Is Yoga Just About Exercise?

Ashley ZehnderLet me say this up front: I am a complete and total yoga nut. I love yoga so much, in fact, that I tell people all about it every chance I get. But often, when I get to talking, people stop me and say something like this:

“Tell me the truth, Ashley Zehnder. Does yoga have a spiritual side to it?”

It’s a sticky question. Many of the people who ask me this particular question are worried that they’ll get asked to join a cult or pray to some sky god when they head to their first yoga class. They don’t want to be involved in something that seems even a little bit spiritual or weird. It’s tempting to say yoga has none of that, just to please these people.

But at the same time, I’d be lying if I said yoga was just a form of exercise that people could just do in order to work up a sweat, without worrying about the rest of it. Because yoga really does have a spiritual component.

Long-time yoga practitioners would say that yoga work is all about respect and balance. The positions are designed to put people in touch with the universe as a whole, and the exercises tend to make people care about other living beings at a cellular level. It’s hard to walk away from a class like this without feeling altered in some way.

But I’ve met plenty of people who have done yoga while ignoring the spiritual message altogether. These people might feel stronger and more in-touch with their bodies and feelings, but they may not feel closer to a spiritual power or a universal message.

So I tell people that yoga does have a spiritual side to it, but that they can simply ignore or avoid this part of the class, should they choose to do so.

To me, just getting people to go to yoga is important. Who knows? Once they’re there, they may have a spiritual transformation they just never saw coming.