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Dear Jenni: YSP I:26

Unsubjected to time, God is the spiritual guide even for the ancients.

YSP I:26 — Bouanchaud translation

Dear Jenni:

Don’t worry about writing “strange” stuff. I’m a native English speaker and I’ve been known to crank out the weird stuff. We shall muddle through this together.

Your question surrounding “God” in the classroom is an excellent one. I think it’s a issue we all need to confront without flinching. I go “God-lite” in the classroom. I’ve heeded my teacher’s advice that many of our students have been severely traumatized by the religion of their youth. I like how you said it.. “express fear of anything that includes the word “God”.  Isn’t that the truth of the matter? Fear and anger arising from the injuries of the past.

I think that as teachers, we’re beholden to respect that. We allow the classroom to shelter victims of violence and would never think of forcing them to face their assailant.  I think we need to be conscious that for many people, “God” is a source of hurt, pain and profound anxiety.

Of course, I don’t think “God” is the cause of any of this pain but that which has been done is His/Her name has not always been laudable. The confusion is understandable.

In this case, I think we need to just accept that perception might as well be reality. If “God” is identified to be the enemy, then stressing the concept in the classroom is unhelpful. At worst, we’ll drive our students from the classroom and deprive them of an opportunity to explore their spirituality on their own terms.

Yet, yet.. and I keep coming back to this.. Yoga IS a spiritual tradition and any attempt to pretend it isn’t is disingenuous at best. If we teach yoga as if there is no philosophical, moral and ethical underpinnings, we reduce yoga to mere ‘stretching exercises and Indian aerobics”. Unfortunately, this is arguably what it has happened with North American yoga. There is too much emphasis on asana and very little, if any, attention paid to the foundations of yoga. For many North American teachers, their sutra studies start and end with the yamas and niyamas and the 8 rung path (ashtanga) (YSP II: 29)

To my thinking, we need to find a balance between the two extremes of either banging so loudly on the God drum that we alienate our students or alternatively, we try to pretend God doesn’t exist in yoga. Neither is desirable.

One of the themes my teacher returns to again and again is that yoga exists within the dynamic tension between polar opposites and this is another example of the principle at work. I look at YSP I:26 … Unsubjected to time, God is the spiritual guide even for the ancients. To me, this is a cautionary word to those of us who embark to teach this thing called yoga. When I think about it, I am but a link in a long chain going back into time. My teacher Kathryn Downton is student of Claude Marechal, student of Desikachar, student of Krishamacharya etc etc etc back into the mists of time. For me, it’s a reminder that I need to keep myself clear, working from a place of clarity and discernment. If I let myself fill up with the rubbish of the kleshas, then the voice of “God” or Source or whatever we call it, cannot be heard. He/She gets lost in the machinations of my ego.

How do I bring this into the classroom? I don’t have to mention God by name. I do have to do my best to let God speak through me. For me, this means being dedicated and steadfast in my daily practice. If my head and spirit are filled with noise and bellowing of the ego machine, God’s quiet voice can’t get through the static.

Do I need to mention God in the classroom? I don’t think this is necessary. What exactly do we mean by the word “God” anyway? The Sutras don’t address the nature of God. Is it the God of the Jews? The Catholics? The Baptists? Glooscap –the God of the Native American peoples where I live? The Sutras simply refer to the existence of God but without any of the details that fascinate us as humans. What was God’s role in creation? Is God still involved in the details of our lives? Does God have children? Did God write book(s)? I don’t know and my point is that truly none of us know for certain.

Personally, I think our job starts and ends with making the classroom as safe as possible for our students to explore God on their own.If we work from the premise that all asana work is essentially ‘sattvic”; that all asana work and pranayama work clears up the kleshas, particularly the fear of death (abhinivesah) — then why do we need to talk about God at all? God will speak for Him/Her self when the student is ready to listen.

My solution has been to neither empahsize or downplay God’s existence. I mention it. I explain that yoga is a theistic tradition — that is, it acknowledges some sense of Higher Power or the Divine but then yoga shuts the door and walks away. Yoga talks about God but doesn’t define God. We are left with the task of determining the nature of God for ourselves.

That’s my thoughts on the matter,




About Kate MacKay

I'm a certified Viniyoga teacher, in Fredericton, NB. I was a 9-1-1 operator and emergency services dispatcher for 22 years. Surprisingly, the two worked well together, or as I liked to put it, from the sublime to the ridiculous -- all in a day's work. I'm currently off work as a result of a stress-induced cardiac condition that's thrown a few crimps in my lifestyle. I'm not actively teaching yoga in the classroom right now and probably won't for several more months. That said, this blog is one of the forms of practice I can do and I thank you for joining me in this exploration of all things yoga.

One response »

  1. Thank you for commenting, it’s nice to practice “we” with you. I’ve added you to my blog, and my plan is to write again friday 😉 Namasté Jenni


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