole way, I can see how that might look from the outside, like a religion. And with Yoga’s origins being in India, it is a logical assumption that it is something tied to the religions of the East.
But. May we be reminded that it is the person, the spirit, the heart, the soul that makes up this body of people. Not the traditions, the rituals, the rites apart from the heart.
And so here is my heart. Here is my posture when I step onto my mat or in front of a sea of humans stepping onto theirs trusting me to create space for their journey. I am giving voice to my spirit and why yoga is NOT my religion. Lean in to these explorations with me:
What if. What if all truth is God’s truth? What if it is His spirit within me and when I speak truTH you know its truTH because it resounds as such in your soul too? (True is true for me but not for you. TruTH is universal. True for all) Could it be that I honor His name not because of a name or a label, but because I desire to conduct myself and my business with an excellence that I can only hope is worthy of Him? Can it be that I don’t want to hide behind a label? That I don’t want to think that because it says “Christian,” all other Christians should buy it, regardless of the quality? What if, this whole body he created–every bone, muscle, joint, tendon, ligament, and cell–was intended to join in the praising? But that we were given a choice to do with it what we will, and that choosing and deciding with our minds is part of the fun! Yet, its the heart that counts. So that, by my choosing and providing space for you to also choose, (or not), a pose is only a pose until it is infused with spirit. A pose is just a pose– OR it can be a way for me to understand deep in my bones the posture of humility, or rejoicing, or balance, or strength or compassion or grace or forgiveness. All determined not by the pose, but by my heart and mind engaged with the pose. It can become something deeper for me and you have the freedom for it to be something entirely different for you.
Yoga is not a religion. We are not a group of people with a singular mission toward one God (god). Seeking community in a group of people with freedom to choose, with hearts open, without judgement, can be however, a sanctuary for spirituality. I believe seeking, asking, knocking, wrestling, doubting, digging, is something that can happen on your mat, if you choose. In a class that isn’t “Christian,” or “Buddhist,” or “Hindu,” or “atheist,” the space is allowed for wherever you are in your choosing. The postures and poses are inanimate–it is your soul’s participation that makes it anything. I believe when given space without labels and parameters, what you’ll find isn’t an emptying and uninvited invasion, but an invitation to discover your own soul. I believe when you step on your mat with this kind of seeking and curiosity, you’ll very soon discover there’s a door that has already been flung wide open to you. And waiting for you inside that door is Love, with arms stretched wide. And that goes far beyond ANY religion.