Yoga without religion
Religion has always been a difficult thing for me to countenance. A belief system that is dogmatic, speaks often of absolutes, emphasises the importance of unshakeable faith… all obvious enemies of rational thought! Belief in god I have absolutely no problem with (although I suspect any meaningful dispute between theists and non-theists is impossible.) But faith in religious teachings is not the same as faith in god; rather, it is faith in humans who claim to be speaking the word of god.
Every time I try to study Hinduism and the philosophy of yoga a little more deeply I have to face the disappointing reality that they suffer the same issues as all religions. For example, religious texts are heavily influenced by cultural norms at the time they were written, and the philosophical and ethical arguments are frequently flawed. All of which is perfectly expected for works of human philosophy and is not to say that they don’t contain some truth. But I can only read it as a philosopher, not a disciple; with a critical eye.
Yet I certainly see my practice as a spiritual pursuit. I try to balance my naturally sceptical outlook with a respect for those who have spent their whole lives in pursuit of spiritual truths and probably have come far closer to them than I have. I don’t dismiss all religious ideas just because of the many I can’t endorse, but I see them as just that: ideas, not facts. I do not even uncritically accept the basic tenet of yoga, the 8 limbed path. So is what I do still ‘yoga’?!
Here are some useful tips for yoga:
- The time most suitable for Yoga is in the morning before breakfast when the mind is calm and fresh and the movements can be done with ease and vitality
- The most important things you’ll need to get started - as they say - are a big heart and a small ego.
- A person must seek a place of quietude, which is well ventilated, free from dust, insects, unpleasant smell, draught, and moisture. There should be no distraction whatsoever.
- You must empty your bowels and bladder, clean your nostrils and throat of all mucus, consume a glass of lukewarm water and then begin the exercises after 15 minutes
- Always remember that you should begin with the easy postures and then proceed to the difficult ones. One must follow the graded steps of Yoga
- In the beginning, all movements should be practiced lightly and you must cease to go further if fatigue shows.
- Yoga trainers recommend a balanced diet (sattwik). There should be an interval of 4 hours between meals
- The clothing should be loose and as scanty as possible, because maximum amount of the skin should be exposed to air.
- Form-fitting cotton/Lycra pants and shirts are the best.
- The breathing should be long and deep. The mouth should be closed and inhale and exhale only through the nose.
- You can check out some other commercial Yoga accessories, like Yoga belt, foam blocks, Yoga pillows and rubber mats.
I’m not too sure about you guys, but I found these tips actually really interesting! (:
These sound about right! 2 things to add:
1. While your mind may be fresh first thing in the morning, your body will actually be a little less flexible. Warm up slowly and be aware you might not be able to stretch as far as when practising in the evening.
2. A mat is quite essential but the other accessories are not! Either modify your poses so props aren’t needed or use every day objects: a large book works just as well as a block, sleeves of a long top work as well as a band…
Well, my blog has been neglected, but my yoga practice has gone from strength to strength! It seems that after 6 years of asana practice (!) the other limbs are falling into place. Meditation has really enriched my life so I thought I’d share my favourite technique: a focus on sound.
- After asana practice, sit in lotus or any other comfortable position, vision soft or eyes closed, hands in your favourite mudra or simply on the knees. Begin to observe the sounds around you, without zero-ing in on any particular one. Just as you could observe a large stretch of terrain without looking at anything in particular, observe your audial surroundings all at once, without listening to anything in particular. Avoid attaching meaning to any sound you hear. If your mind starts to wander, simply bring the attention back to sound. Stay with this for as long as you want. I find that I drop into a deep meditative state very quickly using this simple technique.
- Using a soft focus on sound to drop into meditation can be done at any time. I’ve found my train commute to be a perfect time to use this technique, and arrive at y destination refreshed instead of stressed!
Grounding is a process that helps the body to connect to earth energies via its root chakra. Because we are first and foremost spiritual beings, the physical body sometimes gets neglected. It is important to respect and care for the “container” that houses our spirit during our incarnate lifetime. Grounding is typically done through visualization or vibrational exercises.
Grounding Exercise: Body Scan