Yoga as a Spiritual Path
Asana, the physical practice of yoga, and the Third Limb of Pantanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga, is the most well known yogic principle. And it makes sense. As a culture, we are extremely visual. Beautiful women in form fitting clothing grace magazine covers and billboards, social media and movies. Healthy, toned physiques bend perfectly into twisted, flexible poses.
It’s true. The more you practice yoga, the more flexible you become. But flexibility and range of motion is only a side effect. The true path of yoga, the other 7 Limbs, lead us to a closer connection with God, and to our own divine love.
God and Yoga?? I hesitate to use the word God. Because it is so wrapped up inside religion and patriarchy, abuse and power, oppression and belief. By God I am not referring to any religion or a man in the sky. By God, I mean love. I mean true Self with a capital “S”. When we find God (whatever that means to you), we find connection. We find union. We find purpose.
So why mention God at all? Because there is a myth that yoga is about physical poses and mastering them. There is a myth that you need to look a certain way in order to practice yoga in the first place. There is a myth that you need to be flexible in order to benefit from yoga poses. There is a myth that you can’t practice yoga and also be religious. There is a myth that yoga is simply physical, and not spiritual.
Yoga, if you are seeking it, is above all, a spiritual path. I was raised going to church. I believe in a God, although my perception of what that means has changed over the years.
Yoga has brought me closer to my spirituality, and closer to God, than anything else I have done in my life.
In yoga, we access our true Self through the body. This fascinates me. We should not pretend that our body is merely physical, as if it supports our life and our organs, but that’s it. We should not lie and say the physical body does not matter. Our entire society is obsessed with people’s bodies! So it matters. But yoga is not appearance and it’s not clothes. It’s not poses or flexibility. It’s not toned muscles and perfect Warrior poses. Yoga is a journey, and a path to truth and enlightenment.
Let’s face it, we treat our bodies like shit, especially women. We berate our bodies, scold them, criticize them, punish them. We hate them, and we tell ourselves so. We can’t even take a compliment from someone else about our bodies.
“I love your legs.” Someone complimented me recently.
“Oh, I wish they were a little longer.” I responded.
Really? I’m embarrassed that this was my answer.
We hide our bodies, at least the parts we dislike most, and we try to alter them. At the core, we are ashamed of our body.
Yoga offers kindness and grace to a tired body, a body exhausted from all the negative self-talk and striving. Your body has a lot to say. Your aches and pains hold stories. Tight muscles long to be relaxed. Held emotional energy wants to be forgiven and let go. By forgiving our body, by acknowledging our shame, we can begin to heal. And healing is necessary for spiritual growth.
Furthermore, moving the body through focused poses grants access to the mind. Not the ego or the chattering of what we need to get done that day, but the spiritual mind - the part of us who knows, and the part we too often ignore. The more you combine movement with breath in a yoga class, the more you hush an innately busy mind. The more you allow space to pay attention to whispers from your soul, from the Divine, the closer you are to awakening. Yoga opens our hearts, and you’ll be surprised what your heart tells you when you actually listen.
Through our body, and through a regular yoga practice, we find God. We honor the part of us we have forgotten. We listen and we receive. We glimpse the soul. Not every practice on every day will bring enlightenment, or even peace. But the more you experience love, truth, and light, the stronger your faith in connectedness becomes. You’ll sense that you are not alone. There is divine guidance, and it resides inside of you. You’ll learn to faithfully trust yourself, your true Self, to guide you. This is the voice of divine love. This is God.