The Stuff of life…

I ran into an old friend the other day while taking my dog for a walk. It turns out that she has lived on the same street as me for a year and we never crossed paths. As we were talking and catching up she talked about her life in New York City and how her career in theater made her feel the need to be perfect. She constantly watched what she ate and always felt pressure to have this ideal body image. Although she’s still passionate about theater she faded away from it and decided that she really needed to experience “the stuff of life.” I hugged her and went about my walk and those words stuck in my head… the stuff of life. Do I enjoy the stuff of life? Am I too hard on myself? Am I too strict on my diet? Is eating a cookie (or two) really that bad?

With my wedding 4 months away I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Do I want to look amazing and fit on my wedding day? Of course. Does it matter? Not really. We’re getting married because I love him and he loves me, not because I look hot in a white formal gown. True love goes beyond that. But here’s the hard part… Showing that amount of love to yourself. I have a major inner battle with this. I love myself. I am proud of what I have accomplished and what I stand for as a person. But do I love myself every time I look in a mirror? … That needs some work.

I think we all need to learn to enjoy the STUFF of LIFE. Eat healthy foods, fuel your body, love your body, love your Self. But at the same time, have fun, eat a cookie, laugh, play, and go out with friends. Have a few glasses of wine, treat yourself to dessert (you deserve it) and be happy.

I have decided that to prepare for my wedding I will not restrict my diet any further. I will eat the foods I like (thank goodness I love veggies!), stick to my organic/whole foods/no processed diet, and amp up my workout schedule to what it was before grad-school happened. So far I’m enjoying getting back to my workout routine and feeling better about being active every day.

The STUFF of LIFE. Have your cake and eat it too.

The STUFF of LIFE…

{Have your cake and eat it too}

Have fun. Enjoy the STUFF of LIFE.

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A journal entry…

I am a journalist… the kind that stays in my nightstand. Sometimes I think it’s just a way of talking to myself without sounding crazy. I’m also a blogger; but these two are very different. My journal is my thoughts that I do not broadcast for all to see, but my last entry I thought I might want to share since it correlates to yoga. Being a yoga-studying Christian in the South is often times an oxymoron and I’ve had my inner battles with it but I think I’m coming to a realization and I wanted to share.

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Here’s a little pre-text on the entry… My boyfriend is Catholic, I am not. I was raised in the Baptist church but with very open-minded parents. When people hear I am Baptist they think, “Bible-belt Baptist.” But I am far from it. (Obviously, hence the yoga blog and the laughing Buddha on my nightstand). I do not currently belong to a church but I often go to Mass with my boyfriend and always enjoy the message. I guess since I do not go to church regularly, do daily devotionals, or even own an adult-version bible (my last bible is a “teen study bible” from when I was 14 that is tattooed with pictures and “autographs” from my friends at church camp), you could say I’m not a ‘practicing’ Christian.

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3/18/2013

Yesterday I went to church with D’s family and I really liked the message. The Bishop conducted the service and he really did have an air about him. The one thing from the reading that I really liked was a part about a woman who committed adultery and she was brought to Jesus. The men said, “This woman was caught in the very act of adultery. The law says any woman who commits adultery is to be stoned. What should we do?” The men were trying to catch Jesus in an act of tyranny so he could be persecuted. Jesus simply said, “Let the one of you who has never sinned be the first to throw a stone at this woman” (I started nodding my head and felt like yelling out an “amen”). The men one by one walked away. When Jesus looked up and saw all the men gone he asked the woman where her captures had gone. When she said they had left he said to her, “Go freely and do not sin anymore.” I really loved this message. If Jesus did not even judge her for her actions what right do we have to judge our fellow humans? Then the Bishop went on to talk about death. He explained death as simply going behind a veil. Your body is only temporary, but your soul is eternal. The similarities between Jesus and Buddha’s teachings are uncanny to me.

