When you start out practicing yoga, you may notice a prayerful or spiritual element to it. Some yogis like to connect with the divine during their time on the mat. Others like to save spirituality for the temple, church, or other setting and stick to the physical exercise benefits of yoga.
For some folks like myself, the physical and spiritual aspects of yoga blur. Since I am mindful and present during my yoga practice, I see it as a moving meditation at times. Other times, when I fall out of a pose or my body resists a certain shape, I am both humbled and reminded to respect my limits as a spiritual and physical lesson.
Whether you’re a staunch atheist or a spiritually inclined person, you may be curious about whether yoga is related to spirituality. In this article, we’ll cover if yoga is related to spirituality and if so, how. We’ll also explore related topics to yoga, spirituality, and wellness.
Is yoga related to spirituality?
Both spirituality and yoga practices are very individualized and personal. Yoga practice can be spiritual if you choose to make it spiritual. There are plenty of established avenues for incorporating spirituality into yoga.
There is also a wide range of different spiritual aspects of yoga free for exploring as you see fit. Yoga lends itself well to spiritual self-discovery and connection with a divine or higher self. Yoga creates a space for multiple modes of spiritual expression.
As frontiersin.org shares, “These aspects include spiritual aspirations, a search for insight/wisdom, existential thinking, a sense of meaning and peace, as well as the feeling of faith, hope, and compassion. In summary, yoga practice may improve various aspects of spiritual well-being and spiritual intelligence. Yoga practice may also be associated with increased levels of spiritual health, a more positive outlook on life, happiness within, and lower levels of existential anxieties.”
Even the more casual yoga practitioner or the spiritual skeptic can benefit from the spiritual side of regularly practicing yoga poses on the mat. By planting feet and hands deliberately, paying attention to your breath, and moving mindfully, you can feel more present and at peace within your body. If your yoga practice stays strictly physical and steers clear of the spiritual realm, yoga can have mental health benefits that improve your mind and spirit.
As mentioned above, yoga can lower anxiety and increase an overall sense of happiness and positivity. The more spiritual yogis might correlate this improved sense of wellness to the spiritual side of yoga. The more scientific yogis might be more inclined to attribute the improved mood and lowered anxiety to the physiological health benefits of yoga.
Is yoga considered spiritual?
Although yoga can be related to spirituality and incorporated as a spiritual practice, it is not a religion or organized spirituality sect. It doesn’t have a formal creed or set of rules. Yoga practitioners, also called “yogis,” come from all walks of life.
There are Christian yogis, Hindu yogis, Jewish yogis, Buddhist yogis, Atheist yogis, and everything in between. While religion and spiritual belief do not connect yoga enthusiasts, many yogis describe an increased sense of happiness and wellness through regular yoga practice. You can also practice yoga in group settings through yoga classes. Although this isn’t specifically a religious or spiritual gathering, yoga can be a spiritual experience for one or all yoga class attendees.
Some yoga instructors lean further into the spiritual side of yoga while others stick with the physical movements in their instruction. As a “higher power,” the yoga class can be seen as something bigger than our individual selves. Similar to spiritual groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, which allows members to identify the group as a higher power, yoga classes give an opportunity to feel like we’re a part of something greater than ourselves.
In a yoga class, attendees can encourage one another in their spiritual and physical journeys. Although it’s not a religious service, it can have the same sense of fellowship, community, and common values that a religious space would have. As yogaclicks.com discusses, “Although millions of yogis give thanks to their mat every day, yoga is not, and never has been, a religion in its own right.
It does have in common with many religions the idea of personal contemplation; of finding a personal sense of peace, satisfaction, and life’s deeper meaning. However, unlike religion, it has no formal creed, set of rituals, or obligations – unless you count the discipline of a regular practice. Given the lack of formal creed, it’s more accurate to call it a spiritual practice than a religious one.”
Of course, if yoga is a large part of your spiritual life, it doesn’t matter if it’s technically a religion or not. As long as it makes sense to you, you can take whatever spiritual nuggets of wisdom resonate from your practice into your daily life off the mat.
Is yoga spiritual or physical?
As we’ve discussed, yoga can be a very spiritual practice with some physical benefits or vise versa. Although some think of yoga as a low-impact, easy exercise mode, yoga has the potential to be extremely rigorous and challenging. During a yoga session, you are required to not only stretch beyond your limits (physically and spiritually), but you also tend to use muscles that you don’t usually use in everyday activities.
Even though yoga can be a demanding, satisfying physical workout, it’s almost impossible to exercise your body in this practice without exercising your mind at least a little bit, too. Doyou.com sums it up nicely in their article on the subject. As they say, “Yoga is physical, for sure. Regularly practicing yoga develops your stamina, your strength, and your rockstar abs. Postures challenge the body.
However, yoga is also a mental practice where you work through emotional stress and psychological challenges – you may even meditate.” Oftentimes, newcomers come to the mat with the expectation that they will either have an easy workout of stretching and bending or a challenging workout that tests their ability to fold into a human pretzel. After the first class or two, most come to realize that yoga is not about being the most physically fit or the most flexible person in the room.
It’s all about listening to your body, your needs, and growing with every session on the mat. Over time, you may feel compelled to explore the spiritual side of yoga. The yoga community is typically very open to spirituality and accepting of different points of view.
The whole point of yoga is learning to expand and accept yourself and others. Yoga teaches us that what we thought we knew about ourselves or the world isn’t always accurate. When we complete a handstand for the first time or feel truly connected to our core, it can be a physical accomplishment or a spiritual one.
There’s no right or wrong way to do yoga. The key is continuing to show up on the mat even when we might not fully understand how or why yoga is helpful for us. Some call this journey a spiritual one; others simply view it as a psychological side perk.
Your view of yoga as a spiritual practice, a physical practice, or something in between is unique to you and valid. Staying open to the spiritual benefits of yoga can make the experience more interesting and rewarding, though.