Why I Practice Yoga
Updated: Apr 23, 2021
Yoga is a Sanskrit word that can seem rather esoteric and exotic, even scary, to Western ears. The translation of the word yoga is “to yoke up or join; union.” Using the English translation of yoga can facilitate a better understanding of what joining is all about. It also helps to clarify the intent behind the stretching, meditation, and breathing practices which are associated with yoga. They are a means to joining with a higher consciousness.
I practice yoga because it awakens me to love. Love is what yoga is all about. Christian scripture proclaims, "God is love, and whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them" (I John 4:16). Teresa of Avila, 16th century Spanish mystic, wrote in her mystical treatise, The Interior Castle, "Remember: if you want to make progress on the path and ascend to places you have longed for, the important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens you to love." I consider Teresa my patron saint because she was devoted, daring, defiant, and indomitable. When I practice yoga, I am taking Teresa’s advice.
Yoga is also brilliant psychology. The Yoga Sutras (Threads), attributed to a sage known as Patanjali, is one of the foundational texts on the practice of yoga. The opening line of The Yoga Sutras declares, “Now begins the practice of yoga” (Sutra 1:1). As the text continues, Patanjali states that yoga is the release of the commentary of the mind, which facilitates the seer abiding in their True Nature. Patanjali instructs that this commentary is released through practice and non-attachment and encourages that any effort toward steadiness of mind is practice (Sutras 1:2, 1:3, 1:12, & 1:13).
Julian of Norwich, 14th century mystic, described this higher consciousness in terms of the soul’s home in God:
Our soul sits in God in true rest and stands in God in true strength; it is naturally rooted in God in endless love . . . And in the end, all will be love. I understood this light of love in three ways. First, uncreated love; second, created love; third, given love. Uncreated love is God; created love is our soul in God; given love is virtue. (Revelations of Divine Love, chpts. 56 & 84)
The author of The Mundaka Upanishad, a sacred Indian text, characterized this higher consciousness as the Lord of Love:
The Lord of Love is the one Self of all. He is detached work, spiritual wisdom, and immortality. Realize the Self hidden in the heart and cut asunder the knot of ignorance here and now. Bright but hidden, the Self dwells in the heart. Everything that moves, breathes, opens, and closes lives in the Self. He is the source of love and may be known through love, but not through thought. He is the goal of life. Attain this goal! The shining Self dwells hidden in the heart. (Part 2, v. 1:10 & v. 1-2)
I practice yoga because it gives me the tools I need to join with God, the Lord of Love. So, when I feel ashamed, now begins the practice of joining with Love within me. When I feel afraid, now begins the practice of joining with Love within me. When I feel frustrated and angry, now begins the practice of joining with Love within me. When I am judging myself or others, resisting events or clings to my shoulds, now begins the practice of joining with Love within me. When I, or others, have not lived up to my expectations of perfection, now begins the practice of joining with Love within me.
The practice of joining is accomplished by pausing to become aware, and then releasing the mental narrative that says that things should be different. As I join with Love within me, opening my heart and relaxing into the moment, I detach from the need for things to be like I think they should be—from a particular outcome—and rest in the knowledge that all is well. Centered in Love, I see each moment as an opportunity to make a myriad of life-giving choices, to be lost in admiration and joy, to be the presence of Love. That is why I practice joining.