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The thing that turns me off about organized religion, particularly in the South, is not the religion itself. It’s the people, the congregation, the followers… In the South, Christians seem to think they are better than everyone else. They are right and you are wrong. Basically, their religion is better than yours. This is not what Jesus taught. Here is where I am conflicted: I fall into the Christian category, but I do not think my religion is any more superior than that of a Buddhist, or Jew, or anyone else. I am not a scholar on the Bible and cannot quote scripture but I am always amazed at the similarities between Jesus and Buddha. They both taught love, acceptance, kindness, and non-judgment. What else is there to know? I’m slowly becoming more at ease with my Christian upbringing colliding with my yoga teachings, simply because they are one in the same. I just have to get through the political fog that we humans put on the subject.

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Good intentions…

I went through a phase where I never made New Year’s resolutions because the “loose 5 pounds” goal was getting a little old and redundant. Plus, I didn’t feel like it was a healthy goal (in the sense that it just promoted the negativity of my body-image issues)… but now I’m looking at new years resolutions from a different angle where it is a good and healthy practice.  Making an intention is like taking aim or pointing your arrow at a target. So here’s what I did this year…

A positive 2013…

  • Reviewed all my accomplishments
  • Reviewed all my actions or words I regretted – Okay. So nobody likes this step. But it is necessary to bring light to who you do not want to be as well as who you do… Write them down just so you can tear them up or throw them in a fire. It’s very relieving.

“You can’t step consciously into the next phase of your life unless you bring consciousness to your past.” ~Sally Kempton

  • Asked myself 3 questions:
  1. What would I most like to accomplish this year?
  2. How do I want to live my life?
  3. What qualities in myself would I like to bring forth?

One of my intentions is to get a clear sense of what I’m meant to offer as a teacher. I know I have found my passion working with special needs children but what is going to make me an exceptional teacher? Patience, loving, compassion, consistency? Yes, all of the above. But honestly, all of those things are standard issue for the job. Requirements, really. I’m not exactly sure yet what will make me exceptional, but I think it will have something to do with yoga. Kids yoga!

“If your intention is clear enough, it gives a focused direction to everything you do, and you find yourself making choices that naturally expedite the journey toward your goal.” ~Sally Kempton

Happy resolutions!

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What to do when…

…LIFE gets in the way of your YOGA practice.

Here’s my dilemma: Work during the day. Volunteer during the day. Paper due by midnight. Halfway finished. Yoga 6:45-8:30pm. I am totally useless past 9pm.

What to do… 

1. Do it in your living room… Or kitchen, or bedroom. Pick your favorite spot, throw down your mat and do your thang. No, it’s not the same as going to class. Personally, I love classes, the energy from the other people gets me going and not to mention there is somebody there to challenge me into new asanas my body has never seen. However, I also like my solo practice. It’s calming, quiet, and who can complain about having the world’s-best-dog lay next to your mat (and sometimes ON your mat) and kiss you during savasana?  So, no, you won’t have any help in your latest pose adventure, but there’s something to be said about doing it all by yourself.  Better yet, do it outside and get some vitamin D/fresh air/sounds of nature/sounds of the city while you’re at it.

2. Drink a chai while you study… Seriously. New studies show that coffee and tea are great nutritious snacks (in moderation). That’s almost as exciting as the study that says that chocolate is good for you, right? Almost. I’m not a big caffeine person and I don’t drink coffee, but chai has just the right amount of caffeine for me. I like to use two Tazo Organic Chai tea bags (for extra spice), 1/2 cup of soy milk, and a splash of pure vanilla extract. Caffeine speeds up your metabolism and gives your brain a little kick to get you into study mode.

3. Take meditation breaks… And by meditation I mean any activity that gives you a brain-break. Walk the dog, sit on your porch, take deep breaths, cook dinner, whatever it is that calms you. When I take Bailey for a walk I usually realize halfway through that my mind has been completely free of thought, just focusing on the simple act of walking. If that’s not meditation tell me what is.

Bailey likes meditation breaks.

4. Yoga will wait for you… Realize that your practice will be there when you need it most. Yoga is pretty dang reliable. To be honest, this one is hard for me. Mostly because I want to conquer that next pose. But I realize that in this moment what I need most is not yoga (sigh), it is to be a good student.

