For whatever reason, some people continue to think that yoga is a religion or is a threat to certain religious beliefs. I have taken great interest in following these debates (with some groups even calling yoga “bizarre” and saying that “Christians are not called upon to empty the mind or see the human body as a means of connecting to the divine”) and as someone who was raised Catholic and now practices yoga regularly, all of this seems ridiculous to me. Yes, yoga can be a pretty spiritual practice, or not. It’s up to the yogi and the experience she wants to get out of it. For me personally, it has gone above and beyond any church, religion or set of beliefs that I have subscribed to.
I’m not bashing any particular religion or belief (because I like to remain open-minded, and I don’t believe there is just one right way to be spiritual), but for me, being Catholic never worked. I spent the first 25 years of my life attending mass every Sunday, reciting pre-set prayers, receiving my first communion and confirmation, getting married in a Catholic church, following all of the holy days and giving up things (usually chocolate) for lent. But I always felt like a misfit. Week after week, month after month, I found myself mindlessly going through the motions. It was like I was checking off the boxes and moving on with my life: Went to church? Check. Went to confession? Check. Avoided meat on Friday? Check. I was often left feeling empty and even somewhat depressed when leaving church. Not to mention the endless boredom I would endure when I was there (one time when I was seated on the balcony, and I found myself counting the heads of every bald guy below me).
Finally I stopped going to church all together. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it any longer. I felt like a fake. A phony. Someone who was just pretending that this worked for her, when in reality, it was the furthest from the truth. And while this decision left me with more of the infamous Catholic guilt, nothing could compare to the wrath I encountered from my family who just didn’t (and still doesn’t) understand.
After a few years of no spiritual life, one day I wandered into the local yoga studio. It was then that my whole spiritual–and total–life changed.
For the first time ever, I felt like I found someplace where I belonged. Yes, there was a Buddha statue on the altar along with a cross and a menorah, but to be honest, I barely noticed those. What I did notice was the energy in the room. There was a wonderfully strange mix of positivity, peacefulness, acceptance and openness. As we moved through that practice, the poses opened me up physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I had such calmness. I felt connected to my body and my soul in a way I never had before. And at the risk of sounding all yogier-than-thou (which I am not), I had to wonder why everyone didn’t practice yoga instead of religion. I mean, this was so much better!
I’m going on two years now since my real spiritual journey has begun, and each week it just gets better. I find myself waking up and thinking about all the things I’m grateful for. I find myself talking to God throughout the day. And I find myself listening during meditation to what the universe wants me to know. How powerful is that? I am also, probably for the first time, truly aware of the difference I can make in someone’s life and in the planet, and I am taking that potential to heart. Every pose, every vinyasa and every class is an awakening for me. And all of this is making me truly happy, connected and fulfilled.
So no, yoga is not a religion. But for me, it’s my religion.
Photo: lululemon, flickr