Why is Yoga a Spiritual Journey?
Updated: Jan 28
The practice of Yoga invites us to become whole again. Yoga - literally translated - means to unite, to join, to harness. What are we uniting? Many understand this as connecting body, mind and spirit. However, it is more than that - it's a journey to re-discover our connection with the Divine. But, what if you're with not "spiritual"? Here's an invitation to see the practice of yoga through a different lens.
Did you know that the Practice of Yoga consists of 8 different components, also known as the 8-limbs of yoga? These eight limbs, called Ashtanga Yoga*, are an invitation to live our lives fully, filled with peace and joy, and from a place of authenticity - so that we all can live a life of purpose. But before we ever step onto the mat and practice yoga postures, we are invited to explore the Yamas and Niyamas, which are the first 2 of those limbs - the first two ingredients of our yoga practice. They are also known as "Ways of Right Living". They are simple observances, ways of interacting with the world, and ways of caring for oneself - to attain the goal of yoga - becoming whole again.
These Yamas and Niyamas are the foundation of our yoga practice, and contain 3 very powerful teachings that lead us on our journey of awakening. A journey to help us live our lives from a place of consciousness, rooted in freedom. Think of them as a way to achieve freedom from the chains that are holding you back from living a fulfilling life of abundance. This path is for anyone and everyone, and honors all religions - including atheistic believes. They are simple guidelines that allow the light of knowledge to shine forth.
If we live authentic lives, discover our purpose, and follow our own unique journey in this life - rather than conforming to how others live, or how our family, community, or society want us to live, then we can find true inner joy, happiness and peace - and live our lives filled with abundance.
A path to awaken to the divine essence within us
The first of the great wows invites us to look at Ahimsa. It translates to non-violence, non-harming, and compassion. But what does it actually mean to practice non-violence and compassion? The old Masters speak of leading a vegetarian life. But that's another article for another time. Beyond the first thoughts of ending hate, killing, and war, there are much more subtle ways of practicing non-violence. Once you start putting Ahimsa into practice on and off the mat, it begins to open your eyes to the more subtle ways our daily lives are filled with harming. Lets look at the world we live in today. We don’t treat our bodies with compassion - we criticize ourselves, we criticize others. Our lives are filled with emotional violence towards the self and others. Many of us don’t even know what it’s like to feel self-love that does not come from a place of ego. Starting with childhood, our experiences affect us on a physical, emotional, and mental level, and lead to us feeling hurt and unloved. We look in the mirror, speak words of unkindness and criticism, and focus on what we believe to be our “flaws”. Even our movies are filled with criticism and violence. And in the end, we are not compassionate with our planet and the beings we share our planet with. It seems that our life here on this planet is all about destruction. It seems that man is at war with nature. Deep down, whether we realize it or not, all of us suffer from the state of our planet. And eventually we begin to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. Little by little we begin to close our hearts to the world. People speak unkind words about us, and in time we start to believe those words, and so eventually, we even close our hearts to ourselves. Many of us carry a huge backpack with stuff we do not know how to release, and experiences we do know how to let go and move on from. And eventually, it affects our posture, and our emotional and mental well being. But, there's good news! We still have the opportunity to transform life on this planet. There’s another way... Think about the ways in which the practice of Ahimsa can change the world! Ahimsa invites us to lead our lives with kindness and compassion... ALL aspects of our lives. How do we speak to others? How do we treat others? How do we treat ourselves? Can we - through the practice of Ahimsa - learn to open our hearts again? Learn to let go and release all the hurt we are holding on to? Can we learn to love those who have hurt us, or our loved ones? Those who bring about violence and destruction in this world? Those we do not see eye to eye with? Can we learn to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us? Can we learn to love ourselves again?
