I’ve been mentoring a brand spanking new yoga teacher. She’s been practicing yoga for four years and teaching for one. Today she asked me some pretty powerful questions:
Do you believe in God?
How do you teach yoga to students that don’t believe in God?
Talk about having to earn my mentoring badge!
When stepping into this sort of conversation whether it be one on one or in a classroom setting, you have to get clear about who you are, and by that I mean, what do you value? What has meaning to you? What is your Truth?
I do believe in God. I do believe in a Supreme intelligence. I do believe in the Divine. I do believe that we are part of something much larger than ourselves. I do believe in Love.
Do all those phrases/definitions equal ‘God?’
When I began to practice yoga I had a very one dimensional experience of God. I’m a Latin American cradle Catholic and as such my primary experience with spirit and prayer revolved around Sunday Mass and fervent prayers to the Trinity, the Holy Family, Angels and Saints primarily invoked when my life had slightly gone awry.
Although I went to mass on Sundays and had a pretty strong commitment to prayer and a deep fascination with studying Mystics and Saints, my spiritual life was split: a time for study and prayer, and the rest of my life. At the time my experience of faith in my every day life was satisfactory, although upon looking back, detached and a bit stale.
It was in yoga classes that I began to hear the phrase “the Divine.” I was a bit shocked by it, as these were sacred words being spoken in mundane situations, at least from my perspective. The Divine, divinity, concocted to me something grand and untouchable that you only really talk about or hear about in church. My experience of the term was very individual and not at all inclusive, and I sorta liked it that way.
As my passion for asana classes grew and my teachers frequently mentioned the Divine (mind you not all teachers speak of the Divine), I simply let the word slide away, choosing to not commit attention to this ‘lay’ definition, and maintained a separation between the earthly experience of my body and the realm of the spirit and/or soul. I simply kept showing up to class and my instructors kept offering up teachings that invited me to go deeper. This going deeper was not about asana, although at first that was the only thing that I could do, but about finally choosing to cultivate the Divine in the every day. This undertaking was risky. It required sensitivity, softness, openness and most of all courage—the courage to step inside my own heart, my own Divine heart. This journey, as much as it was sweet and calming, was also just as agitating, as the stakes rose. I now chose to see the Sacred in the ordinary, thus making each and every one of my choices ever more meaningful. This also meant that not only would I have to take responsibility and be accountable for my faith and my honest participation within Catholicism, but also studying, asking questions and cultivating a more meaningful conversation within my Self and God. This included a clear recognition of the purity of my body, breath, words, thoughts and actions as the embodiment of Auspiciousness.
It was in this discovery that I recognized my job was to aspire to my own deepest experience. I saw the gift of my life as a blessing rather than a problem to be solved. I began to see God, Spirit and Goodness all around me, particularly as it was manifested in the quietness of my heart, sprinkled throughout the day. In asana classes I uncovered the tools necessary to begin to fertilize the seeds of Grace that were always present within. My narrow and sterile vision of spirituality, prayer and the Divine had distilled itself so much within my heart that it had become rich and tasty and thus I was able to see it reflected all around me. The more meaning I brought to my every day life, the more sacred I made the every day, the closer I felt to God, the world and those around me.
I shared with the sweet young teacher:
You may not want to define the Divine as God.
You may not want to bring any aspect of your spiritual religious life to an asana class, and that’s perfectly fine.
What I do offer to you is for you to continue to deepen and refine the questions.
You deepen the conversation with yourself and grow your experiences on the mat, off the mat and within your own individual religious/spiritual practices.
How can your yoga help you evolve to a better place and enrich your life and that of those around you?
How can your yoga help you to be a better human being?
That is the Divine.
Elsie (@YoGeek) has been teaching yoga to global audiences since 2006 via her audio podcast and videos. Outside of production and her work as an Anusara Yoga Inspired™ Instructor, she consults and presents workshops aimed primarily at yoga professionals and actors/artists demystifying technology and new media.