This is kind of a loaded question, but I feel confident answering it, and I’m gonna do my very best!
I think the best way to go about this is to break it down, so let’s start with yoga…
What does yoga even mean?
According to Patanjali, the definition is right in the second sutra. Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuation of the mind waves.
You know those thoughts that make your mind run off like crazy? What if I get fired? How can I make that deadline? What if he’s cheating on me?
Then, you make up a bunch of crazy stories based on no truth, and your mind runs off into a million directions and the next thing you know – you’re angry at your best friend for something that hasn’t happened.
Yoga is learning how to stop making up these crazy stories in your mind. It’s not stopping thoughts – it’s observing them, acknowledging the thought process, and letting them pass.
It’s hard work.
We can’t even keep our minds quiet when we sleep, so how can we do this when we’re awake?
I’m writing this, and my mind is chatting up stories in the background. It’s not like I can just say, “Shhh…not now, mind.”
To me, this goes deeper than just trying to simply quiet the mind for a few minutes.
To do this, you need to really do deep work to understand and learn how the mind works.
You have to do the work to learn how your own mind works. And, then understand that everyone’s mind is making up crazy stories, and it’s work to not let your mind run off about someone else. We just assume we know their story when we really know nothing.
There are instructions on this in the yoga sutras, but to be honest, you don’t even need to study that.
You just need to commit to study your mind and thought process.
This is about understanding your inner voices and critics, and being able to discern that from your true consciousness.
This is a lifelong process of working on taming the mind, our thoughts, and becoming less reactive to our childish emotional impulses.
Now, let’s talk about what it means to be spiritual…
For me, living a spiritual life means always working on being completely present, and accepting who you are and where you are.
Being spiritual means accepting your imperfections, always trying to improve, and discovering the gifts and purpose that are trying to live through you.
Living a spiritual life means accepting the yucky parts of you, too.
Living a spiritual life means trying to find happiness and knowledge in each moment even if it’s scary or uncomfortable.
Living a spiritual life means knowing when you’re judging and being critical of others, and then recognizing that this is a reflection, and asking what you need to do to change in yourself – not trying to get others to change.
Living a spiritual life means letting go of forcing, clinging, and attaching. It’s okay to want and desire things, but we need to be careful to not have an expectation or attachment to them.
Living a spiritual life means always trying to be a force for good, helping others, and loving unconditionally.
Some people might say that living a spiritual life is trying to get back to who you are, trying to awaken, or trying to find your way to enlightenment.
I don’t think of it like that. What’s enlightenment anyways?
To me, that’s more of a struggle and a chase. Trying to get somewhere is still clinging, and I’ve found that spirituality is about trusting, allowing, and surrender.
I’m more concerned about living a meaningful life right now.
Enlightenment will come along when it’s supposed to, but for now I just want to wake up everyday in love with life.
That’s spirituality to me.
Okay, so that brings us back to the original question.
Do you need to be spiritual to practice yoga?
To practice yoga postures. No, you certainly don’t have to be spiritual. On the most basic level, you can go the mat, go to a studio or class, and just practice postures with no spiritual intent.
And, that’s totally cool if that’s your jam. No judgement, yogi!
But, to actually practice all of the limbs of yoga…
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that is spiritual.
It’s not a matter of you having to be spiritual, but it just is.
Yoga is a 24/7 practice. It’s not just postures on a yoga mat. Yoga postures are a beautiful expression of your evolving yoga practice.
When you commit to a practice, that means you’re committing to looking within. You’re committing to becoming closer to your Self. You’re taking brave steps out of your comfort zone. Your changing your lifestyle, and you’re willing to go through the discomfort that comes with it.
When you take the leap into yoga, and experience spiritual awakenings, you can’t go back. How can you pretend that something big didn’t just happen?
A common yoga phrase is, “Yoga will destroy your life.” And it will, but in the most magical way. I’d take my worst days of real and raw discomfort through the eyes of a yogi than old Monica who was trying to just live under conditions and control.
When I first started practicing, it wasn’t to connect with my spirituality. I was interested in spirituality, but I wanted to be healthier and get fit like Madonna (true story).
Then, as I practiced, I started to feel better in my body, which led to me feeling better in my heart. I started making healthier life decisions. Then, I started to look within and change because yoga forces you to do that through the breath and consistency of practice. I started to see the world differently.
It was happening automatically.
That’s when I started reading yoga texts and started studying with senior teachers.
Whatever you’re doing on the mat is a direct reflection of what’s going on in your life. It’s a reflection of your habits, and how you treat and talk to yourself.
Your yoga practice teaches you how to be a better person and enjoy life.
Maybe you’re in a yoga class to find peace from your busy work day. Perhaps it’s because you have an injury and your doctor told you yoga would help. It could be that you haven’t been sleeping well, and your stress levels have been high, so you thought you’d give yoga try. Or, maybe it’s because you just think yoga’s cool, and you’re looking for new ways to get fit and find community.
Whatever reason you’ve decided to bring yoga into your life – the gift of yoga is that it works no matter what.
The cool thing is that yoga is for everyone.
Whatever reason you stumbled into a yoga class, follow that and let yoga enter your heart.
What matters is that you’re doing something good and healthy for yourself, and you’re feeling happiness and joy. Your practice is helping you grow stronger inside and out, break bad habits and form good ones.
Whatever the reason, yoga will work for you.
I want to know why you practice yoga. Do you have a spiritual practice? Do you not care much for the spiritual aspects, but you really like the postures? What brings you into a deep concentration to calm your mind? Is it something other than yoga postures? Tell me in the comments!
Hugs & kisses forever,