5. Focus on the present moment… Blah, blah, blah, right? You hear it over and over again but it’s true. If I focus on why I am skipping yoga it helps. I am writing a paper to make an ‘A’ in this class. An ‘A’ in this class gives me more knowledge in my field making me, potentially, a better teacher. I am actively preparing for my future in this moment, writing this paper, drinking my chai.

Whatever it is that you must do instead of yoga, go do it. It’s okay. Life happens. Yoga will wait for you.

Goal setting…

This year, for the first time ever, I am going to write down my goals. Long term and short term. Goal setting is believed to make you happier and more productive. Goals can be large or small, playful or serious, but the more daring the goal, the more likely it is to be effective as a catalyst to action.

I feel like I’ve made some big leaps and bounds in my personal life in the last few years and  I have yoga to thank for opening my mind. With the power of self-realization (still in the process) I am going to dig deep and set my goals.

“Failing is an essential part of success. To make goals effective, you have to fail at them 50 percent of the time, or they didn’t stretch you far enough.” ~Chip Wilson (founder of Lululemon Athletica)

I found these steps to goal setting in an article inspired by Chip Wilson, the founder of Lululemon, in my monthly Yoga Journal. The article states one of his goals was to climb the Grouse Mountain trail, a steep hike (2,800-foot vertical rise over 2 miles) near downtown Vancouver. The challenge was not just to get to the top, but to climb it at least as many times as the number of his age each year. In 2011, at 56, he had hiked to the top 56 times by September, achieving his goal. What a great personal goal to keep him active and healthy. Which also reminded me that my goals don’t have to all be about career, they can (and should) be about personal health too.

Aim high… steps to goal setting

1.  Imagine… Start by thinking of your life 10 years from now. Imagine a detailed picture of where you see yourself. What kind of home do you have? Who do you spend time with? What work do you do? How does it feel?

2.  Break it down… Work backward from that vision to figure out the steps you need to take to turn your vision into reality. Define 10-year, 5-year, and 1-year goals.

3.  Set deadlines… It’s easier to get yourself focused on a quantifiable goal with a “by-when” date. For instance, if you’re hoping to become a yoga teacher some day, turn that into “I will complete a 200-hour training by January 2014.”

4.  Test your goals… Read your goals aloud to see if they feel authentic. If you feel a little tension in your belly as you read, that’s probably good. Powerful goals will excite you and drive you to action.

5.  Recruit support… Share your goals with friends who you know will support you. Encourage them in their goals as well. The mutual support will help you make it to your personal finish line.

6.  Revisit and refresh… Write your goals on a piece of paper and keep it where you will read it often. Feel free to revise them. Nothing’s set in stone except your commitment to achieve the success you are capable of.

Here I go…

A yogi’s prayer for 2012…

May all who are mean return to good;
May all who are good obtain true peace.
May all who are peaceful be freed from bonds;
May all who are free set others free.

Blessings upon all the earth;
May all of the world’s rulers uphold righteousness.
May only good fortune reach everyone;
May all the world’s creatures be happy.

May rain fall when the earth is thirsty;
May all the storehouses be filled.
May everyone here be free from injury;
May all who are good be free from fear.

May everyone know a life of joy;
May everyone live a life of health.
May everyone see only good in the world;
May everyone soon be released from pain.

May everyone overcome all their woes;
May everyone see only good in the world.
May everyone realize all their desires;
May everyone everywhere be glad.

May our mother and father be blessed;
Blessings upon every creature on earth.
May our works flourish and aid everyone,
And long may our eyes see the sun.

Om shanti, shanti, shanti (peace).

(From Mukunda Stiles’s “Structural Yoga Therapy”)

Beyond belief…

{Yoga and your religion}

Is yoga a religion?… Most American yoga students would answer this question with a simple no. As practitioners, we aren’t required to adhere to a particular faith or obliged to observe religious rituals such as baptisms or bar mitzvahs. We aren’t asked to believe in God, to attend organized worship services, or learn specific prayers.

