It’s no coincidence that yoga is so popular. We are, after all, in the midst of a spiritual renaissance.
In 1901, a whopping 96.1 per cent of Australians were anchored to a particular religion while just 0.4 per cent had none, according to Census data. By 2006, only 63.8 per cent were packaging their god, while 18.7 per cent declared they had none ― that’s a lot of people weighing anchor.
As a spiritual path, yoga must be doing something right to have so many agnostics and lapsed church-goers rolling out their mats each week.
One reason why people gravitate so readily toward it is because they can hide their spiritual aspirations ― and their existential vacuums ― behind a bad back, a desperate need to contact their toes and the after-work stress detox.
Once ensconced in a class, it’s the stayers, who secretly hope this “my body is a temple” fever could work wonders for them too, though it often takes a while to realise it…
At first, only 18 per cent of the 4000 yoga practitioners in the RMIT University “Yoga in Australia Survey” (the world’s largest yoga survey!) saw it as a “spiritual path” or “personal development” tool. But after practising, that figure topped the chakra charts at 41 per cent.
As religious conviction waivers, yoga studios flourish on the corners where churches (and pubs!) once provided sanctuary. It’s not that yoga is the new religion, it’s more that cherry picking your faith is the order of the day ― a bushel of Buddhism, a peck of Patanjali, a chapter of Eckhart Tolle, and a pinch of Oprah ― and yoga’s countless traditions offer the confused seeker plenty of philosophical choice.
There’s Patanjali’s classic Yoga Sutras offering the yamas & and niyamas as your travel guide through life and the notion that a Divine spark exists within us as part of a much larger Creative or Intelligent Force. There’s Tantra, which far from being sex-obsessed, homogenises that Great Spirit ― it’s in everything, so embrace the Divine aspect in that flat tyre, that wily cat, that arthritic knee, that dulcet dawn. Advaita Vedanta goes a quantum leap further, saying that the physical self and world are an illusion, there is only one Divine reality.
So sip from one tradition, nestle into another, then shake it all up by diving elsewhere. These days, it’s acceptable to adopt the bits that resonate best. And if that leads to more self-aware, self responsible people with expansive values, it can only be good thing.
My body is a temple?
Religion, for me, always felt more like an intellectual exercise. I found no comfort on a hard pew in a drafty church on Sunday mornings. The recitation of prayers in arcane language only cured insomnia, and drab hymns failed to hoist me aloft a wave of vibratory joy.
My closest connection to God came in our private chats, which was far chummier than turning to the oration of some ornately robed priest atop his marble altar. I wanted a Bluetooth connection to God.
Yoga, meanwhile, offered something entirely experiential.
Regular use of yoga techniques like pranayama (breath work), physical postures (asana), song (chanting), and yoga nidra (relaxation), leads to that serene lily pad within that activates a reassurance about the complexities of life. Through meditation, the hum of the Big Spirit filters in, and lingers.
Slowly that very god-ness shifts into our very bones, our physical being. When we begin to enjoy stillness and, occasionally, that overwhelming sense of wellbeing during our practice, then we understand how the body becomes the temple.
Once my mind learned to direct tendrils of breath through the body, I became calm, concretised muscles softened, extending limbs felt like working with chewing gum. The very gradual unblocking of my body through regular work led to a lightness of energy, while meditation delivered that pervading sense of “it’s all gonna be okay”.
As for yoga nidra (end of class relaxation), like most stayers, I am ever eager to waft into that expansiveness, that place where the body connects with a floaty feeling of one-ness with all there is.
Spirit, Spirit, Who’s got the Spirit?
If you’ve reached that point in your practice where you’re noticing terrific physical benefits but feeling like this yoga caper promised much, much more, it sounds like spiritual guidance is missing.
Changing teachers to broaden your horizons is hardly like excommunicating yourself from religion. There are plenty of traditions that adeptly weave yogic perspectives into classes, such as the Gita, Satyananda, Shiva and Anusara traditions to name a few, and there are plenty of individual teachers who do not.
It’s the application of yoga philosophy from the mat to daily life that ultimately brings a true sense of direction and meaning to your life (see yamas and niyamas above), so don’t shy from asking prospective teachers if they tuck a little Spirit into your yoga hour.
Lisa MitchellLisa Mitchell is a hatha yoga teacher, relaxation instructor and freelance writer/editor who specialises in holistic wellbeing.