21 Jul 2017

Yoga as My Spiritual Practice: Spirituality Series, Part 3

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I mention often in my writing that I find my primary spiritual practice on my yoga mat. In fact, this whole month on my blog is dedicated to the intersections between spirituality and yoga. But what exactly does that mean? How is yoga–especially as it’s taught in the West, frequently with a fitness focus–a spiritual practice for me?

I experience the world through movement. I grew up dancing and traveling, so I came to know myself through spinning, leaping, stretching, and riding in cars and planes. Movement is my home. I think it’s only natural that a movement-based practice would become my spiritual home, as well.

I was drawn to yoga for its unique challenges. Each asana presents its own individual, often challenging experience, and sometimes even a metaphor for other aspects of life. As I dedicate to practicing my Handstand for several minutes every time I come to my mat, can I dedicate to working hard on things that challenge me off my mat? As I strive to find relaxation in a pose like Pigeon, that’s naturally uncomfortable to my body, can I learn to relax and let go in spaces that might be uncomfortable off my mat? And as I make time for five full minutes of Savasana after each home practice, can I find time for restorative self-care even during busy times? The practice is at its best when it is a laboratory for practicing skills that will serve life off the mat.

My yoga practice also gives me the opportunity to unravel the stories I tell about myself. One of my primary struggles in life has been the belief that I’m not a terribly strong person. I arrived on my yoga mat dragging that old story with me, and each asana, each breath, each flailing attempt at a Handstand gives me the opportunity to feel my strength. It is a process that is both within me and greater than me, as if my Creator whispers in my ear that I should not limit myself to my internal, human beliefs, but instead must learn to embrace the Divine infiniteness He instilled in me–in all of us–long before our birth.

I tell my students often that there is no inherent magic to the poses. Holding a Pigeon for a thousand breaths won’t send you straight to Enlightenment. The poses are just shapes that bodies can make. Each pose is merely a container for experience. I come to my mat to ask myself, Can I express gratitude to my Creator in this shape, even if my body doesn’t totally love it? Can I focus on joy even in the midst of frustration? Can I reach when needed, rest when needed, and find balance when needed? And in each pose–before, during, and after my practice, I pray. I ask for strength, I give thanks for strength. I ask for relaxation, I give thanks for the opportunity to relax. I ask to be in alignment with my Creator’s divine purpose for my life, and I give thanks for that divine purpose and the opportunity to live it.

With my love of movement and the unique challenges of the practice, yoga gives me the opportunity to be both within my comfort zone and pulled out of it at the same time. It gives me both roots and wings. And there–in that space between groundedness and uncertainty, between the known and the unknown, between acceptance and growth, between what I have been and what I will be–is where I commune with my Creator and give Him praise for each and every breath.

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