When I first began to discover the spiritual benefits of yoga, it was as though I’d been let in on this huge secret. After coming home from India part of me wanted to run around to all my friends exclaiming “GUYS! I’ve got news – MAGIC IS REAL! IT’S REAL EVERYONE! IT’S REAL!” I just about contained myself. Instead I made self-deprecatory jokes about having found myself. (“BUT I DID, GUYS, I DID!”)
Cynicism is the religion of the West. Calling yourself spiritual here can sometimes feel more like an admission than a statement.
However, when I was studying yoga in Mysore I met various yogis who would use the term ‘God’ freely and easily when talking about their yoga practice. As a westerner new to traditional yoga, and maybe even moreso as an Irish catholic, I couldn’t use or hear this word without all the baggage that went with it. I found it grating.
I don’t remember ever having positive feelings towards religion growing up. My childhood memories of religion include lying in confession about having stolen biscuits (I hadn’t stolen biscuits. But if you couldn’t think of any sins you had to make them up. I wish I had stolen those biscuits). I went to mass every week until the age of 16, when I put my foot down and refused to go to mass ever again. I didn’t believe. And if I didn’t believe, why should I go? In fact, if I didn’t believe, wasn’t it disrespectful for me to go?
I haven’t been to mass since except for funerals. Although I have full respect for the good that Catholicism can do for people, for me, it will only ever mean guilt for things you didn’t do and rules for things that are human nature. Which is a shame, because I’m fairly sure that the Ten Commandments don’t say ‘Death to all gays!’ and ‘Abortion is a sin!’. But culture rules.
The first time I ever saw religion as a positive thing was in India. Religion is everywhere there. It’s colourful, vibrant and it permeates all parts of life, not just an hour on a Sunday. It’s the first time I’ve ever had the feeling of religion being celebrated and not imposed. It seemed to do so much good that I even became a little jealous. I wanted that feeling of safety and security, that sense of community, that excuse to take a little time out every day to be in silence and focus.
I spend a lot of my time with my head ten places at once (the monkeys in the back of the mind doubting what the monkeys in the front of the mind are saying), so the best way for me to reach a state of safety, stillness and focus is through physical excercises.
I have faith in yoga. I believe that inner stillness can be found through movement, and that emotions can be controlled through breathing. There are parts of us inside ourselves that we can leave untouched for years, and yoga can stimulate them into awareness again, into a more fulfilling way of living. Some people call this God, I call it ‘connection’. Or in other words –
MAGIC IS REAL, GUYS.