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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Yoga Myth #2: Yoga is a Religion

There is a popular myth that keeps people from realizing the great benefits of a regular yoga practice and it has to do with that "touchy" area of religion. It is amazing to me how quick people are to reject something in the name of Christ when such a profound part of the Christian message is to embrace. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali which are the foundation of yoga science states quite explicitly that the science of yoga is not to be aligned nor does it belong to any particular culture or religion. The Eight Limbs of Yoga lead the practitioner to a highly concentrated state of mind which becomes meditation and, once stabilized culminates in the direct experience of Oneness.

Yoga is Applied Spirituality
A regular yoga practice has the ability to deepen your faith experience in addition to the obvious physical benefits. My training in yoga has always emphasized a devotional element which is known as Bhakti Yoga. Regardless of your religious path, the practice and exercise of devotion plays a role. I find many people pay lip service to the "idea" of devotion but do not really take time to practice this ancient art. From my perspective, a big difference between religion and spirituality is practice and experience. Through yoga, we learn to concentrate on the object of our prayer. Regardless of how you practice prayer, concentration is a critical element. To sit and practice the rosary can be done mechanically while your mind is wandering or can be done with intense concentration and awareness that can catapult you into a deep and profound experience of Divine Love. Yoga is a tool that serves to deepen our faith regardless of how we define that faith.

I choose to describe the form of yoga I practice as "Beloved Yoga", this is because we are all entitled to an intimate and personal connection to our Beloved. Our regular yoga practice helps us cultivate that connection and deepen it. Another way to look at this word Beloved is as BE LOVED. We all need to take time during our day and our week to practice being loved unconditionally. Most of us attribute unconditional love to our religion and yet we don't practice experiencing unconditional love. This is the opportunity we have through yoga and meditation.

Yoga is not a religion. Yoga is a tool to deepen your experience of religion. Yoga is the science of cultivating stillness of mind and is the same path so eloquently articulated in the Psalms as...."Be still and know God".

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