One of the activities required of the inpatients at the residential psych and trauma facility was either yoga or tai chi. I chose yoga.
However, I was raised very religiously conservative and our faith lexicon did not include yoga. That word and its practice was redacted. I was taught not to engage products of any faith other than my own. (Ironically, for years we took piano lessons from a devout Hindu. I read countless illustrated books and comic books about Hare Krishna while I waited for my siblings to finish lessons. My teacher even let me see her altar/prayer room in her house and her tomatoes she was growing in the basement closets under blue lights!) Walking into a yoga class felt dishonorable, like I was cheating on my faith. I had been programmed with the fear that the eastern religions and their gods would overwhelm my Christian sensibilities if I entered their air space.
Here’s why I yoga. I have Complex PTSD. One of the symptoms is that my body and brain don’t work in sync because my nervous system is wonky. The practice of yoga allows me to go inward, concentrate on this fearfully and wonderfully made body I have been gifted. Yoga isolates my practice from all the worries, stresses, busyness of the day through concentration, physical focus and appreciation of the physical sustainer of life, breathing. By connecting my body and my brain,this practice is healing to my PTSD.
What about the talismans, idols, and representations of eastern religions in the studio? What about the prayers and the mantras? Shouldn’t I fear them toppling my faith?
When I enter the yoga studio I do not fear the gods of ancient yoga descending and overwhelming me any more than I fear the varied god’s presented in the “Spirituality” section of a bookstore. I fear them as much as I fear becoming an alcoholic by walking into an establishment that serves alcohol. They have no power to jump out and hold me hostage. I have belief the God I carry with me is great. GreatER. My God bows to no-one and I bow only to my God. I do not pray to the gods displayed. I do not repeat mantras I do not believe in. I mentally reject meditations that have dissonance with my beliefs and I accept those that have application and resonance to my own faith. During times of meditation and prayer I pray to my God.
To me yoga feels like a gracious space where each person comes to exercise their bodies and minds in their own personal practice, led by a skilled practitioner. I have never been obligated or even asked to carry the mantle of a teachers spiritual beliefs. I am as free to practice my faith as I am in any athletic gym. The company of friends, conversation, care and laughter is as healing to the soul as the exercises are to my body. I have stilled the conflict within.
I love God. I love yoga. I love my friends and teachers and am so grateful for them all. This is why I yoga.