Why Do You Practice? | iHanuman


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Why Do You Practice?

Last week, Southern Baptist Minister Albert Mohler made headlines when he charged that yoga is incompatible with the Christian faith.  At first my reaction was, perhaps, predictably cynical.  Being from the South, I'm not surprised that a literalist view of the Bible would preclude the teachings of yoga.
After reading his full essay, I think there's definitely food for thought for anyone practicing yoga and especially for anyone teaching yoga. The question is:  do you know what you're doing and why you're doing it when you step onto your mat?
I'm reminded of a teacher from rural Missouri that I met a few years ago.  In order to attract students and stay under the radar of the local spiritual apparatchick, she had to strip out much of the language most of us take for granted.  "Meditation" was renamed "relaxation," "pranayama" became "breathing exercises," and "yoga" itself was called "stretching."  She was notably conflicted about the authenticity of what she was teaching.
Mohler would charge that these students are being intentionally duped into practicing something that is incompatible with their faith, and on top of that, potentially dangerous.  Are we undermining our students by not specifically disclosing the origins of the techniques before they even step on the mat?  I don't think so, or at least not in the way that Mohler believes.
Mohler cherry picks a few salacious tidbits from the vast history of yoga and uses them to indict the whole tradition.  What he fails to realize or accept is that throughout yoga's rich history it has always been reinterpreted or even reinvented based on additional contemplation or cultural evolution.  While there are common threads across the whole tradition, any particular slice of yoga history would look as different to each other as they do to modern, Western yoga.
To cover his bases, Mohler suggests that anyone who abstracts away the philosophical underpinnings of yoga is not practicing yoga at all. Many in the yoga community also fall into this trap, engaging in a never-ending debate about what is "real" yoga.  In my view, what makes an authentic yoga practice is, quite simply, the intention and attention that you bring to the experience.  As you nestle into your mat at the start of your practice, reflect not only on your intention for that particular session but also take a moment to remember why you practice at all.  It doesn't matter what your reason is as long as you know what it is. Let that reason permeate as you relax and stretch and breathe.
That being said, I do think any practitioner owes it to himself to seek out programs that focus on the history and philosophy of yoga.  It never hurts to be more informed, and what you learn will no doubt shift and evolve your intentions as you continue along this journey.


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