I think I attended my first yoga class sometime in 2003 or so, at the gym I belonged to when I lived with my parents after graduating college. One of the first things I wanted to do when I joined the gym was take a yoga class, since despite the fact that I had never practiced before, I was really intrigued by the concept of it and wanted to learn more. Part of my motivation was because I heard it made you really lean and toned, and also that you could “get” yoga (which to me meant a good workout) without necessarily breaking a sweat. I believe at one time I referred to yoga as “exercise for lazy people”. Heh.
So for almost a decade, with pauses when I haven’t had a gym membership (or didn’t know about yogadownload.com), I’ve been practicing yoga whenever I can, and in the last year I have really been a lot more dedicated to it – in part because I know it’s such a good counterpoint to a lot of running. As a personal preference, I usually avoid the classes that bring too much spirituality into the practice or the ones that involve a lot of chanting or “om”-ing – those things just don’t resonate with me. And despite an overly-meddling coworker once warning me against my practice because “they’ll try to get you to join their religion”, I have never given much thought to the spiritual side of yoga – at least as far as it pertains to me and my experience of the practice.
The other day, though, Steve and I were at Whole Foods in an unsuccessful quest to find local organic eggs (they’re the best – trust me), when the cover of Yoga Journal stood out to me, asking, “yoga and religion: can you practice both?”
My first reaction was um, I hope so, or I’ve been doing something wrong, so I bought the magazine in order to read the full article and find out whether I’ve been either a huge yoga fraud or a terrible Christian. It’s unfortunately not available online, but the main premise of the discussion was that yoga is what you make of it, and that a yoga practice can be a spiritual discipline, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Whew. I can honestly say I’ve never gotten any flack for being a Christian who practices yoga (with the exception of my meddling coworker), but I do at times feel out of place in class if everyone around me is bowing to their inner light and I’m … not.
To me, yoga has always been much more of a physical and mental practice than a spiritual one, and truthfully, a large part of that is because I don’t really know how to make it a spiritual practice in the sense that Yoga Journal means. Of course one can use yoga to draw closer to God – just as one can use almost any physical discipline to draw closer to Him. (Who was that runner who said that God made him fast?) I’m not sure if that means I have to ignore the vague spiritual overtones of certain yoga classes or not – or if in order to get more out of my practice, I should attempt to engage them more.
Of course, there is also the fact that to me, when it comes down to it, everything is a spiritual discipline. God is in everything – He’s in my driving to work, He’s in my cooking dinner, He’s in my elliptical workouts, He’s in my hitting the snooze button on the alarm clock – and He is present in my yoga class whether I om or not, whether I’m panicking during warrior II or reaching perfect peace in camel pose. I’ve even seen Him use yoga in the last several weeks to help me feel more at peace with my pregnant self. So that’s why it seemed like such a funny question to me – can you practice yoga and religion? Of course you can – because when you practice religion, and live out your faith, you don’t leave it behind when you step on your mat. So maybe my yoga is a spiritual practice after all.