I´ll say it right out: it annoys me when spirituality is ‘imposed’ in the yoga practice. It annoys me when people look down at yoga practitioners that ‘only do it for the sport’, or ´cult of they body’ as they say it. Do I think that yoga should be taught, first and foremost as a spiritual practice? no. This is a bit of a contradiction in me, because I DO practice yoga to reach more openness in mind, body, and spirit.
I’ve actually met a few people who think of yoga in the same terms as going to a church (be quiet, don´t laugh, wear discrete clothing, keep a look of calm repentance on your face), and take personal offense when they see someone doing it for a sweat, weight loss, pain relief, therapeutic reasons…or anything other than deep spiritual purposes.
I think that such thoughts undermine the true power of the yoga practice. The practice will teach what the practice will teach. I´ve been practicing ashtanga yoga for about a month now, which means I´m a newborn in diapers with respect to the practice. Let me tell you, getting started in ashtanga, a dynamic and challenging style of yoga, feels a lot like going to bootcamp (not that I´ve ever been to bootcamp, but you get the picture). And if it´s bootcamp for the body it is bootcamp for the mind and spirit as well. If I wait until I feel ‘spiritual’ to get down to it I would have probably abandoned it already. Exactly THIS had been the problem for more than 10 years, I just didn´t feel ‘inspired’ enough to be worthy of practicing. I was blocked from practicing yoga because I myself was one of those holier-than-thou-eyebrow-raisers. Now, I force myself to do it, about 3 to 4 times a week of
doing attempting the primary series is the most my body can take. The rest of the days I do other excercises in yoga or pilates, or acrobatics, for strength and specific postures. Sometimes I’m in a bad mood, and I do yoga. Sometimes I’m in a happy mood, and I do yoga. Sometimes I´m angry at the world, and I do yoga. All the time Sometimes I’m in pain, and I do yoga. Sometimes I am sleepy, and I do yoga. Do I feel spiritual about it all the time? no, most definitely not. Sometimes I have a very unfocused practice that is blah, and sometimes, although I wouldn´t think so at the beginning, I have a wonderful flowy (as much as possible given the circumstances) practice.
THAT is the beauty of yoga. A deeper sense of self (call it spirituality if you will) unfolds, whatever the reason you are doing it for. It causes a process of introspection, as soon as you ask yourself: why is it that last week I could get into that pose and this week I can´t? or, I honestly don´t think I’m stressed but my shoulders say something different, what is that all about? are my mind and body on the same page?
It is the practice of asanas and breathing that will unfold the process of introspection, and self awareness, which I believe lead to higher spirituality…eventually. In all, I think that blaming beginners for ‘not being spiritual enough’ about it, is like expecting us to be able to do hand balances and legs-behind-the-head types of things right from the start (when really, we struggle to reach our toes in a forward bend). If the process of opening the body takes years to master, so does the process of knowing the inner self. It is something each person should look for when, and if they want to look for it. In the meantime, they can continue to do asanas, at worst they gain a healthy stronger body.
I think a lot of people miss out on yoga because they see it as ‘too cult-like’ or ‘too buddhist´ (I’ve actually heard that one, whether it is true or not), or ‘good christians don’t practice yoga because it belongs to another religion’ (another favorite where I’m from). It’s a pity that they would miss out on yoga because of, perhaps well-meaning, teachers that expect too much spirituality and wisdom out of beginning practitioners. So, in all that, I support teachers like Tara Stiles, who make it available to those who are turned off by the ‘new agey’ feel of the yoga community. At the same time, I’m also grateful for the teachers who make the other more spiritual aspects of yoga available for those who will ask (or search videos and blogs online, *smile*).
The practice will teach what the practice will teach whatever the intention you start it with. You will not learn handstands until you let go of fear and learn how to fall (Gracefully, and enjoy it too). You will not learn strength until you learn discipline to build it up, and focus in breath to hold it. ‘Practice and all is coming’, someone said.