Living my life in Yoga has brought me many things including an overall sense of peace coupled with the desire to know and be able to pass on all insightful information, but one of the greatest things I’ve found myself enriched by is the need and ability to process and deconstruct said information and be able to contest what I find questionable. My first couple of hours in teacher training in 2009 found me ready to abandon my plans as a teacher simply because some of what I was hearing from those leading the course conflicted greatly with what I then felt strongly about. I brought my concerns to friends, who reminded me that regardless of my eagerness to start a new chapter of my life and wanting to absorb as much information as possible, I always had the right to take what information I deemed relevant and leave that which I felt didn’t serve me. It was with that ambitious reserve that I threw myself back into my training with abandon and into my career to date.
There is a lot of information to process from the Yogic teachings, all of which can discombobulate the most grounded of people. Filtering through and processing it all may indeed prove to be exhausting, but allowing yourself to challenge what you consider true is always enlightening and more often than not, illuminating. One aspect of Yoga continues to this day to challenge my beliefs, and I believe that it poses some of the same questions for others as it does me. The Yogic scriptures and teachings bring everything back to one thing: union. The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word yuj, which means to unite or to yolk. We refer most often to the union of the mind, body and breath…the aim of which is to return or reunite with the source of all life, which is most often referred to as God in the teachings. This poses somewhat of a problem for me.
I am not a religious person. At all. I was raised in a Jewish environment, being brought to synagogue for all the High Holidays throughout my youth until I absolutely refused to continue participating in what I felt was a ridiculous farce to mask superficiality and ego in the shroud of tradition. My experience with synagogue was being surrounded by men and women dressing up to the nines boasting about their possessions and accomplishments, all the while gossiping about each other and then “humbly” returning to their seats to mumble through the prayers. I played the game myself, bringing my own reading material to hide behind the prayer-book so that I wouldn’t go out of my mind with boredom listening to what I felt was an incredibly archaic system of demonstrating one’s faith. I have since heard similar experiences being recounted my friends from other faiths, which reinforced my aversion to religion. All of that combined with the knowledge that mostly all religions across the spectrum are exclusive, telling us that we are the chosen people, that others are somehow “less than” we are, completed my break from organized religion. Yoga teaches that we are all connected, that there are no levels of worth and that the ego is our greatest enemy, something I have believed from the time that I first learned to think for myself.
With all that said, I do believe in a higher power from which we all derive and from where the essence that we all possess resides. I understand that it is this power and essence that is referred to in the Yogic teachings, but I still have a problem with that word which has been appropriated to many of the world’s greatest organized religions…that word God. It is with this aversion that I find myself passing on my teachings carefully and with full awareness of my words. Yoga is often mistaken for a religion by those who have dipped a toe or two in the teachings, and who have subsequently ran away from the unbelievable possibilities that yoga can bring us. I firmly believe that before the word God is brought into a class, a workshop, an article or a teacher training, it needs to be redefined and clarified as having nothing to do with religion.
I believe that despite there being many common teachings throughout Yoga and religion (restrictions as to lying, stealing, coveting, etc…), I have found that Yoga endorses laws of the Universe, those that apply to all, as opposed to those that apply to some which are proselytized through religious laws. The notion that Karma guides us all, that everything you do has a consequence, that your words and deeds carry immeasurable weight…this all falls under universal law. Yoga encourages love and gratitude…for oneself, for all others, and for everything around us. It allows us to be as spiritual as we want to be with absolutely no association of fear or guilt attached, and allows us to become more than we ever thought possible as opposed to feeling suppressed and repressed. Again, this is what I believe based on my life experience, and I would never insinuate that those who are finding light and love through religion are misguided. Whatever works, as far as I’m concerned.
For those of you who find yourselves sharing a yoga class with me, please keep all this in mind when I relay the Yogic teachings. Understand that the word god can be replaced with light, or love, or energy, or a million other all-encompassing beauty-laden words. Understand that if it separates us, it can’t be good. Understand that we are one. We always have been and we always have been. These are the teachings that we’re born with under the guise of intuition and that get smothered by conditioning and conformity. Allow yourselves to tap back into the source of all things…back into light, back into love…back into God.