Despite the fact that yoga asana also serves a physical purpose -- numerous yoga studies have found that it may reduce risk of Alzheimer's, reduce anxiety, increase happiness and improve heart health, among many other physical benefits; yoga also has an extraordinary, and unique effect on our spirit, encouraging clarity of thought, compassion and a feeling of connection to the world around us. These feelings of hope and faith that are associated with a regular yoga practice are quite similar to those we feel in prayer. So it's really no surprise that yoga and prayer have been connected since yoga's first days some 5,000 years ago in Northern India.
Interestingly, yoga was first mentioned in ancient sacred texts, called the Rig Veda, in which over a thousand hymns and mantras in ten chapters known as mandalas, were used by Vedic age priests. Yoga was then refined and developed by Rishis (sages) who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a huge work containing over 200 scriptures.
To distill yoga down to simply a physical practice such as fitness or exercise would discredit all of the incredible devotion and reverence with which it's been associated throughout its incredible lineage.
Yoga Wake Up, which offers up a unique opportunity to experience guided audio yoga and meditation practices upon first waking up, captures the mind during its first sacred minutes during a time that for many, is often reserved for prayer. It's part of what makes the mornings such a potent time, energetically, perfect for drawing on our souls' deepest desires.
Recently, Yoga Wake Up teachers such as Samora Suber and Justin Randolph, began incorporating more traditional prayer offerings into their yoga audio content, a practice that both say feels natural, since they share a daily ritual of prayer in their morning routines.
Suber says she prays daily in the mornings and at night, and Randolph, who owns Manhattan Beach-based boutique studio Yoga Loft, says that upon introducing prayer to his students during the pandemic, he received an overwhelmingly positive response, which he attributes to its natural connection to yoga.
He says, "Yoga and meditation connect me to my breath. My breath connects me to my heart and soul. If my breath is interrupted then I know that I have cut myself off from the flow of life in some way. When I’m connected to my breath (even when I’m sweating and the heart is beating quickly) I know that I’m tapped into the highest part of myself-the piece of me that is connected to a greater source."
Suber, who's recent addition to Yoga Wake Up is a prayer she wrote titled Love in me and all around me, says that although she prays often, she finds mornings to be best for setting a positive tone for her day, one that leads with gratitude and what she cals "expectancy for moments of miracles".
Despite its place in religion, prayer is universal and can be helpful in times of crisis and despair. Studies have also shown that prayer, like yoga, has some proven psychological benefits pointing to reduced stress and anxiety. One study by the CentraState Healthcare System regarding the efficacy of prayer, showed that it promotes a more positive outlook, and strengthens the will to live."
For Randolph, it's as simple as being able to ask for help when he needs it.
"So often we think of needing assistance as a weakness and so we carry quite a burden with us as we move through life," he explains. "The very definition of prayer is 'a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.'"
"For me the act of bowing my head and asking something bigger than me for help is an act of surrender. The acknowledgment on the daily that I cannot do this alone frees up my energy and releases the burden that I carry. Every morning surrendering and asking for help allows me to move through my day acknowledging that I am fully supported."
It's pretty apparent to any beginner yogi that is asked to form a mudra of "prayer hands" or Anjali Asana just how present the act of prayer is in yoga, and while in western cultures among these last few decades, yoga has evolved into many, many kinds of practices, Suber says that it is simply a physical practice is a common misconception.
She says, "Yoga is a way of living which encompasses day-to-day values, behaviors, and ways of experiencing the world."
Justin affirms, "The biggest misconception in and of itself around spirituality as it relates to yoga is that it stops on the mat. I see so many people flocking to yoga studios for a workout, and believe me yoga can be an incredible workout, but the deeper call of the practice is to create the ultimate recipe for a more joyful life by merging mind, body, and breath. The practice truly begins once you step off of your mat."
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