Yoga for a New Year: More than a Physical Pose

MILLIONS OF AMERICANS now are interested in yoga as a healthful spiritual pursuit. Experts recommend this practice for better living from a wide range of perspectives. Today, ReadTheSpirit welcomes yoga instructor Katherine Austin with her viewpoint on yoga’s hopeful potential.

Exploring Yoga:
It doesn’t matter how we get here

By Katherine Austin I FIRST went to a yoga class 17 years ago, I thought I was going to stretch, to supplement my crazy aerobic schedule. Back then, I taught high-intensity aerobics and when a yoga studio opened across the street, I figured a bit of stretching would help soothe my muscles so I’d teach better.

Boy was I mistaken. God had a bigger plan for me.

Yoga has become a way of life for me and a path to follow to help others heal and raise their consciousness. My way in was one of the many yoga studios that promise you sweat, loud music and a get-in-shape focus. That’s what I needed to hear back then; it’s the only way I would have tried yoga in the first place.

And it served me well. I stayed there for years, as long as I needed to until I could see more of the depth behind the poses, learn about the way yoga transforms your life, how it is an approach to life rather than a mere workout.

Yoga has transformed my life entirely, from living for me and material gratification to living according to a higher purpose. And this driving principle has transformed my relationships, too. I ended an unhealthy marriage and also started a business to help others free themselves from the bondage of unhealthy habits and deep dysfunctional patterns. My children, my dog and I are all healthier, calmer, happier since I discovered yoga and all that goes with it. And I know I’m on my right path in life.

Originating in India, yoga in America is growing at a startling rate. In October 2012, the Pew Research Center released a new study of Americans who are both affiliated and unaffiliated with religious groups. Pew found 1 in 5 Christians new regard yoga as a helpful spiritual practice in addition to a physical discipline. Among all Americans, 1 in 4 agreed with that positive view of yoga. And, among religiously unaffiliated men and women, Pew found 1 in 3 view yoga as spiritual as well as physical. (You can read more about Pew’s new map of the religious world in this ReadTheSpirit story.)

“It’s not just the physical pose,” Cristie Newhart, operational manager of professional training at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in western Massachusetts, said in a US News & World Report article last year. “It’s the breath. It’s learning about nutrition. It’s learning to be in touch with feelings. People are very much attracted to living a more authentic life.” enter yoga where they feel most comfortable—and that is often in the physical body. We think we’re coming to a workout. We think it’s sweat and body-sculpting and finally losing baby weight or battling midlife waistline.

Eventually, many of us, me included, go beyond the physical aspects of yoga and experience the lifestyle and spirituality behind it. Superficial thoughts get us in the door; it’s what we need to hear to step foot into a new world, but really God is directing our souls to higher ground.

You see, there is a divine plan for all of us. Wherever you’re at, your soul will be attracted to the studio you should go to, for exactly what you need at that moment in time.

I never worry about competition for my studio in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, because some people will be attracted to my type of yoga and others will need a different form altogether. You find what you need when you’re ready for it.

At the end of the day, all the posing is really about raising consciousness. That’s not a popular topic in Western society – it’s a bit too touchy-feely for most. But that’s the truth behind the practice that is popping up like chain restaurants in every American neighborhood. Studios abound because people are hungry for connection – with the Self and with a like-minded community of people searching and striving like they are.

As authors Ed and Deb Shapiro wrote on Huffington Post a few years ago, “Yoga was never intended for commercial gain. “Yoga is a way of life that relaxes the body, calms the mind and emotions, and frees the spirit.”

It’s being of service (Karma Yoga); it’s devotion (Bhakti Yoga); it’s knowledge (Gnana Yoga); it’s every step you take, every move you make, every bite you eat (Raja Yoga). It’s awareness.

Yoga takes you out of a selfless funk, where all you care about is physical, material and superficial gain and replaces all that muck with a spiritual pursuit of being a better person and helping heal the world. Yoga Master Swami Satchidananda said, “Yoga is standing on our feet, not just on our head.”

Some people fear that the prayerful aspect of yoga at its core conflicts with religion or other ways of life. It doesn’t. At its core, yoga is a universal acceptance of the godliness in everyone and everything. It’s a universal path toward peace and harmony. And since we all can get hung up on the ego-driven waves of a life in the physical world, it seems we’re all ripe for understanding at the depths that yoga has to offer. Who can argue with that?

Katherine Austin owns Karma Yoga in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Today’s photos by Dave Lewinski; used with permission.

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