Yoga is a very practical discipline of mind and body which refines our spirit and enlarges our capacity for compassionate action.
Yet little is made of the spiritual dimensions of yoga in most asana or postural yoga classes. Perhaps the overlay of centuries of sectarian conflict has made us wary of evangelism. Not ten years ago, people stepped back a little when I mentioned I was practising yoga. They made gentle fun of what they imagined it to be. Shaved heads, saffron robes, chanting obscure and foreign words, and recruitment to a cult were dominant themes in those conversations.
In North America in the late 1980’s, yoga came out of the ashrams and private studios and into the gyms and fitness industry sites as a means of exercise which offered relaxation and stress relief. Currently, various schools of yoga offer exercise programs of varying degrees of vigour and accuracy. Few who experience a yoga class nowadays would describe it as a spiritual practice.
But that is exactly what yoga has been and continues to be for those who practice all of its dimensions. In earlier columns, we described the fundamental principles of behaviour in community and within one’s self that yoga offers. Asana is the third limb of yoga’s eight limbs. In addition to asana, one learns to direct the breath as a means to concentration and deeper inner awareness. With increased powers of concentration, one can meditate with focus. Once the mind is stilled from its relentless and narcotic twitching; and meandering thoughts, plans, memories and emotions are less intrusive, a powerful intuitive way of knowing becomes part of how we experience ourselves and the world around us.
None of the practices of yoga demand allegiance to a religion or structure of control and mediation of behaviour. One can practice alone or in group and the outcomes are the same, the body is refreshed, the mind is clearer, the nervous system is soothed.
In current language, yoga becomes a means to realizing and integrating the whole self. It is a secular means to health of spirit and body. That goal is not exclusive to enthusiastic novices or teachers of yoga. Yoga’s applications may be both secular and sacred because it offers teachings which can be adopted at any level by anyone.
From a yoga practice, a gentler appreciation of self and consequently of others extends the merits of the practice to the entire community of our daily lives.
Yoga leads to action. When we create peace within ourselves, it is both natural and easy to extend our peaceful selves to focus on the care of others.
In our first yoga classes, we learn how to stand and balance on our own two feet and then we learn how to stand up for those who have neither that privilege nor opportunity .
May your practice flourish within and around you.
Each first Friday of the month, we gather at Bend Over Backwards yoga studio to share a practice and make a donation to a "peace maker" of our choice. Anyone can come and the postures we practice are gentle and supported. Instruction is given so that beginners feel safe. Funds have been sent to groups such as the Stephen Lewis Foundation to combat AIDS and its effects in Africa, to Amnesty International, Haven House, the SPCA and literally dozens of similar agencies and individuals.
In addition to the Peace Practice, we offer guided meditation classes under the direction of Richard Cabell. These are free and one can make a donation which is directed to the 7-10 Breakfast Club in St. Peter’s Church which feeds hundreds of people in any given week. Hundreds of dollars have been given to that group since 2005.
Kelly Murphy is owner of Bend Over Backwards Yoga Studio in Nanaimo. Visit her website at: www.iyengaryogananaimo.com