Yoga has increased in popularity in the Western world. Many see it solely as exercise. There is no doubt yoga is good for the physical body, but it can do much more. I think it is the mental and spiritual benefits of yoga that has given rise to its popularity. There are plenty of exercise crazes but none have endured like yoga, because yoga’s benefits go far beyond the physical.
Yes, for some yoga is only an exercise. But with dedication and practice it can become a way to discover and develop one’s spirituality. Yoga has its roots in Eastern spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism. But you do not need to be Buddhist or Hindu to feel the spiritual effects of yoga. Yoga means union. Concentration on the breathing and the postures unites the mind and the body. With enough practice, this can keep the mind free of every-day, mundane thoughts and create a prayer-like or meditative state to experience the divine. It doesn’t matter what religion you identify with or what spiritual tradition you follow; the union of body, mind and spirit can help everyone get in touch with the divine. A steady practice can be the means for spiritual growth. This is why I believe yoga has attracted so many people. No matter one’s background or religious beliefs, yoga can enhance one’s spiritual life. It is a way to escape the busyness of daily life and de-stress. This leaves space for the spirit to be the main actor rather than the mind with its logic and emotions.
The union of body, mind and spirit directly opposes secular life. This may be another reason for yoga’s popularity. It is a safe space to combine facets of life and challenge the incessant categorizing that Western society demands. Yoga can be the first step in the rejection secularism. People integrate mind, body and spirit on the mat as practice to do so in the wider world. Then there is no separation of divine and mundane. The divine is no longer a lofty and obscure but immediately present. The mundane becomes worthy of awe and reverence. When categories are not absolute, everything has the potential to be a spiritual experience. Through the union of the mundane and divine, even an exercise class can feed the soul.