If you have ever been to a yoga studio then I bet you came across at least two Hindu Gods. Ganesha, the guy with an elephant’s head, and Shiva, Maha Yogi, usually in his wild dancing pose.
When you come to my classes, it’s likely that you meet some of the Gods. Sometimes I tell you stories about them or we practice poses that are named after certain deities. Also, I can tell you, there are a few more Hindu Gods and Goddesses than just the two mentioned above that are worth meeting them on the mat.
But why do I and other yoga teachers tell you stories of a foreign religion? What has this to do with yoga when everybody is saying yoga is NO religion?
Yoga is no religion but intertwined with Hinduism
The first thing I want to get clear here is that Yoga is NO religion! Over the course of time, a lot of different “styles” of Yoga arose, with every style giving more focus to a certain aspect than another style. Some of them include devotional practices, like chanting the names of God, so it’s the name of the God from the culture Yoga came from. That’s it. If you’re into the God-thing – great! But you can also chant the Name of Jesus or Allah or whoever and don’t have to convert to Hinduism to become a “real yogi”.
Yoga is a philosophical system that includes mental and physical exercises to gain knowledge of the self and to cultivate inner peace and freedom. It’s designed to balance body, mind and spirit. It can bring you to a spiritual practice but you don’t need to be spiritual to start. Easy as that.
However, this philosophical system developed in a time where the Indian subcontinent was influenced by a lot of different cultural streams and the end-product you could say was Hinduism as we know it today. It was a mystical time where Rishis (seers, having visions in meditation), half-gods and all other mystical beings belonged to the materialistic world. They gave their wisdom to people who wrote these things down and some of these stories became epics. In texts like the Bhagavad Gita, for example, the two main characters, Krishna and Arjuna, talk about things like Karma, Dharma and Yoga. There are stories out there in which you can read that Shiva received in a meditational state of mind the wisdom of Yoga and without him, they say, Yoga would have never made it to the world. Therefore we name him God of the Yogis.
So again: Yoga is no religion, but you can’t avoid that you won’t find some deities on your journey through the yoga world because of the cultural background.
Yogi Soap Opera and what we can learn from it
When I came across the Hindu mythology, I inevitably fell in love with it from the first second on. And here is why: When you look at the stories of these gods and goddesses you may feel like you just stumbled across a crazy, wild and colourful soap opera. In contrast to many other Gods of world religions, the Hindu Gods have flaws! Yes right, they are not perfect! Of course, they have some special superpowers and their lives seem more or less relaxed and nice but every now and then these Gods get bonkers. Shiva, the meditating, relaxed Rastafarian, the God of the Gods, can get so pissed off if you upset him. So upset, that even one time, he killed his own son (but that’s the story of Ganesha, another interesting one to tell). His wife Parvati, a loving mother and keeper of the fire at home, in the form of Kali, is everything except a calm housewife. When Kali gets upset she shows the wild side of the Lioness, she roars and screams, runs around naked and kills everyone threatening her tribe…up to the point where she fells into a blood rage and only her beloved Shiva can calm her down. I could go on and on but the thing I like to point out is: These Hindu deities in all their divinity sometimes make mistakes. Like humans. Like every one of us. This creates sympathy. You can relate to something if it sounds familiar to you. You can’t relate to a super perfect God that never does anything wrong. Or a God that is telling you to feel guilt and shame for your mistakes. It’s heavy to keep up with such an idol.
When it comes to yoga classes, me and other teachers, don’t want you to convert to Hinduism or don’t want to tell you that the religion you have is nonsense. Nope. That’s all up to you. The thing we want to do when telling these stories is to show you: everyone is special and has super powers but sometimes life is hard and we lose it. And that’s totally okay. Because we can remember ourselves of our powers and decide which path we want to walk. So when we chant the Mantra of these God’s we just want to connect ourselves to these qualities. When we chant to Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, we know that there won’t be an elephant appearing to help us in the office, but we want to connect to the qualities that the God represents. So when we chant to Ganesha, we want to cultivate a sense of being unstoppable, clever enough to find solutions for our problems, strong enough to take action.
Om Namah Shivaya!
I hope you liked this little text and it gave you an understanding of why every now and then you can meet some deities in the yoga world. Give them a chance, even if you are not religious at all, and no matter what your religion is. They can become your buddies, buddies that have been to similar struggles but also buddies that offer simple solutions to these struggles. If you’re not becoming buddies, use their stories as metaphors. It’s all within ourselves but sometimes it’s okay to get a little help from a friend or a funny story.
Nice Sunday evening everyone,
Laugh & Love (and maybe sing some mantra 😉 ), Namaste!