Are you a yogi? Have you heard about all the great benefits and thought to give it a go?
I first went to a yoga class about 10 years ago due to mild back pain. I was surprised by how quickly I gained flexibility and strength through only one class per week. I was working as a massage therapist at the time and my increased core muscle strength greatly reduced the strain on my back.
In the following years I became more interested in the spiritual side of yoga. I did a one month intensive in Thailand and a 200 hour Teacher Training in Guatemala.
I learned about and practiced the yamas and niyamas. These are like the 10 commandments of the yogic path, guidelines for ‘right’ living.
I went to kirtans, which involve chanting, singing, and dancing in spiritual devotion to Govinda, Krishna, Gopala, and other Hindu gods. This is Bahkti yoga – the yoga of devotion.
There is also Karma Yoga – the yoga of service. This involves saying a prayer at the beginning of each day. “I surrender to the ‘Oneness’ all of my actions today. May all of my actions be for the highest good of the whole. I release all attachment to outcome. I release all ego association with outcome.”
There are many paths of yoga.
Hatha yoga, the yoga of asana and physical poses is only one of them.
When practiced properly they are all paths to ‘Oneness’, the ultimate connection to oneself, others, and the Divine – the total dissolution of ego.
Along the way, I detoured from this path.
Asana, the physical practice of yoga, became for me a path of ego and competitiveness, of striving and of satisfaction gained from being the most flexible in the room. I was very strong and very flexible, yet my stress levels were high.
At one yoga studio I was going to there was a sign that said, “On the path to truth the only mistakes are not starting, and not going all the way.”
I define truth in this sentence as love, peace, joy, forgiveness, etc.
I’d started on this path, and I knew I needed to keep going.
But yoga was not the way. And several teachers helped me realize this. One of my mentors taught me that “it doesn’t matter how long you can stand on your head, what matters is how kind are you to people.”
Or put another way…
Another teacher, a Buddhist master who taught the art of healing through Thai massage, said “yoga stop, yoga headache.”
So I stopped. I quit yoga.
Well, I quit the physical practice of yoga.
I still tried to live by the yamas and niyamas, which teach right living such as truthfulness, kindness, contentment, etc.
And on the path to truth I continued to explore other strategies to reduce stress and increase peace. Good diet, meditation, any form of exercise, time in nature, exploring my creative passions, journaling, etc. were all a part of this – and continue to be.
And for the past year my morning prayer has been:
“Dear God, I surrender to you my work and my life. May I be who you would have me be, may I do as you would have me do, may my relationships be blessed with those with whom I work and live, and those who work and live with me. May your light be upon us as we go about our work and life, and may our work and life be yours. Amen.”
This comes from Marianne Williamson’s book “Everyday Grace,” and since I define God as Truth and therefore as peace, joy, love, and ‘Oneness,’ this is effectively the prayer of the karma yogi.
Yoga is no religion. It is a comprehensive spiritual practice encompassing much more than the physical.
Over the last couple of years, I have exercised and looked after myself physically by walking, circus training, Pilates, and the very occasional yoga class.
But a few days ago I signed up at a yoga studio for a month of unlimited classes. I’m back! I’m planning to go to a class every day!
Now, I laugh at myself when I notice I’m comparing myself to others. Now, I know that more important than physical perfection is mental and emotional contentment. Yoga traditionally teaches the importance of being relaxed and comfortable in each pose and this is now my number one priority.
Karma yoga is still my primary path. What’s yours?