Yoga: Path to Enlightenment or Damnation?

While visiting my in-laws for Christmas I was taking a yoga class in Dallas, TX. Nice place, good teachers and close by. My first class there was great. It was a Vinyasa flow with lots excellent transitions, a tough work out and a little quirkiness thrown in for good measure. At the end after savasana, the teacher simply said ‘a thanks for coming by I’ll be outside if you have any questions,’ hopped up and left.

 

I’m not a huge chanter, but after an invigorating workout and a good savasana, I like an OM thrown in. It helps me wrap up the integration phase of the class. But not that day. I stretched a little more, took my time and wandered out to the front desk. I started chatting with the teacher and during the conversation I asked why no OM at the end of the class. She looked like a chanter (for those that have been going to classes for some time, you’ll know what I mean).

Image courtesy of Ajna Chakra.

Image courtesy of Ajna Chakra.

 

She explained that in that section of Dallas, the studios wrote into the teacher contracts that there would be no chanting. The studios were afraid of backlash from the very influential churches labeling the yoga studios as a place of false worship and urging the parishioners to no longer go to classes there. It’s Dallas, and that is a very plausible scenario. The churches hold an incredible amount of sway and I’ve seen firsthand how the bishop/minister/preacher can speak for or against something in the community and how the impact of that can make or break an organization.

 

 

 

 

So I did some exploring. The good news is that not all studios have that restriction, and there are even some that are very chant/yoga/Namaste everything over the top to balance things out. The unfortunate side is that many of the schools close to where I was were strictly non-chanting.

 

This raises (yet again for many I’m sure) the question of is yoga a religion. Some believe it is and that it will lead you down the path of ruin. Yoga has roots in many religions and references deities, spirits, God and all sorts of other religious based topics. I don’t view yoga as a religion. I view it as a spiritual practice. For clarity, I will define the two as I use them.

 

Spiritual Practice – any physical or mental activity or action that align my mind, body and spirit in an attempt to bring me closer to harmony with the universe and all beings/things in it. This could be my morning cup of tea, it could be a yoga practice, it could be a Tae Kwon Do class, helping at a soup kitchen or meditation, among other things.

Image courtesy of  { lillith }.

Image courtesy of { lillith }.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Religion – following a prescribed set of practices, physical and/or mental, with the intent of following a specific set of guidelines as proscribed by a particular deity or deities. This could also be done to bring the practitioner closer to said deity or deities. This would be Mass, Communion, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, Baptism, Naming Ceremonies and more.

Image courtesy of Beth Levin.

Image courtesy of Beth Levin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I believe yoga is spiritual and can be used to support any religion. In my brief research, there doesn’t appear to be a specific deity or religion that “owns” yoga or claims to be its sole root uncontested. Ganesha, Buddha, Shiva, Brahma and the like are referenced in various styles yoga, but none of them are the total focus.

 

When I was going through my yoga teacher training, one of the guest teachers led sadhana (morning practice before the class work started) and spent the entire time referencing Jesus and God. Instead of using the name of Brahma when referencing creation, he referenced God. This theme was so prevalent that the end of class was closed with Amen instead of OM. Linda Johnsen wrote an interesting piece comparing the similarities of yoga and Christianity.

 

I’m not a religious person. Too many rules and too much reliance on how others interpret what someone else may or may not have said (think the Telephone game but after thousands of years). My opinion, try the yoga class. There is no requirement to chant; you can just sit there quietly as I have done many times.

 

Image from: Virtuousplanet.com

Image from: Virtuousplanet.com

If it just doesn’t feel right, don’t go back. But if it does feel right, if it does feel like a step closer to your religious beliefs, why not keep going. For the guest teacher, yoga is a part of his religious practice. He uses the physical postures in it to bring himself closer to the teachings of God and Jesus. They have Catholic Calisthenics after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether the class uses Buddhist references and mantras, Catholic ones, Jewish, Hindu, Islamic or some other, I believe yoga is a spiritual practice that can be used to support any religion. If a spiritual practice is available and it brings you closer to your religious beliefs, is that a bad thing? More importantly, if it can be used by one religion for support, does that mean it can’t be used by other religions?

 

 

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10 Reasons Yoga is Good for Men

Yoga has a long history of being beneficial physically, mentally and spiritually. On top of that, at one time yoga was also only taught to men. Interesting as that is, yoga today seems to be perceived as a woman’s domain. That small obstacle aside, what are the benefits that interest men today? How can yoga help me in today’s world where I don’t have the time or inclination to sit on the top of a hill all day, live in a cave at night and survive on nothing but meditation, the dew from a leaf and the energy of the universe? I’ve put together my top 10 benefits modern men get from yoga.

