There's No Yogi Spirituality Club
Did you ever carry a limiting belief for years, not realizing it was ridiculous until the day you finally summoned the courage to examine it?
This happened to me--quite recently, in fact.
For a long time, I held this idea that there was a “Yogi Spirituality Club” into which I’d never fit. During my years as a yoga practitioner, I watched fellow yogis connect effortlessly to ancient yogic texts, chanting in Sanskrit, and Hindu deities. But I never felt much resonance with any of these things. Deep down, I felt this made me less of a yogi, different from my peers and those senior teachers I aspired to be like. I felt like I’d never make it into the Yogi Spirituality Club.
But what I learned is that this “club” didn’t actually exist, and I have my mentor Greg Nardi to thank for that.
It’s been an incredible blessing to apprentice with Greg. Outside of all his direct instruction, I learn a lot by observing him and the other teachers at Ashtanga Yoga Worldwide. One thing I admire about Greg and the rest of the teachers is their pre-class ritual, in which they take several minutes to sit in front of an altar to Ganesh and chant as a means of centering themselves and connecting to the divine before working with students. It’s a beautiful, wise way to connect back to the spiritual heart of yoga.
A few weeks ago, as I entered the latter half of my apprenticeship, I started thinking more about the kind of teacher I wanted to be. I decided I wanted a pre-class ritual that would do for me what it does for these teachers I look up to. But the thought of creating an altar of my own left me somehow feeling inauthentic.
One day, I mustered the courage to ask Greg about this. If I didn’t trust him so much, I probably would have felt like I was confessing a dirty secret: I didn’t actually resonate with the Hindu spirituality often associated with yoga. So how could I create a sacred space, an altar that I could connect with in a real way?
To my relief, Greg wasn’t fazed by my question. He explained that the purpose of an altar is to connect us back to what spirituality or divine connection means to us personally. For some, a Hindu deity could provide this connection, but it didn’t have to be. Others might find resonance with symbols of a different religion, or objects from nature. The instant he referenced the natural world, I knew I had my answer; I feel no greater connection to the divine as when I am in nature.
So Greg told me to adorn my altar with natural objects that elicited that connection for me. Add a candle and some incense, and that’s it, he said.
As soon as I got home, I grabbed an old teakwood table from my back yard and adorned it with my most treasured natural objects: sea shells from my hometown Cocoa Beach, sea glass and coral from Jamaica and Puerto Rico, some flowers from my yard. I added a lovely ocean-toned pillar candle, my favorite incense, as well as some treasured mala beads from my dear Finding Isvara blogmate Carolyn. I now had the perfect altar I could connect to in an authentic way.
Now I take several moments before class to sit quietly at my altar. I even use one of the chants with which I do feel resonance. Afterwards, I feel centered and ready to teach. Most importantly, this process feels true to me in a way I’d never experienced until now.
Perhaps I finally understand that there is no Yogi Spirituality Club. Rather, yoga provides an open invitation for anyone to explore spirituality in a way that makes sense to them.
So if you’re like me and have struggled to connect to Hindu depictions of spirituality commonly present in the yoga community, don’t be discouraged or think that you don’t belong. There is space for us all to define spirituality on our own terms.