Through the practice of yoga, the yogi sees the Divine Self in all beings and things.
Bhagavad Gita VI.29
I, like maybe some of you, have an aversion to the word God. But I really couldn’t figure out why. I have been contemplating it for a while…and then I was riding the subway at 7:30 a.m., had not had coffee yet, and someone in the subway car started preaching, VERY LOUDLY, about how only Jesus can save me, and I am going to hell if I don’t give my life over to God. This situation alone might cause an aversion to God. If God loved me, I wouldn’t be subjected to this at 7:30 in the morning!
But in all seriousness, one of the reasons it bothered me so much is that I was raised Jewish, and I don’t very much enjoy having someone else’s God being pushed on me. But I’m not sure I feel comfortable with Judaism’s version of God either…where, like in many other religions, God could be wrathful, punishing you for something done wrong. While growing up, I can remember my mom saying many times “God’s going to punish you.” I also found that I was doing things, like going to temple or fasting on Yom Kippur, because “I am supposed to,” or “I should,” and not because I truly believed in what I was doing.
And then there is yoga. I wasn’t very comfortable with yoga at first, with chanting the names of different deities, and having altars to those deities in front of me – the complete opposite of Judaism – where God doesn’t even have a name, and any imagery at all is considered idolatry. But the more I dove into my practice, the more I came to love it, because it is all about love. While the yogic scriptures refer to a higher power, it is an unnamed higher power. Yogic philosophy allows you to view a higher power in whatever way you need to, your own personal God. Jesus, Allah, Krishna, Mother Nature; whatever you need it to be. Yoga is all-inclusive, non-denominational, without any preferences. Where it is ok to have feelings and emotions that may seem negative, like anger, jealousy, fear; and there are no “shoulds” – the key is how you react to those feelings. In fact, throughout your asana practice, a lot of those feelings may come up. Maybe the teacher calls out a 5th wheel when we typically only do 3, or asks you to think about someone who may have hurt you while you are in that last wheel. Or in my case, asks you to do an asana in a different way than you have been for the last 5 years. How do you react? The practice, as our Sanskrit teacher Manorama said recently, is having the courage to sit with it. Allow yourself to have those feelings, even if they seem negative. There is no judgment. And if there is judgment, sit with that too. Eventually, through the practices of yoga, you will realize that you are the same as the annoying preacher on the subway, the person who hurt you, the trees, cows, grass, even the subway rats. We all come from the divine – however you choose to view it.