Destruction brings about transformation - through the real power of the practice called Ahimsa . It might be a long journey for some of us, but I believe it is the way to transform this world, the way to bring about change, the way to heal. We can start on the mat with our physical bodies, but we also need to learn to let go of the pain through the practice of yoga off the mat. We need to learn to love again, even - or especially - those who mistreat us. Because, in the end we are all one. We all come from the same source. How can we lead a life of compassion, kindness, and non-violence if we don’t treat ourselves with compassion? How can we truly, unconditionally love others, and see their light, if we don’t even love ourselves? We need to remember though, true self-love does not come from a place of ego, which makes us say we are the prettiest, the most handsome, and the best. Loving ourselves unconditionally starts by being aware of what we say to ourselves when we look in the mirror. How we speak about ourselves - do we make fun of ourselves in a non-positive manner trying to be funny? How do we care for ourselves, starting with your physical body? How do we nourish our body, our soul? Wo we are attracting into our lives tell us a lot about how we feel about ourselves. Who do we surround ourselves with? We need to learn to love ourselves first, treat ourselves with compassion, and we need to stop trying to change ourselves and others. We need to find happiness with the way we are now. Over time, our need to be always right, and our need to control begin to fade. And so we continue on our path of non-violence, piece by piece.
The second ingredient to our practice is called Satya, or Truthfulness. We are invited to live our lives from a place of honesty. Starting with our actions, but also, we are being challenged to live our lives from a place of authenticity. That’s where the real work begins. The practice of Yoga invites us to look at our integrity. Before we can practice Ahima, kindness, toward ourselves, we need to be real with ourselves. It can be a challenge, because our monkey mind, where our ego lies, likes to get involved, and it can keep us from seeing, feeling, hearing the truth within us. The postures we practice on the mat can tell us a lot about ourselves. We just have to get quiet and listen to the voice deep within. Also, we are invited to speak with right communication through our speech, our writing, our gestures, our actions. In a life established in truth, the results area subservient. Something I personally try to keep in mind when sharing on social media. It can be a perfect union with Ahimsa - we have the opportunity to live our lives with profound love. But are you conscious of your actions? What happens when you feel you need to defend yourself? When the truth might hurt someone else? Would you try to deny the truth to protect your loved ones and yourself? And ultimately, do you really know who you are, deep inside, do you know the Truth that sits deep within you?
When we begin to honor and lean from the first two ingredients of yoga, compassion and truthfulness, a beautiful trinity forms together with the third component of our yoga practice - Asteya. This third ingredient translates to non-stealing, and teaches us that all wealth comes to those established in non-stealing. One who is trustworthy naturally has everyone’s confidence. A life rooted in non-taking (that which does not belong to us) guides our tendencies to look outward for satisfaction, which is caused by dissatisfaction. But again, let’s dive a little deeper to see if there are any changes we ourselves have an opportunity to make in our lives. Noncoveting - can you resist the desire for that which doesn’t belong to you? There is a difference between visualizing to manifest desires, and feeling jealous for what others have that we want - living live from a perspective of lack. And what are some other ways in which we might steal... how about taking more than you know you need or can ever use - for example when something is free? Sometimes we even unconsciously steal from others by desiring that which is not meant to be for us. Or, we might be unaware that we steal energy from others. We steal from the earth with the overuse and exploitation of its resources. And, we steal from ourselves - we even steal from our opportunity to have the right to live the life we really want.
This is why we practice yoga. We are invited to learn from these challenges as we dive deeper into the practice and become wiser.
Can you imagine living life from a place of true strength? Knowing your true Self which lacks nothing and is pure love? It starts with self compassion and learning to love ourselves again. And then extending it towards others, even those who are unkind. Caring about the humane treatment of all beings. Operating from a place of honesty. Choosing truthfulness. Not taking more than we need. Not needing the most, the best, the greatest. Not desiring that which is not meant to be ours. We are given a beautiful opportunity to lead our lives with #Ahimsa #Satya and #Asteya, the first 3 Yamas that guide us on how we can contribute to making this world a better place. And it starts with us. But it takes a certain inner fire, deep inside of us, to walk this path. Do you have it?
(*they are are part of the teachings known as the #YogaSutras written by Sage Patanjali, which Sri K. Pattabhi Jois - founder of what we know as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga today - taught as well.... hence the name of that practice.)