I hear quite often that people don’t practice yoga because they’re not “into the spiritual side.” I get it. The physical practice of Hatha yoga, although not necessarily intrinsically spiritual on its own, can draw from the workings and tenets of multiple religions.
But I have also seen firsthand from very spiritual yogis an almost—dare I say, elitist perspective—on those who practice yoga simply for the physical benefits.
Granted, yoga asana was developed primarily to ease the discomfort associated with long periods of sitting, so that practitioners could focus more on their meditation practice—another potentially spiritual experience. So yes, yoga and spirituality do pair quite well together. I’m not denying that.
But then again, so do yoga and running, yoga and weight lifting, yoga and kayaking, and yoga and sex. Things have changed over the last five thousand years, and I think it’s time we acknowledge at least two of these shifts.
First, we all have different reasons for practicing yoga and not a single one of them is nobler or more correct than any other. And second, you might believe that you’re not “spiritual,” but I beg to differ. Let’s take a look.
Many of us do yoga primarily to heal, train, and care for our bodies.
Many of us in the modern world lead lives where we sit behind a desk for many hours. We get to and from work by sitting, hunched over in a car. We hunch to push a shopping cart, to mow the lawn, to eat dinner. We sit to watch our kids play tee-ball. We’re a seated, hunched society.
We know that yoga helps stretch out tight muscles, relieve pain and stiffness, and even bring more range of motion and flexibility into the body. If yoga was designed to ease the discomfort while sitting, then it makes sense that yoga can also be used to ease the discomfort associated with sitting.
Further, yoga aids in injury prevention and relief, trains athletes how to calm the mind and control the breath, and can even teach young children how to focus in school. People flock to gentle yoga, Yin yoga, and even Power yoga to unwind, release tension, get a solid work out, and leave feeling more spacious.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel the freedom of the body in its most natural, fluid, graceful state. This is one of the defining aspects of a yoga practice—to cultivate the ability to move gracefully and with ease.
Not everyone who practices yoga wants to “OM” or chant, and that’s totally okay.
Many people are either resistant to or simply don’t have the interest to ‘Om’ and chant. There is nothing wrong with that.
Some believe that everyone will eventually turn to the more spiritual side of yoga after they evolve or develop their physical practice and “move on” to the spiritual side. This happens frequently, but again is an individual journey.
If you’ve been practicing yoga for three years or thirty years, and you still don’t want to “Om” and sing along to a harmonium—you’re not any less of a yogi and you’re not any less spiritually developed or evolved.
Acting as though these physically-minded yogis are practicing for the wrong reasons does no one any good. This leads to the next point.
Spirituality looks different for everyone.
I almost chuckle when I hear people say that they aren’t spiritual.
Let’s say you go to yoga because you sit all day at work and you enjoy the exercise and the sense of mobility you gain after a good, strong class. The body, mind, and spirit are all connected. Mobility and strength are both physical manifestations of freedom.
And I don’t care who you are—freedom, no matter how you cut it, mold it, or shape it, is always is a spiritual experience. We are all spirits inhabiting human bodies, quite literally composed of ancient stardust; there is no way you cannot be spiritual because you are, by definition, a spirit.
Spirituality looks and feels different for everyone. Some find peace and calm in the collective voices of a group, resonating to music, or chanting. Others find the same sensations and connections in surfing, horseback riding, reading fiction, or even routinely cleaning the house.
Side note: To the people who find deep connection to their higher Self while cleaning the house, you are always welcome at my place for a spiritual experience. My dishes will thank you.
No mala beads? That’s okay.
The point is that people practice yoga for a limitless multitude of varied reasons and, with studios across the world filling up with students eager to learn how to handstand and arm balance, we cannot deny that these yogis are gaining self-awareness, control of the breath, and a plethora of other benefits.
Additionally, even if you don’t believe that you’re “spiritual” because you don’t wear hemp pants, you’ve never tried Ayahuasca, and you can’t play a ukulele, you are still a dazzling light of soulful intrigue. So what if you don’t have any mala beads? That’s okay. Keep doing your yoga. Shine on.
Image Credit: Under Armour / Yogi: Taylor Harkness