I have received much resistance from well meaning people in my life who are concerned yoga is a cult and that what I am studying and practicing and teaching is a dark religion. I never used to understand this view until recently as I have gained a deeper understanding about the history of yoga.
Yoga is vast and 2000+ years young. Yoga is ever evolving and I can’t definitively say yoga is one thing and not the other. Am I trying to sit on the fence by saying this? No, this is about paying respect to each yoga practitioner and their unique experience.
The Vedic texts from which yoga draws from has closely influenced Hindu culture, Buddhist culture and Jainism. Did you know that yoga has also been influenced over the years by the East, the West, colonisation, Hollywood (yes, really), acrobatics and contemporary yoga has been touched by Instagram (right or wrong)?
As I learn more about the history of yoga, I can see why people would think yoga is a dark practice. References to corpse pose in savasana and practices about yogis meditating in cemeteries can make people wonder why anyone would practice yoga. I have heard teachers express outrage about yoga losing its heart and moving away from the essence of yoga. Which raises the next question, what is the essence of yoga?
For me, it’s not about religion, rather a philosophy or culture and way of living. Yoga in India is different to yoga in Australia which is different from studio to studio and from teacher to teacher. I can’t even begin to unpack what yoga is within one blog post. There are practitioners who will come to yoga for a physical practice and strength building, mobility reasons, their doctor encouraged them to it, and others will fall into yoga by accident and never leave, and for others, yoga does not involve any movement – purely meditation. All of the above, in my mind, is yoga. Yoga is unique for each person and can’t be boxed in.
For me, yoga means inner peace. I still get angry and impatient, of course! I am only human after all. 😉 However, it is in my self-care toolbox. I fell in love with this practice when I hated life itself and my own self.. Depression can do that to you, making you doubt everything, even how your own body moves, how you feel, the thoughts you think, the decisions you make.
And so, yoga taught me how to breath again, to get out of my mind and into my body and to feel and to trust myself, others and life again. To be OK with feeling all the feelings through 60 minutes of yoga which sometimes felt like 3 hours. To be OK with all the stillness and quiet which was confronting and felt deafening. Yoga was huge, and still is huge for me in moving stagnant energy, healing old wounds, feeling the feels and accepting all of me fully. Teachers constantly reminding me to take my practice off the mat and into the world, not to keep these peaceful feelings and love to myself. Rather, to share. So for me, yoga is not a religion. It has been about embodied movement, embodied healing and finding a home in my body to bring all of me into the world and about love.
Which leads me to my next point about religion. Does my religion matter? This isn’t about yoga anymore, this is about treating all people with kindness and respect regardless of creed, skin colour, education, income or gender. Consciously removing bias and broken systems in a world crying out for peace and healing. Like Ziggy Marley, Love is my religion.