Yoga & Meditation vs Organised Religion
Practising Yoga and following a mindful lifestyle can seem a little daunting at first, particularly if you are practising a faith. Yoga focuses on individual, spiritual development, and whether this coincides with your religion is personal choice.
“I’m a practising Christian, Muslim, Jew (insert religion here), and therefore I cannot practise yoga because it is against my religion.”
“If you want to teach ‘yoga’ in our Church Hall, you will have to give it a different name; you can’t be meditating on a different God in our Church.”
Religion is meant to be welcoming, right? As a Yoga Teacher, I have had concerned people say these phrases to me on more than one occasion. I would never want to offend anyone’s religion, but I think it’s an important discourse to have, to explain the spiritual and religious background to Yoga and Meditation.
The origins of yoga are complex, ranging from Ancient Egypt, to Africa, India and back again. Involving everything from the Chinese Taoist religion, to Indian Hinduism and East Asian Buddhism. One of the first things my Philosophy teacher said to us during our teacher training was that when he uses the word ‘God’, he is not advocating for his personal religion, nor that there is only one organised religion connected to yogic origins, but rather that we should interpret this word ‘God’ in our own way. Perhaps you do see ‘God’, in a traditional English Christian perspective, or maybe you have a spiritual view, of a worship towards the natural, organic world. Whatever your opinion, it is crucial to recognise ‘God’ in your own way.
As we meditate, chant and practise, we are certainly not trying to force an opinion on you. But rather to curate your own beliefs and align your practise in this. Has your teacher ever chanted the elicit ‘Aum’ at the beginning or end of your class? This can be a little intimidating right? The origins of the word are actually meant to signify the vibrational sounds of the beginning of our universe - the first sound to be heard on our earth. As sceptical or scientifically led as you may be, this is not a devotional chant to a particular religion!
Indeed, some chants are lead towards a particular Guru or God, however this is not the focus of most yoga classes. The idea instead, is to focus on your own belief system, not even in the spiritual world necessarily, but rather towards the accomplishments and awe of your own physical body and mind.
Meditation is an individual mindfulness focus. Read that again. Yes - meditation is simply devoting a time to sit and focus, on whatever you want! Perhaps you are struggling over a difficult decision at work, or maybe you have an injury you just can’t wait to recover from. It has been proven to be beneficial to take the time to focus on these things. When I teach meditation classes, I usually start by asking students simply to sit with their eyes shut and count down from 50-1.
Try it - did you concentrate?
Don’t get disheartened if you got distracted. Simply notice the thoughts that are crowding your mind, and then let them go. Another great focus is to think of someone or something who may be suffering ill health or going through a hard time. Simply sit and think of yourself sending them some positive energy. The more you practise, the more you will be able to reduce the noise in your brain and give yourself time to focus on one activity at a time.
These basic exercises did not include religion right? Meditation is simply about focusing your mind into the present moment. It can be focused on whatever you would like it to be, whether that’s religion, a difficult maths problem, a physical injury, or a more abstract emotion. You may find solace from running, sitting quietly, or listening to your favourite music. Make yourself present, and give yourself just a few minutes each day to stop worrying about the past or the future.
I hope this very short explanation encourages you to look at Yoga and Meditation in a new light, and maybe, just maybe, it has fed your curiosity to try it out for yourself!