Once you’ve determined why you practice yoga, that is, what you want out of it, then you can determine the appropriate type of practice for your life, right now.
My goal is not to judge you or even to try to help you figure out your why. As a matter of fact, I think it is pretty important that you do the work in that respect. That little bit of self-study will ultimately be part of the foundation of your practice. It will help keep you on your path.
A few words of caution before I go on… your path, or your understanding of your path, might change. Personally, and again this is my opinion, I think your path should have some twists and turns and some changes during the course of your life. For most people I would say this is both healthy and normal. It is the rare individual who knows her course and never strays…
Why You Practice Yoga Determines How You Practice Yoga
If you read the yoga sutras you will learn from the opening sutras that yoga is an attenuation of the ‘mind-stuff’ OR that yoga REQUIRES an attenuation of the ‘mind-stuff’ – depending on the translation and commentary on that translation.
Again, I’m not going to try to tell you which of those might be true.
Just remember that the word yoga means to yoke together, or unite. What is being united? Some examples from the literature: mind and body; mind and spirit; the Divine with nature; self with Self; Purusha and Prakriti; self and the underlying Reality of the Universe; self with God.
What I’m about to write may come across as blasphemy to some. Take it or leave it.
You have to decide what is being yoked together. You have to decide what is being united. Just be aware that as you practice and as your life unfolds you may find that it changes. Why YOU practice yoga determines how YOU practice yoga.
Many ‘serious’ yogis will find this distasteful… the ability to choose what is united. After all, it says very clearly in the literature that the union is between God and nature, the Ishwara and the self, the Purusha and the Prakrti.
I would remind you of the kleshas, the obstacles, and that any distaste is likely based on your attachment to what you’ve been told or read. This is why I am writing this without judgement. So you can explore.
I would also say to you that each person must begin where they are and that each person can benefit from the methods and practices of yoga. You do not need to be seeking a conversation with God in order to benefit from the practice. But you do need to have some ‘Why’ about your practice and part of that should have to do with ‘What’ you want to affect with the practice. Otherwise you will have no way to measure your progress.
Can An Atheist Practice Yoga?
I have met atheists that practice yoga with total integrity. I have also met those who believe in God that have it all wrong in their practice of yoga. I find this very interesting.
So if you are an atheist, what would you be attempting to unite through yoga? Perhaps you are a theoretical physicist working on solving the conflict between mainstream theories, proposed theories and fringe theories. Your work is a type of yoga – it may never be realized in your lifetime – but you are doing the work to help it come together at some point in the future.
I know, you are now asking what this has to do with opening your hamstrings in Supta Padangushtasana. Nothing and everything…
Confused? Join the club. Most so called ‘yogis’ have no idea what they are actually trying to accomplish with their practice.
Again, this is not a judgement of you or your intentions. It is not a judgement of any teacher or practitioner of yoga. It is merely an attempt to prod you to explore a little.
What is it you want or expect from your practice? Is it actually a form of union or yoking? At what level of consciousness? Is it merely physical? Are you simply looking to relieve stress and tone your muscles?
What will you do once those two things are accomplished? Will your practice then take on new meaning? Will you seek the higher aims of yoga? Will you use your practice to create a connection with your God, Prophet or Avatar? Will you join a community working to better the world?
If You Don’t Know Why You Practice Yoga… Keep Practicing
It ‘s important to point out that many people come to yoga for reasons unknown… they are drawn to the practice for some reason. I even have a friend, a yoga teacher of many years, who walked into a yoga studio because she liked the logo on the window of the studio… and several years later she is one of the most devoted individuals I know. I can’t question her motivation… she has, for some reason, been drawn to a symbol and then to a class and then to a teacher training and now her life is devoted to the work of yoga and, specifically, the work of her teachers.
So if you just go because you go and all of this seems a bit over the top to you… keep going. If you are faced with conflict regarding your upbringing or your religion… my advice is to keep studying and try to figure it out. Yoga is a path to understanding. It can work with any religion, lack of religion, science, etc. It works because it is union and because the experience is yours (well, sort of… we’ll explore that in another post…).
Feel free to comment below – I’m interested in your thoughts.