Yoga As Prayer

I think that it's safe to say that, for the most part, Americans understand yoga as a system for physical wellness with some sort of vague Indian spirituality mixed in. It's too bad, really. Americans desperately need a deeper and more substantial connection to Spirit but, in their way, Americans found yoga and stripped it of all frills, leaving only the most basic exercise routine. It's been marketed and packaged alongside Pilates, Tae Bo, and Jazzercise. Disappointed in the lack of weight-loss (in comparison to the other exercises listed), Americans tried to make yoga more exciting. One example would be Bikram, or Hot Yoga, which became popular in the United States in 1970s. [note: this is a assumption on my part. I haven't been able to find any sources on why Bikram yoga was developed, but I have read that it claims to burn more calories and remove toxins when, in fact, it does not.]

Bikram yoga is typically done in a temperature controlled area which is kept at 105° F and 40% humidity. Unshockingly, this practice just tends to put people at a risk of dehydration. Studies have shown no improvement in cardiovascular health and that the amount of calories burned are similar to walking steadily (3.5 mph) for 90 minutes. (x)

Why do I bring this up? Because, in my opinion, the majority of Americans have missed the point when it comes to yoga. Yoga will, of course, keep the body limber and help to regulate and stimulate the digestive system, but it's most powerful uses are in improving mental and spiritual health.

It's worth noting that I am not a yoga teacher. I have never taken a yoga class. I have simply practiced yoga alone, in my apartment, for years. I've read about yoga, and I've watched so, so many DVDs and Youtube videos on the subject. I've struggled with yoga for years, having approached it as an exercise that will help me slim down. It was only in the last year that I really began to love yoga, and that's because I stopped focusing on trying to bend farther and push myself. I, instead, began to focus on my breath and on the energy I was feeling.

This shift happened in conjunction with rediscovering the importance of my altar. For most of my life I've felt the need to keep an altar- some sort of space, small or large, which housed things I felt were sacred. It's a practice that began when I practiced Wicca and witchcraft regularly, but even when those practices fell away, I still kept an altar. Often, I built an altar just to do it. Seeing it made me feel good, in some way, and I would sometimes light a candle or burn incense there to, I don't know, really. To pray? To connect to my spirituality? To feel magick?

Over the last several years I started to, once again, use my altar for small rituals and magick, mostly during the sabbats (equinoxes, solstices, and mid-points) and esbats (full moons and new moons). It still felt empty, though. It still felt like I was going through the motions and missing the point. Then, I finally connected with my spirit guides and my consciousness opened radically into the Spirit World. It felt natural, then, to light the candle on my altar whenever I communicated with my guides. A real solid connection formed between my altar and my spiritual existence. I lit the candle and burned incense when I meditated, when I worked on my business, and whenever I needed help from my guides.

My altar is set up on two small bookcases. The bottom two shelved of each bookcase house my personal book collection, and the top shelf and top the bookcases house all of my ritual tools. The only exception is a small table to the left of the altar, on which sits my 40" spiritualist trumpet. It's far too large to sit on the actual altar. Above the bookcases there is a cork-board on the wall which holds sacred writings and symbols, charms, malas, herbal sachets, and mementos sacred to me. It's grown into a lovely space. All of that is kept in my office. In our two bedroom apartment my office occupies one bedroom. My altar, desk, file cabinet, sewing machine, and reiki table take up most of the space, while the closets hold my business supplies and products. My intent in creating this room was to create a sacred space. A whole room dedicated to Spirit. When I come into this room to write or to work on Zu Füß stuff (whether it's seeing a client or sewing sachets) I light a candle and ask for guidance.

I use this space to meditate, to heal, and to read tarot. It wasn't long before I felt called to practice yoga in this inviting and peaceful space. Again, I lit my candles, diffused my oils, and laid out my mat. The connection was obvious and intense. Yoga wasn't about moving very quickly and sweating as much as possible (though I do sweat quite a bit!); it was about quieting the mind and connecting to myself, and, therefore, to Spirit. Suddenly, the asanas were prayers. Suddenly, my movements were gratitude. Suddenly an exercise had turned into a deeply meaningful meditation.

This all started, really, when I discovered Ekhart Yoga. Esther Ekhart is basically the sweetest, most lovely person I've ever "met" (I've never met her in real life, but I've experienced her through her youtube channel). Her gentle and soulful approach to yoga made me feel immediately invited. She combines meditation with her practice, so there is a constant thread of mindfulness. During a 35-minute heart-opening sequence (found here), she talked me through crescent pose. As I struggled to find balance (literally) she reminded me, "look up. Keep it light. Keep it happy." I looked up toward the ceiling and smiled. And, effectively, it was all over. I realized right then that even when I am having a hard time and falling out of poses, my yoga practice is about joy. You know, it isn't just about joy. it is joy. During my practice these days I smile and even laugh. I focus on my breath and on the connection I'm forging with Spirit.

Every day I do about 30 minutes of yoga, but today I tried this 90-minute sequence. There is about an hour of yoga, and then 15 minutes of relaxation followed by 15 minutes of meditation. It's really, really stunning.

It was a hard 90 minutes, and I couldn't do everything. Sometimes I stopped to just breathe, or sometimes I stopped to stand at my altar and exist. But I was able to do most of the poses for as long as they were supposed to be held. It was quite a workout, but it really didn't feel that way.

And that's what continues to surprise me the most. There was a time when it was torture to do 10 or 15 minutes of yoga every day. It felt like work and I just couldn't get into it. Now, however, I do half an hour or more every day and I love it! I'm sure when my body is stronger I'll be able to do more than that! Because now yoga isn't work. It's magick. It's ritual. It's sacred dance. It's ceremony.

For Mabon, the Autumnal Equinox, I did yoga in front of my altar. True, I do yoga every day, but on that day I focused on the turning wheel of the year, and on balance, generally. My yoga practice that day (and, really, every day) accomplished what any pagan ritual or catholic mass accomplishes. It brought me literally and symbolically closer to God.

[Editor's Note: This post was salvaged from a past Zu Foos website. The publication date is, therefore, approximate] 


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