Growing up as a young Roman Catholic boy, I served morning mass daily during my summer vacations and every Saturday morning during the school year. I would wake early and ride my bike six blocks to St. Jerome’s church in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Most mornings few people came. It would be just me, a priest, and a couple of elderly parishioners.
I didn’t serve mass because I wanted to but because I came from a VERY Catholic family, and that’s what I was expected to do. I’m quite confident that my childhood can out-Catholic just about anyone’s. Try me. My mother was a former Roman Catholic nun, and I attended St. Lawerence Seminary in Mt. Calvary, Wisconsin, a private boarding school and training ground for aspiring priests.
Even still, it didn’t take. I saw far too many actions committed by “holy” people that didn’t reflect the values and beliefs they claimed to hold. I got booted from boarding school my senior year, and I never looked back.
I found yoga when I was 24. I was lucky. I found it in a book and not in a studio. Yoga classes were all but non-existent in the Midwest in the early 90’s, but the pseudo-religious studio scene was already alive and well in NYC and on the west coast. I began practicing simple postures and slowly the discipline revealed itself.
Through yoga I learned an ethic for living a happier, healthier and more spiritually grounded life. But it wasn’t the eastern religious element that changed me. It wasn’t chanting to Shiva, or saying Namaste. I didn’t adopt a spiritual name or become a Buddhist. The yoga practice itself changed me. Nothing more. It was the movement, the power of the breath, and the lessons I learned while on my mat that permanently etched themselves deep into my heart and taught me how to be a better person.
And to me that’s what it’s really all about – being a better person.
When yoga was imported from the East it came packaged in the trappings of eastern mysticism, and it’s easy to assume that one without the other doesn’t work. There are forms of yoga in India to this day that are very religious with gods and goddesses and rituals of all kinds, but modern yoga, with its emphasis on the physical body, can be the exception.
There is a universal cognition to movement and breath that transcends culture or religion. Movement is not Hindu, it’s not Buddhist, and it’s not Christian. It is a language of the human body, and there are truths that can be discovered in your daily yoga practice that are as profound as any uttered by the prophets or the sages.
I know this to be true because I have practiced yoga for almost 20 years. But I wonder how self-evident this might be to a new student eager for the benefits of a yoga practice who wanders into a studio with Hindu deities painted on the wall, where sanskrit prayers are chanted, and they’re surrounded by people with their hands folded in prayer. What if this new student struggles with the same religious aversion I did.
I would have walked out.
There are some 20 million people practicing yoga in the United States according to a recent study by Yoga Journal. Some might think that’s good, but I don’t. That’s only 8.7 percent of the total number of U.S. adults.
Yoga is for everyone. I can’t think of anyone I know who wouldn’t benefit from a personal practice. But the cultural and religious remnants of its Indian origin can create barriers. And the message many people are encountering in yoga is that it’s religious. But you don’t need to do holy yoga to make it work.
Adamantine® Yoga offers an authentic, experience based system that anyone can access, regardless of belief system or cultural background. My sincere wish is that through this approach many more people can find their way to the practice of yoga, and that together we can co-create a happier, healthier, and more spiritually grounded world.