In recent years, I’ve become something of a yoga junkie. The first time I chanted a sanskrit mantra in a room full of strangers, I felt my heart open. Magic filled the air, and I came alive. For me, yoga is like participating in group ritual every week. Yoga has become a deep part of my spiritual practice, as it has for so many others from a myriad of faiths. It truly is a place of oneness, a place of peace.
The magical aspects of yoga are well documented within the Hindu context, but how does a modern Pagan find connection with the Divine on the mat? The answer is deceptively simple: any way she chooses. Yoga is a practice which celebrates individuality while at the same time encouraging a temporary setting aside of the self. For me, it’s a liberating practice that continues to teach me the physical, spiritual, and literal significance of placing my head beneath my heart. The calm and oneness that I have discovered through my practice of yoga continues to inform both my magical and mundane actions. Consider for a moment three of my favorite yoga postures:
Many people are familiar with child’s pose, where you kneel on the ground, pressing your forehead into the floor while either reaching your arms in front of you or curling them protectively around your heels. It’s a relaxing pose, but also a powerful one: I’ve found that child’s pose is an excellent way to open the third eye, and it’s also an example of head-beneath-heart, physically changing the balance of your body so that your heart rises to the top. It’s important for me to take head-beneath-heart poses because these postures reminds me to trust my heart while at the same time giving me a physical sense of surrender. For those of you who are as anal as I can be, it’s challenging and liberating to place our heads beneath our hearts. In my nightly practice, I’ve taken to spending a good chunk of time in front of my altar in child’s pose, and it always leaves me feeling closer to Goddess and to my true self.
Another pose which has become important in my practice is Goddess. As you can imagine with that name, this is a powerful, invigorating pose. It can also be difficult, much like our relationship with the Divine. Goddess Pose involves standing with your legs spread wider than your hips and lowering into a square lunge. Lift your arms to shoulder height, bending the elbows at a ninety degree angle with your palms facing the front of the room and your fingertips reaching to the sky. The pose can be as easy or challenging as you wish, depending on the depth of your lunge. In the middle of a tough flow class, this pose sends energy coursing through my body, drawing from the earth and the sky. Whenever I need to feel empowered, this is the posture I take, and it’s also a great pose for energy raising.
The third and final pose which is vital to my spiritual practice is shavasana, also known as corpse pose. This popular pose is fairly simple; just lie on your back in a state of relaxed bliss. Until recently, I saw this pose as the reward of a challenging yoga class. I wanted to feel like I’d earned shavasana. But on the recent Winter Solstice, I attended a gentle restorative yoga class that has forever changed the way I view this pose. In counter to my usually active flow classes, this restorative class involved lying on the mat in a variety of gentle poses designed to activate each chakra. As a way to celebrate the sacred darkness and the coming of the light, the class was perfect; it was meditative, slow, and filled with healing energy. While lying on my back in shavasana, I finally realized that this pose isn’t about reward. There’s nothing to earn; stillness waits for each of us if we can just slow down and accept it. I have begun to incorporate this pose into my day, taking it in the morning before I rise when I speak to Isis, and again in the evening before I sleep while I look back over my day and give thanks.
There are countless physical benefits that come with a regular exercise practice like yoga, but for me, my weekly class isn’t about shaping up and slimming down. Yoga is a communal expression of my spirituality, and it provides me the opportunity to deepen my relationship with Goddess, myself, and the ever-expanding Universe. It can be hard to find time in each busy day to connect with the Divine, but incorporating yoga poses into my daily devotional practice has helped, and my weekly class gives me the precious gift of two hours each week devoted to my spiritual practice. Which poses speak to your heart?
(Which, as I recently explained to my mom after her first yoga class, means “that which is divine within me acknowledges that which is divine within you.”)