How to Reclaim Yoga as a Spiritual Practice
Yoga has taken the world of fitness by storm.
There are entire fashion industries devoted to yoga apparel and accessories.
Yoga studios are popping up in the most unsuspecting places.
Yoga classes fall in the "fitness classes" category more often than they do the "spiritual practice" category.
I have even… brace yourself… seen a yoga class conducted where people were encouraged to BYOB and drink beer during the class (PSA: NOT a good idea).
Yoga is wiggling its way into every crevice of society.
And yet... many of these studios, classes, athletic clubs, and clothing stores are not always 'walking the [yoga] talk.'
What was once a sacred space has now become another breeding ground for diet culture.
Yoga is not about burning calories and losing weight. Ever. Yoga is an ancient practice with many benefits and goals, but losing weight is not one of them.
Me and yoga go way back - 15 years to be exact. When I was first introduced to yoga, I fell in love.
I fell in love with a practice that:
Cleared my mind.
Helped me get to know my body.
Introduced me to self care.
Allowed me to show up exactly as I am.
Placed more emphasis on the process than the destination.
Yoga is meant to is serve you rather than deplete you.
Check out these 5 principles of yoga to reclaim it as a spiritual practice (aka feel safe, comfortable, and accepted).
1. Yoga brings awareness to your body and quiets your mind.
As you begin moving into different stretches and poses during a yoga practice, you will notice sensations arising in your body. Thoughts and mind chatter may arise as well. Thoughts of comparison, doubt, & self criticism.
But then, part of the practice is letting these thoughts go.
Part of yoga is allowing the thoughts to appear, notice them, and then bring your attention back to your breath and your body.
You will know you are in a supportive environment when your teacher is offering you messages of acceptance. When they are reminding you to be gentle with yourself and to come back to your breath.
Find a class and a teacher who encourage you to be gentle with yourself. Who remind you that yoga is a judgment-free zone.
Stay away from classes that have a lot of mirrors and teachers that do not offer constant, steady messages of self acceptance.
2. Yoga helps you connect with your body.
Before yoga, I didn't know that one of my legs is longer than the other, I have a freckle on my ankle, I hyper-extend my knees and hold emotion in my hips.
You cannot practice yoga without a body. You cannot move through poses, feel heat in your belly, or listen to an intuitive pull without a body.
Many people walk through life living from the neck up. We think, plan, organize, and analyze our days without ever checking in with how we feel.
Find a class and teacher who encourage you to check in with your body, mind, and spirit throughout your practice (they should offer this prompt at the beginning and end of class at the minimum).
Stay away from classes that tell you to push through pain or neglect your body's need for rest.
3. Yoga promotes self care.
Showing up on the mat says “I am here to feel. I am here to listen. I am open to receiving, moving, and growing.”
It means you are devoting time to your thoughts, your body, & your needs.
Simply put: You're taking care of yourself.
This is imperative for health.
If yoga has become synonymous with "working out" for you, take a minute to reflect on when this became your story.
Has yoga always been a form of exercise for you? Was it once a spiritual practice that has now become a physical one? Are there any aspects of your yoga practice you can connect to diet culture's influence?
One way you can bring more mindfulness into your life is with mindful mealtimes. Click here to download your FREE Mindful Eating Checklist.
Enjoy your food and make meals special again.
4. Yoga welcomes all of you. Any shape, color, ability, and fashion style.
Not gonna lie, one of my absolute favorite aspects of yoga is the clothing. I can practice yoga at home in my Pjs. Or wear a t-shirt and sweatpants to a yoga studio. Or a sports bra and shorts in the summer at the park.
Yoga welcomes diversity. Yoga has no rules or regulations on who can participate.
Find a yoga studio that:
-Has a liberal dress code.
-Offers a variety of class levels.
-Offers free or donation-based community classes.
Find a studio where body size, skin color, years of experience, and income levels are diverse.
Everyone deserves a community where they can show up exactly as they are and find acceptance. Some people have a church or school community. Some have a yoga studio or a place of employment. Maybe you have all of the above!
No matter what, your yoga studio should not be a place that you feel judged or uncomfortable. Try a few different classes and if you're not getting the support you need, move on.
5. Yoga is a process, not a destination.
A core difference in yoga and a fitness routine is that there is no goal to achieve in yoga. You cannot win. You don't break any records. There isn't any teamwork or strategy.
You just show up.
You show up when you're happy and when you're sad. You show up when you have energy and when you don't.
Practicing yoga is not about burning calories or changing your body.
Practicing yoga is about connecting with your heart. Checking in with your spirit. Getting to know yourself in a profound and deep way.
Find a studio that encourages introspection. Some teachers will read a poem at the start of class or encourage you to set an intention. Some will lead you through a guided meditation. All are special in their unique way.
And now, go on out there and find the yoga practice that works for you! There are plenty of videos you can stream online, studios you can attend, or you can freestyle it with no guide!
May the pure light within you, guide you home.