Sunday, coffee, mat
This is diff’rent somehow– yes?
Where do you find God?
As I began the morning hike to my mysore practice on Sunday, I made a pit-stop at 7-11 to fill my water bottle up with something a little more potent than water. Delicious wake-up juice. Because 7-11 certainly isn’t Starbucks, the whole production is an intimate little affair.
With no barista to customize your cup, everyone is left to their own resources for sharing, stirring, and sampling. On this particular day, it was me and a lovely church fraus in her big ol’ hat and matching (if weathered) attire.
Being the boy that I am, I chatted her up about the service to which she was headed, the pastor, and the community–the whole lot of it. I was a good (*clears throat*– ahem) confirmed Episcopalian many years ago, and take other people’s faiths to heart. I like thinking about what inspires others, if though (odds are good) it may not be my own source.
Plus, lets be real: you just know I wanted to chat up that cute ol’ bitty in her off-spearmint skirt.
So here we are on this sunlit Sunday morning, me with my mat strapped to my back– and I was suddlenly struck by the similarities of the ladies’ actions to my own. Both of us were headed out to give thanks, to give what we had to give, and to take a moment of reflection. For both of us, it was a way to be connected, to be grounded, and (I imagine) to find inspiration to be our best. This was our ritual. This was our service.
Much to my amusement, there was an article in the NY Times that very day about Yoga and its links to religion.
Yoga is practiced by about 15 million people in the United States, for reasons almost as numerous — from the physical benefits mapped in brain scans to the less tangible rewards that New Age journals call spiritual centering. Religion, for the most part, has nothing to do with it.
But a group of Indian-Americans has ignited a surprisingly fierce debate in the gentle world of yoga by mounting a campaign to acquaint Westerners with the faith that it says underlies every single yoga style followed in gyms, ashrams and spas: Hinduism.
At the core of this dialogue comes the concern that yoga is in fact a very Hindu activity and cannot be secularized. The notion of the practice being one that brings us closer to divitiy and higher conciousness. But the peril of our own soul? If you believe Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler, yes.
The nation of India is almost manically syncretistic, blending worldviews over and over again. But, in more recent times, America has developed its own obsession with syncretism, mixing elements of worldviews with little or no attention to what each mix means. Americans have turned yoga into an exercise ritual, a means of focusing attention, and an avenue to longer life and greater health. Many Americans attempt to deny or minimize the spiritual aspects of yoga — to the great consternation of many in India.
When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga. The contradictions are not few, nor are they peripheral. The bare fact is that yoga is a spiritual discipline by which the adherent is trained to use the body as a vehicle for achieving consciousness of the divine.
Oh, wow. Thats meaty. And in response? Got Religion took issue with the narrative being spun:
One of the readers who submitted the story thought the choice of “experts” arguing against yoga’s Hindu origins were a bit weak. They were, in fact, a Brooklyn yoga instructor and Deepak Chopra. We’re told that some religious historians think that yoga originated “in the Vedic culture of Indo-Europeans who settled in India in the third millennium B.C., long before the tradition now called Hinduism emerged.” But we’re not given any religious historians who agree with this. What’s more, the Vedic culture is strongly related to the origins of Hinduism, so some clarification about exactly where the argument differs would be helpful, too.
Fine, its a history issue. We need more experts.
You’ll have to forgive me as I swing this back to being relevant to us, as teachers, students, and practitioners. Am I a Hindu because I believe in the transformative effects of practicing yoga? Are you going to hell because you found closeness to God on PVC? Does that even fucking matter?
Let me err to someone who’s opinion I’m in the business of trusting, Peg Mulqueen.
last sunday, a student did her first headstand in the middle of the room. this is a student so capable and strong – but with a fear even stronger. yet this past sunday, with a leap of faith, she sent her legs up and discovered what i knew all along – she could totally do it. the courage that took – the sense of accomplishment that brought – was something she will carry off her mat, and into her day.
you wanna tell her she was doing something wrong?
For me, it all comes down to the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. chitta vritti nirodha, if it makes it more authentic because I said it in an ancient language. For me, its what yoga is. And if that gives me a sense of peace in my own skin, and place in the universe, and the discipline to be the man my father (no, not the Father) is proud of, it’s enough for me.
Om. Peace. Etc.