And yet, Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras, an ancient text that is widely referred to in yoga classes today, clearly presents a moral code for yogis to follow and outlines the path toward a mystical state of enlightenment known as samadhi, or union with the Divine.

So, even if yoga is not practiced like a religion today, did it descend from a religion and morph into a form of spirituality? Is it naive to think of yoga as a wholly secular activity? These are questions essential  to explore, as yoga is increasingly taught in schools, hospitals, and secular institutions across the country. Some religious leaders and parents have expressed concern about yoga in schools, leading yoga teachers to strip the practice of anything remotely foreign or spiritual. But can you teach this way and still call it yoga?

Yoga Journal asked practicing yogis and scholars to give their thoughts on the intersection of yoga, religion, spirituality, and mysticism. Their answers reveal a spectrum of opinions as deep and wide as the practice of yoga itself.

The panel of yogis include Brooke Boon, the founder of Holy Yoga, a nonprofit christian ministry that promotes intentionally connecting the body, mind, and spirit with Christ. David Frawley is the founder and director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies which offers courses and publications on Ayurvedic medicine, yoga, meditation, and Vedic astrology. Gary Kraftsow is the founder and director of the American Viniyoga institute. Kraftsow holds a master’s in depth psychology and religion and studied Tantra with the mystic-scholar V.A. Devasenapathi and yoga with T.K.V. Desikachar. Finally, Stefanie Syman is a writer that has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga for  years. She wrote The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America, in which she pieces together yoga’s history in America and the many permutations it has undergone.

The conversation…

  • Did yoga originate from Hinduism?

Gary Kraftsow – The big issue is how you define terms. The origins of Hinduism, Buddhism, and yoga are Vedic, which predates the kind of formulation of what we call “modern Hinduism.” I think that, although the sources of Hinduism and yoga are the same, yoga as tradition predates the formulation of what modern Hindus think of as their religion.

David Frawley – Well, the main point I would make is, as Gary says, how do you define terms? In terms of the classical yoga, predominantly it comes from the Hindu tradition. Modern yoga, however, particularly as practiced and understood in the West, often has a different meaning. It’s more on the asana side, and it has moved away from the spiritual and religious connection in some groups, so it can have different definition and a different meaning for people. But even a lot of the modern yoga still has a kind of spiritual aura and connections to India. We see that particularly in the kirtan {devotional chanting} movement.

It’s also important to note that yoga has a tradition of dharma. And religion in the Western sense, as a belief system, is often different from a dharma tradition. Dharma, like yoga, is a difficult term to translate. Some call it natural law or the law of consciousness universe. All dharmic traditions emphasize universal ethics like ahimsa {nonviolence}, the theory of karma and rebirth, and a culture of meditation. But not all – for example, Buddhism – postulate any God or creator of the universe. Though recognizing a cosmic creator (known as Ishvara), most Hindu and Vedantic yoga traditions emphasize Self-realization, rather than worship of God, as their main focus.

So, yoga’s not a belief system. And may of the other traditions coming out of India – Hindu and otherwise – are not belief systems like Christianity, which has one singular perspective that followers have to adopt. Dharmic traditions emphasize knowledge and direct experience at an individual level over outer belief structures. Dharmic traditions emphasize the same type of freedom in our approach to spiritual truth that we have in out outer lives today. We are free, for example, to choose the food that we wish to eat or the job that we wish to follow. Dharmic traditions are pluralistic in that they provide a variety of paths for different types of people and do not have one standard approach for everyone.

  • Should parents who follow a non-Hindu religious faith be concerned that the yoga taught in their child’s school might interfere with religious ideas that they are teaching their children?

David Frawley – Well, it depends again on what you’re teaching as yoga. Obviously, yoga has a number of levels and dimensions: yoga asana, pranayama, yoga meditation to clear the mind – even an atheist can do these. These practices don’t necessarily have a religious connotation, but they do have a spiritual connotation. But overall, I think if we teach yoga in a way that is not overtly religious, there should not be any problem in teaching it in schools or in other public locations.

