My friend Katie (remember her inspirational Earth Day Meditation?) recently reached out to me and asked me: ‘Why are young people drawn to yoga?’ Seemingly easy to answer, right?
She quickly followed with this question: ‘What is it about yoga that quenches their yearning for spiritual practice outside of the institutional religious practices?‘ Slightly less innocuous, but actually, still easy to answer: it’s the same response.
In writing my response to Katie to help her plan conversations at a spiritual retreat, I uncovered a profound clarity that reinvigorated my passion for what I teach. Maybe a one-hour yoga class seems like no big deal (remember that post! ha!) but, you know… it is a big deal. Students are drawn to their yoga practice because they are looking for a spiritual practice that asks instead of demanding, that brings relief instead of inciting anxiety, and that encourages seeking instead of blind faith.
I thought you may be interested in my answers. It’s not a sermon, you can click away and leave any time you want to; but I hope you read through it all and then ask yourself the same question: why are you drawn to practice yoga?
“The yearning that attracts students into the yoga practice room is to experience relief.
In a world increasingly instantaneous, students are accustomed to immediate feedback, results, and reactions. In a world increasingly chaotic, students are continuously assaulted with a barrage of new sights, images, sounds, and demands for their attention. Yoga asks; it does not demand. Yoga asks the question, “What if all of this went quiet? What listening would remain?” The feedback is immediate; the experience of moving into Divine Silence and listening to the innate Wisdom of the Soul offers powerful and immediate relief.
Yoga teaches that suffering results from the illusory thought that we are alienated from the Divine. As a yoga and meditation teacher, I see students approach yoga who are yearning to leave behind a fragmented, stressed-out, anxious existence and remember their wholeness. They don’t want someone else to Save them. They want to be empowered to approach their suffering with peace of mind, with a healthy body, and with an emboldened Spirit. They want to remember what it feels like to be at Peace.
As a minister, yoga appeals to me because it is spans time, history and faith tradition. Every single person is welcome and invited; every person can be taught to practice yoga. My students are 9 months old and 79 years old. My students are non-verbal autistic children and school principals with Multiple Sclerosis. My students are single gay men and married professionals mothering 4 children. My students are healing wounds from years of abuse and my students are offering care as hospice nurses. My students trust yoga because it does not ask them to suspend belief in the world they live in, it asks them to find Divine in the world they navigate.
As a mystic, yoga appeals to me because I want to be as close to God as possible. Meditation is a practice that anyone can learn and anyone can hone. Meditation offers us what nothing else can: it offers us insight into the inner workings of our mind and our spirit and asks us to be patient with ourselves as we learn to love ourselves again. Meditation is what Rumi talked about when he said, “I have been a seeker and still am. But I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teaching of my Soul.”
As an intellectual, yoga appeals to me because it is a science. The path of yoga, or ‘union’ is dependent on personal experimentation and experience. If a practice works for you, then stick with it. If a practice doesn’t speak to you, try it a different way. This approach makes sense to rational minds and iPhone users who have the world’s knowledge at their fingertips. Yoga philosophy is a framework for whole and healthy living that is inspired by thousands of years of collective wisdom. This framework is simple and straightforward: practice non-harming of all sentient beings, meditate on the Divine, hold every single breath and every single movement as sacred, and you will experience profound relief, peace, and wholeness.
If you ask my definition of yoga, it will not be textbook. It will be the answer of the minister, mystic, intellectual, and seeker. I will say: “Yoga is listening to the small sacred space between my inhale and my exhale where the Divine resides and learning to fill that space with my movement until only the Divine Remains.” You, of course, will have your own answer. And that’s what most of us are looking for: a space to ask our own questions and find our own answers.
Ask yourself the question: ‘why am I drawn to the practice of yoga?’ and see what answers show up. Please share with me, I may pass them on to my friend, Katie. :)