Recently, a couple of my fellow Yoga teachers were asked to teach Yoga in a school but asked to not call it Yoga. Obviously, some parents are concerned that their kids might be learning some religious rituals, so not to upset the parents, teachers opt out of bringing Yoga into the school system.
Is Yoga a religion? More than a debate, it is a fear that keeps this profound healthy practice away from many people especially our youth. Where there is fear, there is a need for better education.
Yoga teachings come from the Vedic culture (the oldest living knowledge/philosophy), a part of Hinduism. The word Yoga means union: to unite with what we have become separated from i.e. to our physical body, to our spirit and to nature(you can fill in the blanks). That union can come through a physical practice (Hatha Yoga) or a spiritual practice (i.e. Bhakti Yoga). The practice that is most popular in the Western world is Hatha yoga due to its obvious and documented countless benefits. Having said that, a spiritual practice is not separate from a physical practice. Try being spiritual in a body that does not work. It is challenging, isn’t it? A spiritual practice means we are able to look at the bigger picture. How is that possible when we can’t move beyond our body and are stuck inside our head?
The practice of Yoga provides a spiritual direction if that is what we are seeking. The depth and wisdom of Yoga is like an ocean; it is endless, however, the teachings are dynamic and practical; it is not a dogma. The learning is experiential, not forced upon. The practice is meant for anybody in human form. The fact that millions of people all over the world practice Yoga clearly indicates that one does not have to be Hindu to practice Yoga nor you become one by practicing it.
Without going all Webster, isn’t religion a gateway to spirituality? When religion gets confused with politics, we remain stuck in the religion and sadly never really move beyond it to spirituality. The practice of Yoga welcomes all humanity, all religions; it is a spiritual practice t0 connect with your own spirit through your body and mind.
We do not become Hindu by practicing Yoga just like we do not become Christian by attending Church. We remain who we are at pure consciousness in human form. When we are healthy in mind, body and spirit, we can happily move in the direction of our purpose. If we pondered more on our spiritual development, there may be a less of a need to protect our religions. We live in a polarity world. We unite only when we embrace diversity. The point of religion is to unite, not to divide. Spirituality unites all humanity and all religions.
As a society, being highly stressed has become a norm. We are told that we can have it all and right now, so we work hard to chase this ever-moving target. Inevitably this stress gets passed on to our kids. We have placed more emphasis on their performance, whether it’s sports or academics, but none on inner expansion and development. Starved for real wisdom, guidance and connection, many kids become prone to anxiety, depression and unfortunately far too many turn to drugs. In spite of drug education and all the damage control does not keep drugs away from kids. Why is that? Because Kids need an internal experience for reference as to what connecting with their body, mind and spirit feels like. It is this experience that holds the power to keep them moving in healthier direction. The Yoga practice can and has served as prevention and can give the kids that experience. But instead of seeking the truth, we continue to hide behind our fears and biases and keep this very practical and proven practice away from our children. For a handful of parents who want to bring Yoga practice to their kids have an uphill battle as there is no collective support from our culture or society as a whole.
Yoga practice for school age kids is self-regulating. Kids learn to check in with themselves, enjoy moving, gain a sense of self, have better body image, de-stress, are happy and better equipped to meet the challenges of school; not to mention agile and have less sports injuries. All of this sets up a foundation for a healthy life beyond the school years. Drugs or anything that is toxic to their well being no longer holds the appeal.
Holding on to beliefs, biases and fears that keep us stuck is a waste of our intelligence and spirit. The point is not to win or to be right, it is to bring joy, peace and freedom into our lives; it is to be happy and healthy. For only then, we can serve humanity. Yoga offers that. Do not get hung up on words, seek the truth and dive into the practice and experience it for yourself. Cultivate the experiential knowledge that unites humanity not divide it!