The Spiritual Benefits of Yoga

Personal training includes more than lifting weights. At the West Chester Area YMCA, trainer Kim is showing you how to include yoga stretches.

By Jessica Hildebrand, Yoga Instructor at the YMCA of Greater Brandywine

While the practice that we perform on our mats can be oriented greatly towards physical movements, the practice itself holds potential for deeper
union far beyond performance of the postures themselves.

Yoga means “to unify.” To create union. To integrate. A yoga practice offers us the chance to unify and to cultivate harmony. Between our movement and our breath. Between activity and stillness. Between ourselves and others. Between our external life and its intrinsic meaning. Between our thinking minds and our inner beings.

When we open ourselves up to welcome this union into our practice, a very ordinary class can generate a very sacred experience.

From a spiritual perspective, yoga enables us to practice acceptance, access inner peace, and tap into our own inner guidance.

Practicing acceptance.

The space and variation offered within each yoga class holds within it endless potential. And each class possesses its own uniqueness. Perhaps we are introduced to a new way to transition between two postures. Perhaps our favorite teacher is absent and replaced with a sub we are unfamiliar with. Or perhaps someone else rolls their mat out in the place we typically select. Each new experience can introduce us to a new consideration and can offer us a chance to accept what is.

Each practice contains a unique combination of movement, stillness, and breath - just as our life does. There is likely one aspect that we are more comfortable with than others, but the mat offers us the space to practice each and strengthen through the variability. When practicing on our own, we may default to what we’re more comfortable with - perhaps avoiding stillness in meditation or choosing to repeat Sun Salutations again and again. Our yoga practice opens us up to “new,” and with each new introduction, a new practice in acceptance. In allowing what is, we unify ourselves with the present moment rather than denying it. And in unifying with what is, we are honoring the harmony available.
Accessing inner peace.

The more often we honor the practice of acceptance on our mat, the increased opportunity we have to align with the inner peace we possess. When we engage in a posture, there are two occurrences happening - our performance of the posture and our reaction to our performance in the posture. When we view the practice of yoga as an opportunity to generate harmony in our beings, we can lessen our response to our performance. No matter how we perform the pose itself, we don’t need to view it through our minds. We don’t need to evaluate it or grade it. We can simply experience it and accept it. In removing the judgment from our performance of the yoga poses, we begin to lessen the reaction we bring to them and the resistance we create within ourselves. A very ordinary transition from Plank to Downdog can bring with it an opportunity to surrender our minds to the movement.

Each pose offers us the chance to practice this, and we can continue to cultivate this sense of peace within. The practice of surrendering our mental response to our physical performance has compounding benefits, and the more often we let go of judgment in our practice, the more peace and contentment we can welcome into our beings. When we practice this non-responsiveness on our mats, we can begin to observe a non-responsiveness in our daily interactions. Harmony inwardly can begin to radiate harmony outwardly.

Receiving inner wisdom.

As we increase the store of harmony within, we begin to observe an increased spaciousness in our beings. Resistance ties knots in our minds and bodies.
Acceptance loosens those knots and creates room to welcome additional blessings. The more space that is generated through our practice, the more we are able to tap into the innate wisdom within.

When we allow ourselves to be quiet, we create mental space. When we allow ourselves to flow freely in our movements, we create physical space. When we allow ourselves to be still, we create an energetic space. When we allow ourselves to reduce resistance, we create emotional space. And when we create space, we create room to hear.

Our inner wisdom can speak softly and require care, attention, and intention to connect with. Our inner guidance is the intersection of the divine within. This guidance is constant. This guidance is empowering. And this guidance is ever- 
expanding. But in order for this wisdom to expand within our beings, it is critical to intentionally generate space and listen. Our yoga practice enables us to do just that.

The most ordinary time on our mat can enable the most divine of outcomes. Acceptance, inner peace, and inner wisdom are available to us always, but they can feel hidden in the busyness of our lives. Competing priorities can take precedence. And it is so easy to doubt the accessibility of such blessings. By taking 55 minutes for ourselves in our yoga practice - to slow down, get quiet, be right where we are, and move with intention - we access and amplify the sacredness available to surround and sustain us.

Yoga and mind-body classes at the YMCA of Greater Brandywine are included with the cost of membership. Explore available classes.