The word “yoga” comes from a sanskrit word meaning to yoke, bind, or find union. In my group classes I focus primarily on union of body and mind. Practicing yoga strengthens you, challenges your mental endurance, and improves your mind-body connection for better body awareness and coordination. Greater unity of mind and body is definitely a worthy reason to practice yoga, but there is also more to the meaning of the word. In Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar writes, “It also means union, or communion. It is the true union of our will with the will of God.” It’s not just a workout.
Yoga sometimes appears as a path to find spirituality or God; some people think of it as a set of guidelines and disciplines to follow in order to achieve oneness with God or enlightenment.
But that isn’t true.
No amount of meditation will bring you to God. No amount of asanas will bring you to God. Following the yamas and niyamas perfectly will not bring you to God.
Why? Because God is already here.
My yoga practice is a physical expression of a union that is already deeply true. It’s not that I must devote myself to yoga practice & virtuous living with the hopes of finding union with God. Union with God has found me. How did that happen? Jesus. The Jesus written about in the Bible. The embodied God who came to us, died for us, and rose from the dead. Jesus is called Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” We don’t have to find a way to God. God came to us. My yoga practice is embodied worship in response to the reality that I have union with God through Jesus Christ. Yoga practice deepens my experience of my true state of being.
In other words, yoga keeps me from living lies.
Yoga cuts through the lie that I’m an autonomous individual ticking off the days til death competing for survival and success. There’s more to life than Darwinism. There are things more certain than death and taxes. Jesus rose from the dead and there’s no tax in his Kingdom. It sounds like a fairy tale, and it is. And it’s also true. God’s universe is more like a fairy tale than an essay on natural selection.
Yoga practice also dispels another lie, one I already mentioned: the lie that if only I am good enough I will find union with God. Every time I come to the mat, what do I face? Imperfection. Imbalance. Laziness. Lack of focus. Weakness. Pain. Mortality. Enlightenment? Ha! Enlightenment seems a long way off when you are toppling out of dancer’s pose and slinging your sweat on your neighbor. I’m reminded by experience not to think too highly of myself. Every day, I’m reminded that I’m no powerful divine goddess blessing the universe with my existence. And that’s okay! That would be a lot of pressure anyway. If I had to follow some code, achieve perfection, or master mindfulness to get to God, it would never happen. I practice yoga out of thankfulness that it doesn’t work that way. Unity with God is a relationship, not an achievement.
Some come to yoga for just a workout, and like it that way. That’s perfectly fine. It is a workout, but there’s more, if you look for it. I don’t always talk about the spiritual when I teach yoga, but I’m always operating within a universe where God is present. When you come honestly to the mat, and pay attention to truth of your being and body in the moment, you may find that God is right there too.