Sufism, Buddhism and Yoga are three great rivers that carry many people toward the light. Yoga in particular is surging across the globe. A February 2005 Harris poll commissioned by Yoga Journal, the leading American Yoga magazine, found that 7.5 percent of U.S. adults, or 16.5 million people, now practice Hatha Yoga.
Sufism, Buddhism and Yoga are three great rivers that carry many people toward the light. Yoga in particular is surging across the globe. A February 2005 Harris poll commissioned by Yoga Journal, the leading American Yoga magazine, found that 7.5 percent of U.S. adults, or 16.5 million people, now practice Hatha Yoga. That’s an increase of 43 percent from 2002. Notably, many people are turning to this ancient regime not only as an alternative form of exercise, but also for the spiritual experience they cannot find in a church, temple, synagogue, mosque, or website.
Yet a common criticism of Hatha Yoga is that it is not really a spiritual practice unto itself, that it is solely a body/health regimen and therefore the serious aspirant on a spiritual path need not bother with it. It is an arguable point of view, but consider this: the Yoga tradition teaches us that our bodies manifest our samskaras (inherent tendencies) carried into this life from our previous lives, and these samskaras predetermine much of our behavior, both helpful and detrimental. By consciously manipulating the body with breathing practices and postures in Hatha Yoga, we can straighten the crooked course of our samskaras, altering the course of our life.
Equally significant is that we hold our past emotional experiences, energetically, in our bodies. So many of us become unexplainably stuck on our path, not from lack of effort, but because of the chains of the past known as anger, grief, and fear. These buried emotions, like splinters in the heart, can be crippling to our spiritual practice. It is as simple as this: when people are in pain, they become self-centered and myopic. When people heal, they become more empathetic, self-less, and sympathetic to the pain and welfare of others.
Through the practice of Yoga, in particular the breathing practices, we can liberate these buried emotions and experience a rapid and meaningful transformation. So our God Intent, fueled with breath and powered by our will, ultimately realigns an emotionally misaligned body.
When I stumbled upon Yoga in my own life nearly two decades ago, I knew well what spiritual practice was, and I knew what exercise was—but I had never seen a system that combined the two except for martial arts. But martial arts usually involve a fighting mindset, while my aim was peace within and unity with all. After a month of practicing Yoga three times a week, I finally connected the dots and understood Hatha Yoga as an integral part of spiritual, and even mystical practice. At its simplest, Hatha Yoga supports the body of the seeker on his or her spiritual quest. It enables and empowers our other practices: breathing, meditation, ritual, and daily life itself. Why damage your back and knees in meditation when this can be deterred with the addition of a short regime of yoga to support your body before meditation? Why suffer from internal disorders and years of chronic pain when through conscious work this can be avoided? Why prematurely shorten your life and transformational practice through neglect of the body? The vehicle we travel in must be kept in order, or travel on the road of internal transformation becomes difficult, then painful, then impossible.
Integrating and balancing is one of the seminal purposes of Hatha Yoga. This requires us to develop strength where we are weak and flexibility or openness where we are congested—in body, mind, and emotions. As long as we are imbalanced, our lives and our spiritual path will be hindered. It could be said that Hatha Yoga is the foundation of the temple. This is because Yoga takes one’s spiritual life and embodies it, heals it, and removes stress and pain. After a time, the drugs one may have depended on to battle depression, sleeplessness and ulcers are no longer needed. Yoga works, regardless of your belief system. Try it three times a week for one month and see for yourself. Health comes as a side effect from a grander intent—the intent to breathe in God, and to ultimately embody God.
Why Hatha Yoga