On a recent trip out of state, I attended yoga class seven days in a row with no duplicate sessions. Some featured music, some included chanting near the end and some used scented oil.
I was surprised that being in an unfamiliar place and experiencing new forms of practice created an opening within me that I hadn’t previously experienced. In one situation, during a slow-moving class, I was connecting in a new way. Afterward, I realized that is what yoga was made for: to tune into a deeper and more authentic self.
I think I briefly touched what I can only describe as my soul. The music, scented oils, meditations, slow movements, breath work, chanting and bell-ringing were new vehicles that helped me find previously untraveled roads. In those few moments, a fresh mantra came to me, which I now use in meditation. It’s a spiritual mantra, helping me focus on being a better person and presence in the world, both to myself and others.
B.K.S. Iyengar also wrote about how yoga goes beyond mere physical practice: “My own body was the laboratory in which I saw the health benefits of yoga, but I could already see that yoga would have as many benefits for my head and heart as it did for my body.”
I’ve had more than my share of spiritual experiences, including spiritually focused sweat lodges, Andean mountainside pyramid building and centering rituals, Indian prayers and meditations at the Gandhi Center in New Delhi, Gestalt doctoral-level group practicums centering on spirituality and psychodrama, spiritual retreats, peace center events, drum circles, church choral gatherings, 14 years working as clergy developing and leading a variety of rituals, and even an encounter with a shapeshifter in India.
I’m not fooled by shallowness or convinced by zealots of the source for moving spiritual moments. I’m in it for the long haul, and I’m convinced yoga is a spiritual practice.
Carl Jung once wrote that unless a person has a deep spiritual community to which they belong and one that allows for presence of the holy, a person will fall victim to the lower denominators of outrageous base instincts or even evil.
That leads me to ask how a yoga community incorporates the presence of the holy. The answer can be confusing, because during yoga inspiration, one experiences the paradoxical reality of being with other people while at the same time being most completely with one’s own soul. But in cases, the tools are present for individuals to experience private moments of honesty.
I think yoga classes are one of those powerful spiritual communities Jung wrote about. Unlike in many communities, they create space and lay down a platform for the most honest human encounter with oneself while in the company of others. In my experience of yoga, attending a variety of classes, I’ve found complete respect for the individual and the integrity of their journey. This kind of positive regard creates conditions for change, transformation and even the most profound self-revelation.
It’s not a perfect community, but it doesn’t have to be, for even in its imperfection, it opens up a place of the soul, where honesty and healing take place.
Author: Gregory Ormson
Editor: Evan Yerburgh