YOGA AS A SPIRITUAL PATH

by Janet MacLeod

Some of you may be thinking that what we call yoga in the West is pretty far away from traditional yoga. When the word ‘yoga’ comes up, among other things, we think of a practice that is spiritual.

On checking what the word spiritual means, this is one definition I found: “Spiritual is the adjective form of the word spirit which comes from the Latin word for ‘breath’ and means the thing that animates life”. Spiritual can be used to talk about anything that goes beyond mere physical existence.

Since yoga has become a form of exercise and a fashionable one at that, the connection to spirituality no longer applies. Not only do you have to be strong and flexible to push your body into advanced poses, you have to do this in a fancy yoga outfit.

Because yoga was originally practiced in an Ashram, service was automatically included. Students over and above doing yoga and meditation had to perform a variety of duties to support the ashram. Learning to live together in such a setting in a peaceful way would encourage the disciples to look at their behavior. In this type of setting the spiritual aspect of the subject was a given.

Our teacher, BKS Iyengar was an excellent practitioner of yoga asana and pranayama and because of his own practice was able to transmit what he learned to students of all levels as well as patients with some pretty serious physical challenges. However, he also did service which supported the city of Pune. I attended a ceremony where he was acknowledged for this contribution; others who were acknowledged in the same ceremony were major corporations like Tata located in the City of Pune.

In 2001 when the major earthquake occurred in Gujurat, BKS Iyengar was quick to offer assistance. He sent his teachers from Mumbai with the appropriate sequences to help those who had experienced such a major tragedy. Not only that but in the image above, you can see him helping to load the van bringing supplies to those who were suffering and lost everything.

In 2018 the film, ‘Iyengar, The Man, Yoga and the Student’s Journey’ by Jake Clennell was released. It featured Father Joe Pereira teaching yoga to people who were criminals and drug addicts. Mimi Batliwala also appeared teaching dance and yoga to children who were orphans. Both were inspired by Guruji and wanted to follow his example.

Doing community service for me is a spiritual calling. The calling doesn’t come from a mundane place, it comes from a higher place. The quote I chose for this issue applies to BKS Iyengar, but also to many others, those who have made it their life’s work to help others. There are famous examples like BKS Iyengar, Albert Schweitzer, and Mother Theresa to name a few. There are also people who are not well known whose path is to improve the quality of life of humanity through their professions. These include but are not limited to those in the health and healing professions.

When someone works to help others as her/his path or does this over and above a chosen profession it serves to illustrate that ‘spiritual growth is demonstrated by one’s actions in the world’. I think, particularly in the world today, there are many opportunities for all of us to engage in this spiritual practice.

‘Spiritual growth is only ever demonstrated by one’s actions in the world.’
BKS Iyengar

Love and Light,
Janet

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