 

  1. Flexibility of both the mind and the bodycartoonbigguyyoga

In a world where we sit all day, every day in front of computers and in meetings, muscles tighten up and physically we lose range of motion in the hips, shoulders and back. Mentally, all that staring and concentrated focus leads to mental stiffness where we lose the ability to see things from other perspectives or points of view, diminishing creativity and problem solving. Flexibility from a yoga practice can counteract these effects.

 

 

  1. It pushes us out of our comfort zone

    Image courtesy of David Flowers

    Image courtesy of David Flowers

Physically yoga makes us stronger, more flexible and helps to keep us healthy. When paired with a structured breathing practice, yoga can also open up emotional locks. Growing up, boys are often taught that emotions are for girls and that the best way to deal with them is to stomp them down and lock them away. It’s how I grew up. Through my meditation and yoga practice, I learned how to let go of that control. I can now experience my emotions but not be ruled by them.

 

 

 

 

  1. It teaches humility

Standing or sitting in a class and listening to the instructor guide the class into a posture and think “you want me to put my >body part< where??????” Emotionally and mentally I find humility comes to me in the form of little life lessons. Something as simple as remembering to breath during stressful times, or something more profound, such as releasing resistance to change in my life.

 

  1. It teaches us to laugh at ourselves

There can never be too much laughter in the world. Laughter is contagious and an instant mood changer. Don’t believe me, try not to laugh or at least smile when a baby starts laughing. It just can’t be done. Learning to laugh at ourselves relieves stress, tension and things like fear, failure or embarrassment.

 

  1. It gets us away from everything electronic

    Image courtesy of mrsdkrebs.edublogs.org.

    Image courtesy of mrsdkrebs.edublogs.org.

Ironic, I know as I sit here writing this on my computer. However the benefits of disconnecting are numerous. Putting aside the gizmos opens up space for our friends, family and ourselves to come center stage in our awareness. Without the distractions of the next ping-like-tweet, insta-pin-snap-ring-whatever, allows for our brains to stop being digi-distracted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. It shows us it’s okay to take care of ourselves too

    Image courtesy of Moyan_Brenn   / Flickr.

    Image courtesy of Moyan_Brenn / Flickr.

As men we spend a lot of time taking care of others, especially our family. A very wise friend of mine once gave me some advice; don’t forget to take care of yourself. The point he made was that if I did nothing but give of my time, my energy, myself, I would very quickly burn out and have nothing left. At that point, I wouldn’t be able to be helpful to others. Instead, taking some time for myself, to take care of myself, would allow me the ability to stay charged and be able to continue helping family and friends.

 

 

 

 

  1. Strengthens muscles we didn’t remember we had

Take enough yoga classes, and no matter how fit you are, there will eventually be some class that either modifies a known posture, or introduces a new one that finds some muscle or muscle group we didn’t know we had. I don’t always realize it that day, but the next day, I feel it.

 

  1. It can help us be more patient (eventually)

    Image courtesy of like_shipwrecks    / Flickr.

    Image courtesy of like_shipwrecks / Flickr.

Standing or sitting still is tough. With technology that keeps everyone connected all the time, instant gratification just isn’t fast enough anymore. Sustaining a posture, a breathing technique (or both) allows us to move past the point of struggle and resistance to a point of acceptance. Not acceptance of things which are not good for us, but acceptance of change, acceptance of others and most importantly, acceptance of ourselves. That acceptance breeds a humble, strong mind.

 

  1. It can reduce stress

Feeling stressed or overwhelmed? Sweat and distraction are great cures for that. Getting the body moving opens up the muscles, ligaments and tendons. Fresh blood gets circulated throughout the whole body. Putting your entire focus onto the workout at hand opens up mental space to clear out preconceptions and allow for new points of view to be evaluated. I’ve solved more than one tough problem while on a yoga mat or out for a run.

 

  1. It teaches us to breathe

    Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

    Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

In, out, repeat. Breathing is automatic and happens without conscious thought. However, when we think about it, focus on it and guide it, breathing becomes much more than something that “just happens.” Breathing becomes a tool to unlocking our potential. Through breathing we can calm our body and mind. We can also use breath to energize ourselves and create focus and clarity.

 

Yoga is beneficial for pretty much everyone. I think the viewpoint that yoga isn’t for men or excludes men is very limited for both yoga and men. I believe a male perspective on yoga, the sutras and the like adds flavor and a unique view that might otherwise be missed.

 

With this list in mind, I encourage all the guys out there to try out a yoga class. I’ve posted before on ways to approach yoga classes and some translations for what gets said in those classes to make the introduction a little easier. Find a yoga class and if nothing else, just breathe.