Yoga is My Spiritual ESL

My mala beads given to me during Teacher Training and made by my teacher/friend/boss Sherri.

My mala beads given to me during Teacher Training and made by my teacher/friend/boss Sherri.

This week I have been reflecting on my teacher training experience. How have I changed since that time? Who am I becoming as a teacher? Those sorts of thoughts have been swimming around my brain. I keep coming back to one experience that I would like to share with folks.

First, let me explain the title of this post. I was raised Catholic. I still identify as being Catholic. My marriage is blessed by the Church, I am confirmed, and the teachings still resonate with me. These days, I tend to prefer the teachings of Mystical Catholicism. And I really appreciate Richard Rohr’s work for introducing me to these teachings. Catholicism for me is like a native tongue through which I can communicate my spirituality.

Yoga, however, has been like taking an ESL class. It gives me a new vocabulary to describe the divine. Much like learning a new language allows you to express thoughts and feelings your native language might not describe, Yoga has taught me how to understand and experience the spiritual in a way that the Catholic Church did not. One is not better or more important to me. They complement each other and allow me to express a fuller and more beautiful understanding of God. This is because Yoga is not a religion. It is considered a science, or a system, that allows you to work toward oneness with the Divine.

Ok, so what does all that have to do with my experience of Yoga Teacher Training? I wasn’t always in such an understanding place when it comes to my spirituality as dual languages. I often felt conflicted in pursuing a deeper understanding of Eastern spiritual practices when I was raised in a very Western way. One example of this came up when we were given our mala beads.

Mala beads are used for mantra practice. The mantra can be anything that resonates with you and can be given to you by a guru if you have one. As my teacher said, “Your mantra can be ‘I love Jesus’ if you want it to be.” You repeat the mantra 108 times because 108 is a sacred and auspicious number. The repetition creates a meditative state.

Photos by http://www.cinthyazuniga.com/

Photos by http://www.cinthyazuniga.com/

Mala beads, their purpose and their practice, draws a lot of parallels with the Rosary. Historically speaking, mala beads came into practice first (around the 8th century BC) and it is clear that Christians adapted them into a new form. Praying the Rosary involves the recitation of different prayers and reflection on the mysteries of Jesus and Mary’s lives. A rosary is considered a very sacred object and in that stature they are not treated as jewelry. They are not to be worn. Mala beads, however, are sacred but are meant to be kept close to your heart. They are to meant to be worn.

This conflict was incredibly difficult for me in my teacher training. I also had a hard time describing why this was such an internal struggle. I was lucky enough to have another teacher who was also raised Catholic and could empathize with me. He and I talked through what I was feeling and I was able to resolve my internal conflict.

I am lucky to now work for both teachers that are referenced in this story. They are two of my best friends and help me muddle through all manner of spiritual questions. When I think about who I am becoming as a teacher, I see that I am becoming better at speaking different spiritual languages. I can see that I am able to share the spiritual teachings of Yoga with other Christians in my life. And we can all benefit from this contemplative living.