That being said, there are also yoga groups in private who, of course, can teach whatever they want. If we then go on to meditation, mantra, chanting, and other things, then those are more in the spiritual or quasi-religious domain and may pose more trouble for certain groups in the West.

Gary Kraftsow – You know, I’d like to add this one comment: Yoga was never secular, traditionally. It was always connected to spirituality, and spirituality was never separated from religion. But the spiritual dimensions of yoga were used by many different religions. Although religious-specific faiths taught yoga, the actual yoga teachings were used by many different religions. So I think this distinction between yoga as a spiritual journey that supports religion versus yoga as a religion is very useful.

And then the current modern context is that yoga is secular. Yoga is adaptable. So yoga can be presented in a secular context that has no elements of spirituality, or it can be presented as a spiritual discipline that supports the Christian faith or the Buddhist faith or the Hindu faith.

David Frawley – I’d like to add that classical yoga is concerned with religious experience or spiritual realizations at an individual level, rather than promoting one en masse faith. So, in that regard, yoga has a certain adaptability and universality, and we can apply yoga in many contexts. At the same time, yoga does have a certain philosophy. Yoga is not exclusive; it doesn’t insist upon a particular belief, but a lot of classical yoga philosophy does bring in concepts like karma and rebirth that certain religious communities may have difficulty with. We should bear that in mind.

  • So, do you believe, then, that the concept of yoga as Self-realization conflicts with the Judeo-Christian belief of God realization?

Stefanie Syman – If you are seeing yoga as a spiritual discipline and taking its claims seriously and are on that path – a classical yoga path, a path beyond asana, well beyond asana – then I do think, at a certain point, you get into some pretty big metaphysical and theological disparities. Which is not to say you can’t teach yoga in schools in a way that is productive and doesn’t tread on religion. It’s just what you’re teaching may not – You know, at what point, I wonder is that still yoga?

Gary Kraftsow – So, I just want to make a couple of comments that you may or may not be aware of. First of all, let me start with a quick anecdote: Krishnamacharya was a very old man when I was studying with him, and he basically said that when you gain discriminative awareness, you have Self-realization, which is equivalent to God realization. And so, for him, the goal of yoga was merging with God. But I look at one of his students, S. Ramaswami, and for him the goal was Self-realization separate from God realization. So, it’s not that in classical yoga there’s one definition of what the goal is.

I think the only disparity is if you assume that there’s one yoga doctrine about the goal of life. But what I’m saying is, historically, there is not. Different religions that formulated their goals differently all used yoga.

David Frawley – Yoga is more aligned with the mystical experience, and Self-realization developed through that. Although all religions have a mystical dimension to some degree, certain sects do not accept mystical revelation. So it’s usually those groups that are opposed to mysticism that have some issues with yoga.

Stefanie Syman – I think, David, that’s a very excellent point. I had the experience of speaking with a prominent Baptist leader, and he basically that no one should practice yoga. He just cannot accept that yoga should be available to Christians for their own type of revelation. So, I agree: it’s not anything inherent in yoga, but as a practitioner of a different faith, you may find some conflict, depending on your tradition.

  • So, there are shades of belief within the yogic experience. Brooke, do you feel that there are shades of belief within the Christian experience, especially as it pertains to yoga?

Brooke Boon – Without a doubt. I think most Christians are uneducated about yoga, and what they have heard is rooted in fear: that it is Hindu; it can’t be separated: that somehow the postures, the movement of the body or the breath, or yoking is something other than the God of their own faith, and so it gets very confusing. They have a lot of fear.

At Holy Yoga we simply say, “God is sovereign.” If you believe that God is sovereign in terms of the truine God, you can stand in that and you can exercise the spiritual discipline of growing closer to God in intimacy and awareness.

That doesn’t go over well in a lot of Christian communities. But this is what it is for us. It’s about God realization, who Christ is, that coming-alive in an intimate way of Self-realization in response to who God is. So, in answer to your question, there is definitely a difference in different sects of Christianity.

  • Brooke, do you feel that any of hatha yoga’s basic rituals, such as breathing practice or meditation, conflict with your personal practice or religion?

