Yoga: I’ve been converted.

A long time ago, I hung out with a few born again Christians who eventually stopped hanging out with me because I practiced yoga and believed in “The Universe”.  They hung out with me for a while because they considered me a lost soul who needed to be converted, someone who needed to find God but I think all the talk of yoga and the universe must have given them the heebie jeebies.

To be honest, I believe in and have always believed in God.  I just began preferring to call God, “The Universe” because it takes away the element of referring to God as he or she as if it were an individual, rather than an all encompassing being.  I preferred to call God “The Universe” because it takes away  the humanness from what I believed was one, omnipotent, eternal spirit that is either with no form or takes on all forms.  The Universe is simultaneously everything and nothing and exists through all space and time, all powerful, all knowing etc.

They accepted that, as long as I believed in only one but they didn’t accept the yoga.  One of them actually told me that yoga was evil and anti-Christian and that I should stop doing it.  At the time, yoga to me was just an exercise that helped me become more flexible and feel physically better so I didn’t understand this way of thinking at all.

“Don’t they believe in some other God?”
“Yoga is a form of praying!!  And to a false God!”

First of all, I didn’t know who they were… Did they mean yogis?  Yoga is an ancient practice that came from India and most likely a Hindu practice.  It existed long before Christianity but it’s not just Indians or Hindus who practice yoga.  People of all races and religions practice yoga so how could it be praying?  I think even Jesus practiced yoga!!

But I didn’t argue about this, I just thought they were a bit fanatical and left it at that.  As far as I was concerned, it was just exercise and apart from the few Oms we did, I couldn’t see anything about it that was at all resembling religious practices or involving prayer or believing in a false God.

Over 10 years later and 3 years of Bikram yoga and still I didn’t think that yoga was praying or religious.  By this stage however, yoga had become more than exercise, to me.  It was now a practice of getting to know, understand, love, respect and accept myself, and gaining that internal knowing of how to live a more peaceful life within and without.  Was it religion?  No, it was more a way of being.

Now that we have attended some Dharma Mittra classes, I’ve come to realise that yoga is a form of prayer!  Those born agains were right!

At the beginning of every Dharma class, the teacher says that “this is a devotional practice” and asks us to offer our practice to a loved one, someone we’ve lost, someone we’d like to forgive, people in the world who are suffering or to God.

“Yoga is a devotional practice.” 

It was only a few months ago that we started Dharma and heard this.  I thought “Oh that’s sweet to think of people before we start practicing.”  I decided to devote my practice to my mum who departed the physical world less than a year prior.  I didn’t get it though, I approached it more like “Mum, this one’s for you!” like I dedicated a song I was about to sing to her.

In that class, every moment, every movement, thought, flow of energy that I remembered to, I would devote to her and something happened.  I had tears streaming out of my eyes by the end of class.   I don’t know about you but I don’t know of any exercise that has you tearing up with gratitude and love for someone or for your life at the end of a session and that was the first class I ever did that wasn’t about me.

Only in the last few weeks, we started going to Dharma classes where we chant before every class.  It’s a clarifying chant to clear internal and external energy before we start our practice.  I cannot explain the vibration and energy you feel during the chant but I get goose bumps every time.   I devote my practice to something or someone just before chanting and after every Dharma class, I am loving my life.

I’ve finally realised that you never practice yoga for yourself (even though that’s what I’d been doing since I started my first ever yoga class).  All that peacefulness, mindfulness, thoughtfulness, respect, forgiveness, acceptance, love that you learn to have for yourself by practicing over time, they’re the same lessons you learn through life experiences and none of that is ever meant just for you.  You learn them for others, you learn them for The Universe (ie God).

I was born and raised a Catholic.  I went to church every week.  I went to Catholic schools from Kindergarten all the way through to Grade 12.  I was told the whole time about how the holy trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) are all one, they are all God and that prayer was your way to connect with God.  I was told that God was in me, that my body was the temple where he sat but I never felt connected, I never understood.  It was all images and none that made any sense.  I just imagined a triangle and some Jesus guy, wearing a robe, sitting in lotus position somewhere in my solar plexus, emitting yellow light.

Strange how I imagined Jesus sat like this, in a triangle and was yellow... Symbols and the psyche!
Strange how I imagined Jesus sat like this, in a triangle and was yellow…
Symbols and the psyche!

None of it actually helped me. My life was still extremely tumultuous and traumatic and eventually I decided no amount of church was going to fix my problems, nor was kneeling and saying Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s and I just stopped going.

I am now living in the most peaceful time of my life and it’s not because I’m going to church.

Through practicing yoga, I have found peace and through practicing I have finally got an inkling for what those Catholic teachings have been all about.

The Father = Mind, The Son = Body and The Holy Ghost = Spirit.  The Holy Trinity is the mind,  body and spirit!  Yoga is the prayer.  Prayer is your way to connect with God.  Practicing yoga is praying and over time and frequency of prayer, the mind, body and spirit align and what you’ll find when that happens, is God.

Sri Dharma Mittra
Sri Dharma Mittra showing us what it looks like when you find God

The body is a vessel and extremely essential.  Without the body, the spirit and mind cannot exist or express themselves on the physical plain.  The body should therefore be treated with utmost respect, with as much respect as the mind and the spirit, just like a temple.

The longer and more efficiently the body can continue to function, the  longer and more efficiently it allows mind and spirit, ie God to continue to do  work on the physical plain.  This has to be why when we practice yoga a lot, we end up eating very healthily.  Through practicing, the alignment between mind, body and spirit is strengthened and the internal knowing of keeping the body in its’ peak performing state clicks in, naturally.

Yoga isn’t a religion.  Nobody tells you what to believe, there are no rights of passage or specific things you have to say.  Nobody forces you to be there through guilt or fear or rules or peer pressure.  There isn’t a have to, supposed to or must.  There isn’t a specific time for you to practice.  You practice because you want to, when you want to.  Nobody tells you what things mean, what you’re looking for, what you’re supposed to find nor when.  Nobody tells you what you should eat either.

In this way, it is truly your practice, your experience, your journey, your pace and it all leads to one place, your connection with the universe.  Through yoga, you connect with God and yoga changes from being a physical exercise to a spiritual practice until you realise it’s been a spiritual practice all along.

Sri Dharma Mittra
Sri Dharma Mittra

I had no idea that practicing yoga would lead me onto the very same path that those born again Christians wanted me to get on all those years ago but here I am, I’ve finally found a way to connect with God and I am ever grateful for it.

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