I was listening to the yearly Palm Sunday sermon last weekend, and it reminded me of all the paths to God according to yoga. I first saw it in the Yoga Sutras, but also in a new book I’ve started titled The Yoga of Jesus. I had read A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong about a year and a half ago and I actually think about it a lot, mostly at church. Armstrong defines myth as:
A myth was an event which, in some sense, had happened once, but which also happened all the time. Because of our strictly chronological view of history, we have no word for such an occurence, but mythology is an art form that points beyond history to what is timeless in human existence, helping us to get beyond the chaotic flux of random events, and glimplse the cure of reality.A Short History of Myth (14)
In the US, our use of logical explanations and science has moved many away from religion altogether but even those who still believe don’t do so in the same way. We’ve moved away from what we believe our rituals to be and into what they represent. The Eucharist was once believed to have the same transformation in each church service it was performed as at the Passover table with Jesus and the disciples has since been seen as purely a symbolic gesture the modern Christian partakes in.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have not been able to attend religious servies that have been watered down from their former rituals and beliefs. Coming into Holy Week as an American Protestant Christian, the pandemic has reminded of the rituals that we do still have that connect us to the event that happened and happens all the time.
So what does this have to do with yoga?
Truth is one, Paths are Many.
We may not be able to carry out the rituals of Christian faith in the same way this Easter, but it did get me thinking of the other rituals in my life. The thing about ritual and spiritual practice, is one can feel God talking even washing dishes if you listen for Him. (David Steindl-Rast as quoted in the Yoga Sutras)
Looking at the 8 Limbs of Yoga, ritual was built in. It’s the continual practice of asana. Asana prepares the body and mind for the other limbs. It was designed to prepare for prayer and union with God and creation. Today, we most often see prayer done at church, and the dinner table for some families, but these are not the only places for it nor the only reasons to pray. A part of our distance from faith as a nation is our distance from even the small rituals like those once associated with prayer.
As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t start yoga for the spiritual pursuit and it wasn’t a reason I stuck with it either. It was only recently that I really began to experience and appreciate the spiritual experience that accompanies yoga practice. This is for two main reasons. One is that I’ve never been one for the super spiritual classes. The second is that I hadn’t realized until just before going to instructor school the profound effect practice had on my overall wellness.
Then I did figure it out, and then learned about the yamas and niyamas, and then needed to calm myself down. I wasn’t prepared with yoga music the first time I needed that help, but I did have some Christian music and some other slow songs I love to help me out. By the time I got my playlist sorted, it was a pretty nice spiritual experience. It’s the kind that I can recreate for myself any time I need it, even while social distancing. It’s another path to the same truth.
Here are the paths, according to The Yoga of Jesus:
- Hatha Yoga – using asana to get ready for meditation
- Karma Yoga – selfless service
- Mantra Yoga – centering by chanting
- Bhakti Yoga – all-surrendering devotion
- Jnana Yoga – the path of wisdom
- Raja Yoga- the 8 limbed path or system that combines all of these.
Though many consider yoga contrary to Christianity because it wasn’t created by or for Christianity, several of these paths have been used by Christians and even saints in pursuit of God. I think we miss out as a faith since moving away from rituals in our daily lives that connect us to God or creation or spirituality. I appreciate yoga for taking up this space in my life, preparing body and mind for connection in a way that I didn’t experience before, giving ritual to prayer as I had never had before. I look forward to finishing The Yoga of Jesus and understanding universalist perspective a little more too.
What is your path?
The practice and music I had done for that spiritual experience is here.