For me yoga is a spiritual practice with physical benefits. I enjoy it and I practice daily because I have found it transformative. The term spiritual draws differing responses from each person, depending on how they interpret the meaning of the word. For me its meaning is somewhat fluid, as it exhibits varying qualities at different times. I like yoga and meditation as they allow me to discover things for myself rather than being told what it is about. Although I also like to read the teachings, it is the fruit of my own practice that leads to understanding. I find that fairly scientific but it is also very subjective, as all my experiences are interpreted by me. Yoga certainly helps me to see through these illusions though and to question and experience more of what actually is. For me mostly I am just trying to get beyond my thoughts and experience more of what actually is, be it spiritual or physical.
People practice yoga for all sorts of reasons. As a teacher, here are some of ones I have come across: inner calm, relaxation, spiritual, losing weight, recovering from injury, increasing flexibility, help with sport (cross-training), help with sleep, anxiety, stress, increasing general health and wellbeing. The list of reasons is endless. For me any reason is valid. Yoga is great and I feel many people can benefit from it. Yoga in the West is sometimes criticized for having lost its spirituality for the sake of commercialism. Whilst reading the Hatha Yoga Pradipika with Christine and her students we discussed this as it is brought up a number of times in Swami Muktibodhananda’s commentary
“Originally, a sadhaka practiced hatha yoga for many years to prepare himself for the awakening of kundalini, or in terms of raja yoga, for the experience of Samadhi. However, in the last fifty years, with the revival of yoga in the West, it seems the real goal of yoga has been overlooked or even completely forgotten. Today, yoga is generally practiced to improve or restore health, to reduce stress, to prevent the body from ageing or to beautify it. Hatha yoga does fulfil these of objectives, but it should be kept in mind that they are certainly not the goal.” Swami Muktibodhananda, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika
While I think this is a valid point, I feel that more people are practicing and getting benefit from yoga than ever before. I feel this is a good thing, whatever the reasons and generally people’s reason for practicing changes with time, I know mine has. As a yoga teacher I try my best to make yoga accessible to the varying needs of my students. I sometimes feel that this openness does mean that spirituality and philosophy are not discussed as much as they could be. I make an effort to connect with my students and hope that they will feel they can talk to me about the deeper aspect of their practice. I am always interested to hear about other people’s experiences. I also hope that this blog serves to broaden what I share about yoga and what we discuss both here on the blog and in class and so far I am finding this to be the case.
If you are interested in exploring yoga philosophy I highly recommend readingThe Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, which contains a translation and commentary of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras at the back. It is a wonderful book and a great starting point for this vast subject. If you are practicing yoga to get fitter or loose weight, good for you – you may find you get even more from it than you expected…
Why do you practice yoga? Have your reasons changed since you started practicing yoga? What is your experience about the physical and spiritual aspects of your yoga practice?