For some, beginning a yoga practice is strictly about the physical benefits. Stretching and strengthening the body, relieving stress and having a group experience with an instructor you connect with is enough for any enthusiast. However, there is no doubt that when you commit to a practice and have the right instructor, yoga becomes more than just a physical act. It enhances a mind body connection and integrates life lessons that you can take off the mat.
This is where we see the spiritual aspects of yoga, not to be confused with a religion. I have had students in class that were uncomfortable bringing their hands into Anjali Mudra at the end because they felt that it was only appropriate during prayer. They were afraid that this simple gesture signified an acceptance of yoga as a contradiction to their beliefs. I wanted to take a moment and add some clarity to the idea of yoga and where it fits into our lives at a spiritual level.
Yoga acknowledges and encourages a deeper connection to something bigger than ourselves. At it’s very root, the meaning of yoga is “union”. This union can begin as simply an awareness of our bodies, but inevitably, as we continue the practice, it becomes something more.
We begin to connect our breath with our movement, we cultivate stillness in our bodies and our minds and we begin to see ourselves as part of something bigger as we let go of the emotional attachment to all of the drama in our lives. When this shift happens, the practice takes on more meaning. Each posture unveils something we can learn about ourselves and we get to experience an awakening of the body and mind when we roll out our mats. This is when we realize our simple movement has created a fundamental shift in our perspective. This is where we enter the spiritual side of our practice.
When you don’t fully understand the teachings of yoga and you haven’t practiced enough to realize the full benefits, it’s easy to be confused. Anjali mudra or bringing the hands into a “prayer” position is one of thousands of mudras used for many different reasons. The meaning of the word Anjali is “offering,”. When we bring our hands together, we are not worshiping, we are making an offering of acknowledgement. Namaste, the word that usually accompanies this offering, is often translated simply as “The light or divinity within me, sees and honors the light or divinity within you.” It’s a salutation of connection and of a deep reverence to the beauty and relationship we have to everything around us.
Yoga can be a way for you to honor your personal religious beliefs through deepening your connection or it can be a way for you to simply honor your body through movement and physical exercise. However, to clear up any confusion you may have, when I hold my hands together to honor you, it is not a form of worship. It’s a symbol of connection and of my acknowledgment that I truly see YOU and all the ways you are a beautiful light in this world.