Brooke Boon – No, not at all. In fact, I believe that we were created in the image of God, for the glory of God, for the worship of God. An all of these things that we’re talking about in terms of Western yoga that we practice in gyms and in studios – the pranayama, the meditation, and the asana – all three of this things are addressed in the Bible.

I believe that yoga is a spiritual discipline that draws you closer to God. And so, if that is true, then the intention of my heart trumps the posture of my body. I think if some of these people who are fearful about yoga looked to the word of God in terms of the modalities of yoga, I think it would ease the apprehension.

  • So, in your mind, the intention of the practice is as important as the rituals of the practice.

Brooke Boon – I think it’s more important.

Gary Kraftsow – I agree with her completely. In yoga I think the intention is the whole key, so it’s all about intentionality.

Brooke Boon – God looks at the heart and not the body. It always comes down to intentionality.

David Frawley – Yes, and even in yoga, the heart is the place of unity in which the entire universe dwells inside us.

  • Beautiful. So, going on a slightly different trajectory for a moment, I’m curious how you feel about people taking some of the spirituality out of yoga. If yoga is being taught in a school and the teacher is not allowed to say Namaste or they have to create different names for things, like “bunny breathing” instead of “pranayama,” do you feel like some of the essence of yoga is being lost?

David Frawley – Certainly. I mean, the deeper practices of yoga philosophy are all very important. In fact, yoga is primarily meditation, it is primarily deeper spiritual essence, and it has its own profound philosophy of life.

That being said, I can understand why they might do it, but they should recognize that there are those for whom yoga is a sacred spiritual practice, and they have trouble with it being simply secularized or, even worse, commercialized.

I think it’s important to realize that there is the other yoga community out there for whom yoga is a spiritual and even sometimes religious discipline, as well. And we can use the secular yoga for its benefits, its health benefits, which certainly should be there for all humanity, but we should recognize that yoga as a term can mean more than that, as well.

Gary Kraftsow – But, you know, yoga is for everyone. So it’s totally appropriate for me to help somebody with back pain who’s not interested at the moment in anything deeper; it’s consistent that you adapt the practices to suit the individual where they are. So, it’s fine to do it as long as it’s done respectfully so that those for whom it is more sacred and even perhaps religious don’t feel that their sacred symbols are being disrespected.

  • So, you can teach asana to people of any faith, but do you think it’s possible to teach the deeper aspects of yoga in a way that doesn’t cross boundaries of ideology and belief?

Gary Kraftsow – Yeah, I think absolutely. There’s a lot of money and research now from the government and various organizations – our military even – going into this field of mind-body medicine. When we say that asana is just exercise, we shouldn’t belittle exercise. They’re showing that exercise of many kinds, not just asana, is more powerful in many cases than psychiatric pharmacology in certain kinds of depression. I think we can definitely teach a mind-body connection and teach deeper aspects of yoga without any language that would conflict with anyone’s ideology.

David Frawley – One more point is that I think yoga should challenge our belief systems. I don’t think we have to say yoga doesn’t challenge our belief systems. Yoga should challenge our belief systems in a positive way of creating more peace, understanding, discrimination, and higher awareness, and connecting us to a greater universal truth, rather than getting us caught in barriers and boundaries. It should help us break down these social, political, religious, ideological, and philosophical boundaries. But it can’t be neutral and inoffensive.

Even science can be offensive to certain religious groups. We can’t say science will no be taught in those schools.

Gary Kraftsow – Right.

Brooke Boon – I completely agree with that, yes.

Stefanie Syman – I think it’s been very effective to promote yoga for back pain and depression, but I also think that it’s kind of this double-edged thing, where you promote a very secular yoga and, in so doing, lose sight of some of its greatest potential, or certainly its purpose. We want to separate out the secular element from the spiritual elements, and I always wonder if that’s totally possible.

Gary Kraftsow – Well, I hear what you are saying, but if you have a deeper initiation into the broader tradition of yoga, then you recognize that what’s relevant for one individual group isn’t the same as another. If you see what is going to be appropriate for the individual or the group you’re working with, you can adapt and give them what’s going to serve them.

