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Yoga - Mental and Spiritual Practice

Yoga has long been touted as a coverall hobby/exercise for mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellness; but it's easy to just look at it for the physical benefits, especially if spiritual and emotional "awakening" aren't something you find yourself seeking out. You can do yoga every day and still not really reap the full benefits of this long-held traditional practice. Because of these facts, this post will focus on how to reach the highest mental and spiritual benefit from your own yoga "practice".

What is a Practice?

Practice is defined as "the application of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it" as well as "the customary, habitual, or expected procedure or way of doing something". Notice the use of the words "belief" and "habitual". These are not words that one would use to describe things like working out or studying, they are more than that.

A Yoga Practice is more than a list of exercises or mantras; it is personal. Every person, regardless of their fitness level or spiritual values, can have their own "yoga practice". Yoga is considered a "path" to inner happiness which means that it is part of a lifestyle rather than just something you do sometimes. This also means that it's not something that people can be "not good at" or "not health/fit/strong enough for". Yoga meets you where you are.

Is Yoga a Religion?

In short, no.

Yoga is often associated with the Hindu belief system because it is a tradition often used by Hindu communities. It is also associated with Buddhism and Jainism as these religions have used yoga throughout yoga's history to help them find their higher selves or reach spiritual nirvana.

Yoga is associated with these religions, but it does not conform to them. Think of prayer - prayer is used by Christians, Buddhists, Jewish people, Muslims, people who practice Hindu, and many more. Does this make prayer a religion or does it tie prayer to only certain religions? No! Prayer, like yoga, is a practice used to aid people in their spiritual journey (whatever their belief system may be).

I'm (insert religion here), Can I still Practice Yoga?

Of course! Your yoga practice is just that - YOURS. If there is something you don't like or something that doesn't match your personal values and beliefs, don't do it! If there is something you love about your personal beliefs that you would like to incorporate - for example: praying during/instead of meditating - go for it!

If you are worried/concerned about doing yoga due to your religion, that's ok. Yoga is something that you should only do if you feel it would benefit you and your goals. If you are interested in yoga, but would like to make sure that it fits with your values, below are some yoga-based resources for some different religions.

This is by no means an all inclusive list. When considering the yoga practice, keep in mind that yoga is based on the science of the self. The purpose is to reach your personal goals and heal many things that ail you. You use it to your benefit, not the other way around.

How to Start Your Yoga Practice

1. Set your intentions

If you would like to see a spiritual benefit from your yoga practice, it is important to set your intention before you begin. Some see this is "speaking it into existence", some see it as praying for what you want/need, and some just see it as a reminder to yourself of why you're even doing this. Regardless of your reasoning, it is always important to set your intention so that you have a clear goal to work toward. For example:

I want to become a happier, more successful version of myself.

This is an intention that one might set before embarking on their own spiritual journey with yoga. The same intention could be set in this way:

God, if it is Your will, allow me to feel happiness and reach success.

2. Find a method of Yoga that suits you

In the previous yoga post, we go over the different types of yoga, how they differ, and what they can be used for. It is important to find a method that suits you personally so that you can use it to build your practice. If religion is important to you, that method might be one of the religions types of yoga listed above. If not, explore different types and see which one speaks to you.

If you are trying to become stronger, healthier, or more flexible, Hatha yoga may be your best bet as it is very physically focused. If your goal is spiritual clarity, Kundalini yoga could be right for you.

3. Research the different yoga poses

I've found that the best place to look up yoga poses is Yoga Journal. On this site, you can search by benefit of the pose, type, anatomy, and a few other characteristics of the poses.

4. Start practicing!

Your practice starts when you start practicing! To reach the full physical benefits of yoga, you'll need to know the intricacies such as how to flow different poses together and which ones work best with each other, but that will come with time. I recommended attending a yoga class, but it's not required to practice yoga!

How to Reach the Highest Benefit for Spiritual and Mental Health

  • Be your own biggest fan.

  • Meditate often.

  • Find a yoga community that you enjoy being in.

  • Practice often.

  • Keep at it, even when things get rough.

Yoga is a tool, just like many different thing we all use in life to make ourselves better. It is not a cure-all and it is not a band-aid, but it can be useful in reaching your fullest potential.


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