Yoga is in Religion. Religion is not in Yoga.

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Once upon a time we were told there are two things one never talks about for polite conversation: RELIGION and Politics.  This practice leads one to wonder, if we can’t discuss it, how can we understand it?  If we can’t understand it, how can we change it?  If we can’t change it, how can it evolve?  Enter Yoga.

Yoga is in Religion. Religion is not in Yoga. ~SwamiJ~

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As part of our 500-hour teacher training at Prairie Yoga, the group went on a field trip to the Sri Venkateswara Swami (Balaji) Temple in Aurora, Illinois.  Why did we do this?  The tour guide explained it this way:

“I’m not here to convert you to Hinduism, I am here to educate you on what we practice.  Comparative study of religion only helps one to better understand their own faith and own self.  Religion is a tool towards God-realization, different people need different tools and so thank GOD that we have so many paths of understanding.”  ~Sadasivan N~

This man offered up a message I wish we could all hear.  We don’t have to be RIGHT – what would happen if we all just existed together in a kind of harmonious agreement to respect individuality and mind our own business?  After all, the mentality of “I Am Right,” is so arrogant, if God exists, what must God think?  The guide also mentioned this:

“I’ve never been dead, I’ve never met God, so I cannot tell you what you should or should not believe.  The person who tries to tell you what you should believe is probably selling you something.”

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Some people feel deeply uncomfortable with the spiritual aspects of yoga and that’s OK – no yoga teacher should be asking or instructing people to change their faith – that is not the yoga teaching as laid out in the Yoga Sutras.  In fact, yoga isn’t even about your teacher – it’s about what they may inspire within you to explore within yourself.  YOU are your own best teacher.  No sales pitch needed for that.

I can recall a moment from a teacher training with Shiva Rea in which she said this:

“The Yoga Teacher is like a river guide; pointing out what is nice to see, but the one being guided has the ability to look in another direction.”

Some may disagree and that’s OK too.  Personal truth, personal experience, personal belief systems are PERSONAL – yoga offers contemplations to study your own self, your own beliefs so that you becomes more clear about your personal understanding of life.

As I continue to educate myself on Yoga, study my own life and my own beliefs, the resonance of my teachers is clearly influencing my teaching, but I add my own flavor because it is just my own perspective developed through practice and that is all we can share.   No dogma allowed.

As you seek to study yoga, the depth of which you practice may change over time – there is no doubt that once we access that connection through the physical practice of Asana, we open a door and light comes in.  That is what is scary to people, the fear that you may begin to doubt your own faith is real.  But through doubt comes more study – through more study comes more understanding, with more understanding comes more compassion, with compassion we have less judgement, etc… and what you may experience is that through practice, your faith is strengthened or changed, but then again, no journey ever leaves you exactly the same.  As Mahatma Ghandi reflects:

“There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything. It transcends the senses whilst everything around me is ever changing, there is a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves, and recreates.”

 

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Anjali Mudra – Reflect to Receive

“Each of us shares a unity with Spirit and all life,
and simultaneously each of us is an individual with free will.
There is a duality to us as separate and as part of the whole.”
~Jonathan Lockwood Huie~

Mudras as an overlooked aspect in modern yoga, especially in the West.  They are not frivolous hand gestures or esoteric spiritual wish sign language.  They are literal energetic connections between two points creating a circuit of energy.  You don’t have to “believe,” in them – they are scientific, in the same way that you don’t “believe” in plugging in a light bulb, you know the plug goes into the socket and links the energy to create a circuit.

One aspect of my personal yoga practice as well as my teaching, is utilizing mudras.  Just as I began with Sutra 1.1, I begin with the most basic of the mudras – Anjali Mudra.  You have probably even done this mudra, but given it little thought.  A simple joining of the hands together in what looks like a prayer – see below.

There are probably thousands of blogs and articles out there on this mudra, so I will share what was given to me as a personal teaching.  Consider that the hands, held in this manner, look similar to a candle flame.  In yoga philosophy and in many religions we are taught that there is a spark, a light, a oneness with Spirit/God/Creation inside us, we are a reflection of God’s image.  To me, this is the light.  When I hold my hands at my heart center, it is a prayer or an affirmation that I recognize a unifying spirit in all things.

In general, we open/close a class with Namaste.  This Sanskrit word has many meanings, my personal favorite is:

The light in me sees and reflects the light in you.

There it is again – CANDLE FLAME!

And if you aren’t into God or Spirituality – think of it as a very basic anatomical reminder – lift your sternum.  Stand taller, chest up, shoulders back.

Until next time, Namaste – lead with love, follow your passion, let your heart come before your head.

The light in me, reflects the light in you.

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Yoga Sutra 1.1 – Atha yoga anushasam

And NOW Begins my Yoga Blog.

The word sutra is akin to threads of truth, so these Yoga sutras are concise directives on how to approach a path of self-discovery. Although there is some controversy over the dating of the literature, a commonly accepted age is 200 BC. Think of this philosophy as a map to take you out of the tangled web of ceaseless thought. As we resume our Yoga Sutra study, let’s refresh with a look at the first one.

Yoga Sutra 1.1 – Atha yoga anushasam

This means – and now the practice of yoga. NOW – not when you become more flexible, not when you lose weight, not when you quit your wine-a-day habit, but literally – right now.

This also means, yoga is not just an approach for class, it’s an approach for daily living. In the noise of life and the photos of young, skinny yoginis in hot pants doing contortions, the real meaning of “Yoga” is lost. Yoga is union – union of consciousness with practice. This can be breath to body movement, the joining of solar and lunar energies, or even the simply linking of your mindfulness to everyday things like eating.

A common phrase for this attitude is “Off the Mat,” Those practicing yoga postures in a group setting (Asana Practice), already know the wonderful feeling that follows the class after the final relaxation of Savasana. BUT – what is more important is how you can take that feeling and then apply it to your daily tasks.

  • Can you be conscious and aware while you wash your dishes?
  • Can you hold your peace when your teenager cries and yells at you?
  • Are you fully experiencing each bite of the food on your plate and taking time to notice the impact on your body?
  • Are you being kind to people be it in the midst of a traffic jam or a long line at the grocery store?

In these three simple words – And Now Yoga or Atha Yoga Anushasam – is a thread to link to living life well and with intention. It means that once you begin your yoga practice, you link it to your whole life so that every moment is a chance to practice being a better version of yourself.

If you are interested in learning more about the sutras, stay tuned throughout the year, come to class, and above all – just keep practicing.

Namaste. Kirsten

P.S. This post was originally posed by me on the Senara blog back in May of 2014.  I thought it timely to share again as I begin my own blogging adventure under my own name.  To enjoy the original post – follow this link: http://senarablog.com/2014/sutra-study-yoga-sutra-1-1/

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Alignment Authenticity Anatomy Junkie Spiritual Flow Mantras Mudras Continuous Education Practice What You Teach Progress Not Perfection Guiding Teachers: BKS Iyengar Pattabi Jois Shiva Rea Daren Friesen (Moksha Chicago) Marinda Stopforth (Prairie Yoga - Lisle, IL)

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