You don’t want to shove mantra and prayer at someone who’s not interested in it. The role of a teacher is to be able to assess appropriately the context that they’re teaching in and adapt the tools appropriately so that it serves the people that you’re working with.

So it’s not like there’s one thing and that we’re doing some kind of fragmentation. I think the deeper initiation and understanding you have of yoga, your responsibility as a teacher is to make it available and accessable to the individuals that are coming to you for help at whatever level they’re coming.

That’s the emphasis of Krishnamacharya’s teaching – that yoga is for the individual. It’s not about the teacher; it’s about the practitioner. And our job is to provide for them what’s going to be useful for them where they are when they’re coming to us.

Brooke Boon – That’s right. I think that if we don’t secularize it at least a bit, then we’re going to miss out on introducing a lot of people to this amazing spiritual discipline of yoga.

  • There is a growing trend of incorporating Hindu iconography into yoga classes, such as Ganesh or telling stories of Hanuman or even chanting without translating the meaning of the chant. If a Christian person walks into a class like this, are they being asked to engage in things that conflict with their faith? Brooke, do you encourage your students to go to public classes?

Brooke Boon – I absolutely encourage them to go to any classes that interest them.  I think they find themselves most comfortable in Holy Yoga classes, and if that’s the case, then  I tell them that they should stay in Holy Yoga class. But for me, I’ve practiced in studios. Do I participate in chanting? No. One of my primary trainings is in Anusara Yoga and the other is in Ashtanga. I don’t chant, its not for me. Does it mean that it’s wrong? Absolutely not; it just means that I don’t participate because it’s not conductive to my faith and what I’m comfortable with.

Gary Kraftsow – A lot of the yoga teachers are just mechanically saying things like Namaste and chanting Om or they have a statue of Ganesh in their studio, without any deep understanding of what these things actually mean or represent. So, I think that there is a lack of education, and there’s sometimes an unfortunate sort of grafting of things that come from Hinduism onto yogic classes, without any real deep understanding of the meaning behind it. And I think that’s a problem.

David Frawley – Overall, I would say that the devotional element is essential to yoga, and if people are finding something of value in it, then I don’t think it’s a problem. See, we live in a global culture today; in the past, we had to follow the religion of our ancestors. Now, you have people in India becoming Christian; you have people in America influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, joining the Eastern religions, and so forth. I don’t think this has to be a problem. This is a part of global movement and we should see the value in it.

  • Any final thoughts?

David Frawley – I would like to add one point. A lot of the Western religions feel that yoga or Hinduism or Buddhism are polytheistic, and that isn’t true; they are pluralistic. They have a variety of names and forms and approaches to the one reality. These are not separate gods or separate deities in conflict with one another or anything like that. So, I think we have to teach yoga with that pluralistic point of view and with the understanding that pluralism not only extends within Eastern traditions but can extend through all religious, scientific, and philosophical traditions. That gets us out of this need to either accept a particular form or deny a particular form – they’re just part of the many options.

Gary Kraftsow – That’s so beautiful. It’s such an important statement, David. Thank you.

If you’re like me, some of these questions have weighed on your mind… especially during the holidays. Hopefully this brought you insight and peace. I personally believe it’s all about acceptance of others. We have to accept that other people have religions other than our own and respect their traditions. What they believe is just as important to them as yours is to you. On the other hand, if you’re questioning your religion that’s okay too, my favorite quote from this article is, “Yoga should challenge our belief systems in a positive way” (David Frawley). Meaning, it’s okay to challenge the rituals of your religion; it brings you closer to Self-realization and thus (if you believe) closer to God.

I don’t know about you but I’ve heard all my semi-adult life, “You have to know yourself before you can be a part of someone else.” I think this is so true. Yoga truly has led me to understand who I am at a deeper level than ever before. I feel like I finally truly know who I am.

Namaste Y’all,

{Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Seasons Greetings (etc). from the south}

Reference: Yoga Journal 2011