many paths, one peak: why yoga lives on after 5,000 years

Just out of weekend number two of yoga teacher training. My physical stamina has improved slightly, as in tonight, unlike last Sunday, I did not bolt out of the tiny Manhattan room at the close of the weekend like a rat finally allowed to leave a stuffy box and reunite with long lost fresh air and sunshine. This weekend, I didn’t grieve silently inside for all the lazy weekend moments I had lost, the ability to linger in bed in the mornings and wake up slowly, getting breakfast with unkempt hair and responding to texts from friends with a phrase other than, “Not now, I’m in class.” This weekend, I started to get in it.

Part of that was because I began to see the value of the way the program is structured, without reverence for any particular dogma or lineage of yoga, with a focus on understanding the vast Indian/Hindu history and origins of yoga and that it is a tool, a framework, on which many different belief systems can comfortably sit. Certainly yoga is linked with the Hindu religious tradition, although it is over 5,000 years old and thus predates most religions. The “asanas” or poses were originally meant to assist one in meditation, as a way of allowing the body to sit for longer periods of time without distraction, to clear the mind of thoughts due to the focus on breath and movement, and ultimately, to allow the conscious mind fall away and let the unconscious, higher self shine through. Thus the intextricable linkage between yoga and meditation, yoga and a philosophy that seeks truth with a capital T. What is refreshing is that apparently this quieting of the mind and connection with higher self, with nature, with other beings does not assume a particular name, does not preach, requires not a particular path or set of actions… in a way, it is not a religion. In a way, it is all. In a way, it is just finding some inner peace in a city where hippies are shamed and the religious are labeled “fanatics.”

As someone who has been in and out of religions for years, holds science and intellect dearly, and still never once ceased to call myself spiritual, I embrace any practice that refuses to take on a label. I am cautious that we don’t sway to one extreme or another, assuming that all yogis are praying to God when we say “Namaste” or even assuming (as sometimes us city liberals do) that this is a purely physical practice and it would be off-putting to mention the heavy issue of “spirit” for fear of being called preachy or a softie. I am emotional and non-religiously spiritual, and likely my classes will have both of these elements in them. The incredible value that I’m gaining, however, is to understand the full spectrum of reasons why people do yoga… and to learn to structure a class so that it is inclusive of all of these motivations. Isn’t that the mark of a teacher, is offering the variety of resources different students might seek? And so overall, and despite the unfamiliar language and customs, the yogic tradition is pretty darn rapidly growing on me. As it says, there are many paths up the mountain, and all lead to the same peak.

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