Practicing Non-Religious Yoga

Yoga Posture

Yoga Posture

Now that I am living in the deep south, Atlanta, Ga I have started wondering what the a religious person might think of yoga. In California, living the typical holistic lifestyle, it seemed like no big deal to do yoga daily and see people “rocking” their latest Hindu diety tattoos. However, in Atlanta, I have been contemplating how yoga blends into a lifestyle of a southerner. In particular, how does it sit with Christianity?

 

As I was instructing the guided Savasana (Corpse Pose for final relaxation) this week, I said something I have never said before, “imagine as you close your eyes, you are in a place where all around you is peace. There is no anger, no violence, no hatred, no religion…..” Perhaps you might be thinking, but…..yoga is rooted in Hinduism, a religion which is formally known as Sanatana Dharma. One interpretation of this is that it means to live in harmony with the eternal. The translations of the yoga sutras emphasize that the ultimate practice of yoga is to attain liberation of the soul, “moksha.”In its essence the ultimate goal of yoga as traditionally taught is to eliminate worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and rebirth through transcending it. The way to transcend it is to integrate yoga practice in all its parts. That would incorporate yoga as a practice of physical and spiritual exercises that help one gain mastery of the body, mind emotions, thereby transcending sense desire. One of the spiritual methods to reaching this is to chant mantras. Often they are Sanskrit words and may be named after particular divine images such as Lord Ganesha, Shiva, or Krishna. Now, what if that doesn’t work for someone?

There are varying points of view about how to present yoga in its fullness. One side says Yoga in the west has been stripped of its Hindu roots. Another side sees that perspective of YOGA being “Y’all are Overracting to God stuff Again.” Then there are those who believe in one way only and warn against any practices involving belief in more than one form of the Divine. (ref:www.washingtonpost.com) Some feel it should be banned in schools. However, overall if you look at the connection it creates in communities of all backgrounds, the evidence is compelling.

Just like the nature of yoga to flow with what works for each individual, there are many ways to integrate it into our own unique lifestyle. Most importantly, there is no reason to shy away from it based on the thought that it may be converting someone. Likewise, there is no need to make it all about body sculpting, unless that is what is desired. At that point, it might not be all yoga, but it is all good! As a whole, we want to get to that “peace of mind”, especially in today’s world. One can always practice Buddhism and stay detached from it all. As you may have experienced, if you are practicing yoga in a gym you will most likely be taking an asana (posture) class which is focused on improving health and fitness. In a yoga studio in the west, there is a higher chance there will be an altar of some sort, perhaps with Nataraja, the dancing Lord Shiva, (depicting an internal cleansing and overcoming the ego) some incense and/or candles, picture(s) of several great yoga masters reflecting the embodiments of the yoga teachings. Classes there will often incorporate chanting mantras or meditation upon an “Ishta Deva”, chosen image that represents the Supreme Self or surrender to the Divine.

The most effective way to practice yoga is to be in integrity with yourself.  I am excited to say that an awesome new Christian friend and apartment complex Manager in Atlanta, just approved me offering yoga classes to the hundreds of people in the apartment complex. An instructor can have all “walks of life” in one class from people believing in nothing to believing in everything. In presenting yoga as a vehicle for transformation, it is possible to keep all of its components in alignment. The spiritual part of yoga can be woven into very mindful ways to create affirmations, mantras, the chanting of “OM” in a way that honors and respects each person’s path. I’ve been chanting OM in all my classes, including corporate yoga, retirement homes, gyms, workshops etc, and I haven’t had anything thrown at me. It’s all in the way it’s presented. I play yoga music with mantras noticing how the energy shifts to deep stillness in the room and I explain what is being communicated in the Sanskrit words.

After class, people don’t ask me if I am Hindu. They ask me lots of other things that lead to enriching conversations. All it takes is a willingness to express yourself with attunement to each person’s point of view. One of my favorite teachings of yoga is to Co-Exist, to find that space where one human being is just as much honored as part of the cosmic universe as the other. When people connect like this, then there is spirituality, until then there are only opinions and separations. Intuitive based yoga bridges the gaps in between. We are all reflections of Infinite Light. Let’s celebrate our connection! Write back if you like.

Kam Singh, MA

www.yogavortex.com

 

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