Good day readers and fellow bloggers. It’s a beautiful sunny day today in the midwest and I just spent part of it driving with my windows down to take in that awesome smooth breeze. The sun’s out in its full power, there are beautiful people out making the most of the brilliant sunny day tossing Frisbees, spiffing up colorful perennials in front yards, and spandex clad cyclists whizzing past on their sleek road bikes. For the most part, people are driving at reasonable speeds, which makes my journey even more awesome.
Driving along the busy strip filled with trendy restaurants, artsy stores and shops, I notice a large eye catching sign printed in ornate cobalt blue letters advertising free trial yoga classes. The sign immediately takes me back a number of years to when I’d made the decision to leave the security of my job to become a full-time freelance yoga instructor and aspirations to open my own yoga center. I’d been practicing yoga years before yoga had become the cool thing to do. I’d felt a rush of enthusiasm at the thought of helping others with their yoga practice and reaping the gratification at seeing the looks of achievement on participants’ faces. I dove in full force, obtaining teacher certifications, received my yoga teacher insurance from the California Yoga Teacher’s Association, and participated in countless intensives and seminars. It hadn’t long before I had matched the salary from my full-time job as an Administrative Assistant at Columbia College. I taught at least 25 classes a week at various fitness centers and yoga studios as well as taken on a number of private and semi-private students in my home. I was in my element, even being invited to lead seminars in public libraries on the background of yoga. I enjoyed the autonomy, of meeting new interesting people, and making the science of yoga more appealing to those who would otherwise feel intimidated by media depictions of svelte, athletic models.
Conversely, the inception of my yoga teaching days was also during the time when I was still attempting to ignore the red flags about the religious world. Even though I wasn’t involved in organized religion, the god language was still there. I’d even written a few articles for Yoga Chicago, a local yoga publication which made reference to a god presence during sunrise yoga on the beach. However the articles were never directed to any specific religion, simply presented as spirituality. But even in doing so, I started to attract people who not only loved yoga, but also held tightly to their religious beliefs. I’d learned about a number of yoga enthusiasts who had incorporated the practice into their Christian faith. Of course it was aptly branded and marketed as Christian Yoga. I found this a little surprising because there were some participants in my classes who were initially skeptical and feared that practicing yoga would require conversion to Hinduism. But the tag line was that the goal of the practice was to bring praises to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through yoga movements. This population even went as far as renaming the ancient poses to fit the Christian theme. For example, the seated staff pose had suddenly been renamed the “Moses staff pose.” Yet again I made the mistake of ignoring the internal cringing in response to such a thing.
Being a full-time yoga instructor, I felt compelled to stay apprised of current trends in the practice. Even if I wasn’t in agreement with the direction of those trends, I would at least need to be educated as to what was out there. I’d seen hip hop yoga, Motown yoga, Mommy and Me Yoga and a host of other derivatives. As I decided to look into what “Christian yoga” was all about, I thought that a reputable resource would be a popular Christian bookstore chain. Today as I was driving and noticed the advertisement for a yoga center, the memories flooded in like a tidal wave regarding the infamous experience I had as a yoga instructor walking into a Christian bookstore. The middle aged male cashier seemed friendly and welcoming enough. However his demeanor changed abruptly when I asked if he had any books or videos about Christian Yoga. His response still echoes to this day.
“What!? Christian Yoga!? Absolutely not! We would never carry anything like that here. That’s mixing the good news of the gospel with the dark arts!” he exclaimed his brow furrowed, the corners of his mouth drawing back in a blatant look of disgust.
Since that day, I’ve had countless exposures to yoga advertisements, yet for some reason passing by the grand opening of a new yoga center triggered memories of the Christian bookstore incident. I could still harbor residual bitterness in response to the brash response that I received from asking a simple question on that infamous day. Quite honestly, the response that I received in the Christian bookstore was a bit startling and it’s no surprise that from time to time it resurfaces. But I’ve learned to simply acknowledge the memory, then release it and enfold myself in gratitude for where I’ve arrived in regards to the sense of liberation and authenticity in living a life devoid of dogma.
I acknowledge that there are many others out there who share that cashier’s sentiments about their religious beliefs. The religious zealots who have their judgments and damnations locked, loaded and ready to fire at not only yoga practitioners, but my fellow non-theists, or marginalized groups such as Secular Buddhists. Responses such as the one from that cashier only continues to add to that smoking gun of stigma aimed at those who do not share their beliefs. Whether it was for the sake of safety or cultural conformity, I spent too many years of making the mistake of sacrificing my authenticity by attempting to fit into that group myself. However it was only a matter of time before the appeal of inner and outer peace associated with living a life of authenticity would override that tendency. And because of that sense of peace, I released the fear of rejection that can unfortunately come with choosing to no longer lie to myself and others about religious beliefs and customs. As a result I’ve had Facebook and Instagram friends disappear. I’ve had relatives suddenly shut down lines of communication with me. The sense of peace that I have in being true to myself is worth the lowered population of Facebook friends or being erased from relatives’ phone books. The friends and relatives who have remained throughout the process are the ones who love and accept me as I am, someone who loves life devoid of faith in a god, holy books, or customs to provide a sense of security for me.
Yes, I’ve found peace and empowerment in my secular life and I try to respect the fact that there are others on the other end of the spectrum who have also found peace be aligning with systems of beliefs and rituals. So while placing faith in religion is not something that I align with, I know that there are many others who do find total solace in that world. And if there are factions of the religious community who equate my being an Agnostic yoga practitioner with the dark arts then so be it. I cannot change that view nor should I try. But what I can do is continue joining other non-theists who want the freedom to live out our lives in peace and enjoyment without being subjected to unwanted proselytizing, conversion techniques, and arbitrary predictions about where we we go after we take our last breaths. So if after all of that I’m labeled as being a practitioner of the dark arts, then I will respond with a resounding Abracadabra!