People practice yoga for different reasons. For some people, yoga is simply a physical exercise done to increase physical strength—not much different from a pilates class. Some practice it to clear their heads and still their minds. Some more spiritually-minded people look to yoga as an explicitly spiritual practice. And some people look for both spiritual and bodily strength to varying degrees.
Wherever you fall on the spectrum, it’s important to understand yoga’s spiritual roots to better understand it’s full capabilities. It’s also helpful to understand that yoga is not a religion or religious practice. First, what is the difference between spirituality and religion?
The difference between spirituality and religion
The confusion over yoga’s roots in Hinduism has caused people of other faiths to avoid it fearing that by practicing yoga, they are practicing another religion or worshipping other gods. But this isn’t true.
Religions include spirituality, but in a religious context spirituality is ritualized and includes doctrine outlining the religion’s beliefs. Doctrine is usually what makes a religion exclusive, meaning there are certain beliefs and practices one must follow to be a member.
Spirituality, however, has no such requirements, and is more personal and inclusive than religion. Broadly speaking, spirituality is the search for connection to something greater than oneself. And, unlike religion, it doesn’t include any type of agreed upon doctrine. In fact, it can be practiced in any number of ways and is not necessarily based around a belief in a God or gods. Spirituality is so subjective that what one person experiences as spiritual—walking, praying, weight lifting—may not be considered sacred or spiritual by another.
Yoga can be a spiritual practice for some, though it doesn’t require faith in any God or gods, participation in worship, or subscription to doctrine. Concerning its roots in Hinduism, modern yoga’s ties to the ancient yoga practiced in Hinduism are pretty well erased unless explicitly sought out. As you practice yoga with different yogis, you’ll notice varying degrees of reference to spiritual matters. But avoiding yoga because of it’s Hindu ties is like avoiding Karate because of its ties to Buddhism.
How is yoga spiritual?
While yoga is not a religion or religious practice, it offers a great way to deepen your spirituality. In fact, the word “yoga” means “to unite.” Many people practice yoga to bring their body, mind, and spirit into unity; or to unite with something beyond themselves. This sense of unity is a spiritual discipline yogis try to cultivate.
Check out these other ways yoga can develop your spiritual capacity.
You’ve probably heard people talk about awareness. But awareness of what? When yogis talk about awareness, they’re usually referring to an awareness of one’s spirit or energy within and beyond themselves. Cultivating this self-awareness allows you to better understand yourself—why you act and react in certain ways. As you learn more about yourself, you become better at controlling your actions and accepting your feelings.
This is a big deal! Think about all of the times you wish you had acted or reacted differently. Practicing yoga can help you make the decisions you wish you had been able to.
The world we live in is anything but calm and quiet, so finding quiet in your mind and body is incredibly important to your spiritual and mental health. Yoga can help you find this quiet. The time on your mat is set aside for the purpose of connecting with your mind, body, and spirit. Leave the rest of your stuff off the mat. It’ll be there when you’re done.
One way you achieve stillness is by focusing on your breath. This discipline can be challenging, and it takes time to cultivate. As you practice, you’ll notice your mind wandering from your breath to your job, office gossip, weekend plans, and then you’ll catch your mind wandering. Without judgement, kindly return your focus to your breath. As you continue to practice, focusing on your breath will get easier and stillness will come more frequently.
Often people approach yoga as a means to happiness and good fortune. Unfortunately, that’s not what yoga is about. Even the most disciplined yogis experience pain, grief, sickness, and poverty. The difference is in the way they react to these inevitabilities.
As you practice breath, strength, calm, and stability on your mat, you learn to apply these disciplines in life. When you feel pain on the mat, you learn to breathe through it; when you feel pain in life, you learn to breathe through it.
These spiritual disciplines are so important for living a harmonious life, connected within and connected without. At Falls Yoga & Barre, we give you a place to breathe and be with yourself. But we also want to cultivate community. That’s why we offer our space for community events, and we participate in events at other venues.
Whether you’re looking to strengthen your body, your mind, your spirit, or all three, come check out our classes, so we can help you get there.