Yoga Practice

Why I Take the Spiritual out of My Yoga

When spirituality comes up in yoga, I am a classic case of the studious avoider. What is a studious avoider, you might ask? It’s when you are an expert in not answering questions, someone who sidesteps to an degree of excellence. It’s a title I happily claim for myself, especially with spirituality. It is a sensitive topic in of itself, but add in how it is or is not related to yoga – and it’s on a whole other level of awkward conversation. Do I think that someone can make yoga a “religion?” Sure. Do I simultaneously know that, for me, spirituality plays no role in how I practice? Absolutely.

Religion and spirituality are both such intensely personal things, and for each of us – they bring on particular memories or feelings. Even without the spiritual aspect of yoga, it’s time spent with our emotions. How our bodies react to holding, for instance, Pigeon pose, for ten breathes can force you to be mindful of “emotions” that we hold in our hips. To be honest, I’m not sure what that phrase means, but I can tell you that I’ve heard it dozens of times from my teachers. Somehow they do end up being half right. I don’t feel a spiritual connection particularly with my hip bones, and yet – when I hold pigeon pose, my thoughts tend to drift to feelings that I don’t like to deal with.

Uncomfortable emotions like feeling like you don’t know how to express yourself or what life has in store for you… Some people handle those kind of issues with faith. Others (like myself) are of the opinion that spirituality has its place, but that yoga isn’t the perfect match for it.

I don’t think spirituality needs to come up as a topic of discussion in everyone’s yoga.

For some of us, spirituality is essentially intertwined with yoga, and we can’t have one without the other. In fact, certain yoga styles specifically promote spirituality as part of what makes their yoga practice unique. I am not of that camp. For me, yoga is about mindfulness. Particularly as a teacher, I don’t want to assume any kind of belief system on my students. Whether I do or do not believe in a God, many gods or none at all, shouldn’t factor into how comfortable my students feel.

I take the spiritual out of my practice because I don’t want to restrict my yoga to faith. Yoga can be athletic, spiritual, mindful, dance-y, obnoxious – it can be whatever you want. The freedom of expressing yourself by focusing on deep breathing and moving meditatively is part of what makes yoga so unique.

Do you include spirituality in your yoga practice, or don’t you? Tell us why!

Photo via Bad Yogi community member Emily Vardy

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