Religion and politics. How will we ever convert them into something other than dirty words? Tinas are not going to be integral to that effort, I’m sure. I’m not going to lie and say it didn’t feel a smidge irreverent to be taking Tinas this week while the maelstrom of dirty politics and dirty religion was/is pushing us all too far. But I took them anyway. Rituals are comforting when we are grieving.
Our world is unwell. You don’t need to read another screechy post by me to see that for yourself. Look at any screen. In response to all this unwellness I pretty much wanted to feel the same way every day. I wanted to feel a break in the mounting tension. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and anguished. My head ached. My heart ached. My energy felt sucked away as if someone had prepared me to be embalmed.
I spent all those years preaching to my students that yoga is not a religion. You probably heard me say it over and over. It’s not a religion because it has no god. It predates the oldest living religion on the planet. All the stats and dates and facts, all the history, yoga is not this, yoga is not that. I may have changed my mind about it this week. Not because I was wrong about it but because my needs have changed. One of the best things about yoga is that we can modify it to support our individual abilities and ever-changing mechanics. Right now I’m feeling the need to modify yoga spiritually.
Whatever yoga wasn’t before this week, this week I wanted it to be religious. I wanted to believe that I could go to my mat and change the world with my will and intention. That the space I practiced could be holy ground. Every pose a gesture of devotion. Every sequence a ritual of worship. Every exhale a prayer. Prostrations. Bowed head. Raised head. Folded hands. Hands lifting up. Eyes lifting up. I wanted it to matter. I wanted it to work. I wanted it to be something I could do because I wish there was just one thing I could do to de-escalate all this hate and fear. People of faith believe they can get down on their knees and pray the world different. Couldn’t I go to my mat and pray the world different too? Wouldn’t prayers be more potent if offered with our whole bodies instead of just our mouths? I wanted it to be true.
On July 11th I was streaming a yoga class with my Yoga Girl Crush Elena Brower. She was co-teaching with my new Yoga Boy Crush Marc Holzman. Elena suggested we take Child’s Pose, then bend our elbows to let our hands rest across the back of the neck. I couldn’t facilitate a good photo of that after my Savasana without much ado, so this was one of the outtakes. I liked the way my hair fell into a star pattern. I found it rather fitting for the crown chakra. I quote from mindbodygreen, “The crown chakra is the center for trust, devotion, inspiration, happiness, and positivity. It’s also the center for deeper connection with ourselves and deeper connection with a force of life that is greater than ourselves.”
A force of life greater than myself. That’s how people characterize their god (God). The ancient yogis didn’t leave their gods out of yoga the way we are required to do today. They included yoga as a way to connect with Him/Her/It/Them because they considered spiritual wellness to be just as important as physical and mental wellness. Yoga supported all three–mind, body, and spirit. Yoga was as much a form of prayer as it was a form of exercise. In Western society we’ve had to wash all the spirituality off of yoga in order to sell it as safe, non-religious, non-denominational fitness for body and mind only. It doesn’t have to be that way though. Since yoga has no god it could be included as a devotional practice of any faith, including the gods of the Big Five Religions of the world.
If barn-raising can be an act of devotion to one’s god, so can rhythmic breathing. If breaking bread and drinking wine can be an act of devotion, so can an ayurvedic diet. If dunking the heads of believers under water is an act of devotion, why not articulating the spine? Hell, for that matter, if killing off all your enemies is supposed to be an act of devotion, why not meditation? No guns required. No laws required. No chosen people. No infidels. No blood sacrifices. No virgins. No atonement. Yoga could/would have been the world’s simplest religion had it actually ever qualified.
Right now, with nothing much else to hold on to in the way of peace and balance, being a devotee of something so simple it is a comfort I didn’t predict before I did all my preaching. I wish I could take it all back and let people think yoga was a religion. I wish any student who ever came to the mat in one of my classes could turn to yoga for such a comfort right now. I wish it could be as it was always meant to be–a non-threatening, non-judgmental, non-punitive way to heal ourselves and our world. Whether it was or wasn’t, is or isn’t, yoga should be a religion; even if it’s just mine.
And before you judge me too harshly consider that nothing else is working right now. We’ve had thousands of years to make any one of these belief systems effective at stabilizing the world’s population and in the end we always end up with war. Racial, ethnic, political, religious, socioeconomic, you name it–if someone believes in it then someone else wants to kill it. And still we cling. And argue. And pray. And cross our hearts.
Namaste y’all. And I mean that.