Tracey L. Kelley
What You Do in Yoga Is Your Choice
Updated: Apr 27, 2020
Recently, I had the good fortune to lead a weekend yoga workshop for members of a faith-based artists' organization called Via Affirmativa. When I've hosted what I call "resort yoga" before, the goal is to keep it simple, especially if the environment isn't yoga-centric at its core, because there's no way to account for different aspects of attendees' health, physicality, ability, and so on.
So I planned a discussion-based discovery of self featuring breath exercises and light - really, really light - movement. Because the attendees were at a Christian-based conference, naturally the topic of religion and yoga came up. Which is wonderful. The discussions included concepts around Sanskrit; the perceived worship of deities from another religion; and how to "do yoga" if you're Christian when so many historical aspects of yoga are Hindu. Well, when you follow the yogic path back more than 5,000 years, Hindu isn't the only spiritual influence on yoga. Many ancient Eastern religions adapted aspects of yoga into practice. In our modern world, styles such as Yahweh Yoga are widely popular among people who understand the particular benefits of stillness and praise for their spirituality. Some yogic scholars also believe that Jesus understood the importance of yoga. My encouragement to the students in the workshop and to those in my classes is fairly simple: do what comes naturally to you, and don't do what makes you feel uncomfortable. If you want to pray, chant, recite mantras or what-have-you in the stillness and peace you create with your practice, then do it. If you're hesitant to chant in a foreign language, don't -- simply listen to the wonderful vocal instruments raised together in unity and enjoy that aspect. A teacher is a guide, but your yoga experience is as personal as whatever faith you choose to follow, if that's your predilection. I purposely don't teach in Sanskrit because I'm trying to create an accessible point of entry to practice for most people, and know that as a student pursues his or her individual path, there are numerous resources I can provide for that self-study. This happens so frequently that I feel confident of my particular stance, and students seem to respond to the option of free will. The students in the retreat workshop seemed to enjoy the exploration of breath, the opportunity to share ideas, the peaceful rest at the end of our long session, and the unity we shared in our circle of heart-led purpose. That's spiritual enough for me.