Yesterday I had a short conversation with a long time student and friend who asked me for help on how to answer a mutual acquaintance's questions about Yoga. she said that this man had seen the Kids Yoga fliers and apparently had some problem with our stated aim of helping the child connect to his or her intrinsic goodness. His objection was along the lines that our intention in Yoga directs itself towards replacing God. (Yes, he is - as far as I can tell, a fundamentalist Christian). This is an old scenario for me. It started coming up when I was teaching kids Yoga in a Montessori School 15 years ago. At first it startled me and hurt my feelings when parents would keep their kids out of Yoga. One child told me that his parents had told him that "Yoga" meant "talking to the Devil." After running into this for years and years now, it doesn't surprise me anymore but sometimes still hurts my feelings. I recognize it as a fundamental philosophical difference. In certain styles of Christianity the teaching is that God is NOT within and that in fact we need to transcend our human self with all its weakness, in order to ascend and attain heaven. This is actually a philosophical underpinning of many schools of Yoga by the way. It goes like this, we need to work hard, progress vertically through diligent practice towards higher and higher expressions of harmony and integration.
Well.....we are REALLY up to something different in Anusara yoga. I mean radically different - different at the root. I don't claim it to be better - but I do claim it to be VERY different. Here's the thing - the philosophical underpinning of Anusara Yoga is that we are All expressions of God. God is within my heart and within your heart and within the flesh and blood and bone of each of us. Not only that, but this - God is in the trees and rocks and grass and fish and birds and house cats. If you accept the basic premise that "God is Everything and Everywhere" then you have to, logically if not emotionally, accept that, well, God is Everything and Everywhere. Working from this foundational premise takes us out of the vertical model of "work hard to get to Heaven," and into another model which enjoins us to work hard to remember our innate goodness and divinity, to align with That and to wholeheartedly participate with That. We are encouraged to "get on board" and participate in the great process of Divine evolution, which is God's Play (lila).
This philosophical underpinning informs every aspect of the Anusara Yoga practice, even to the details of how we approach the oftentimes hard work we do create impeccable alignment.
Some schools of Yoga and some varieties of Christianity approach spiritual practice and the the work of life like this: " I am working hard to transcend the innate weakness and impurity of my physical, emotional and mental self. If I am successful, I will go to heaven (attain enlightenment) and be with God."
Anusara Yoga and some varieties of Christianity approach spiritual practice and the the work of life like this: "I am working hard to re-member myself to - to align with - the Divine, which abides within me and all around me - and which is my very Self. Remembrance is to be in Heaven and be with God in this very life.
There is an important distinction between religious and spiritual practice. Many Christians practice Anusara Yoga, reporting that they have found, through the practice, a deeper and more alive relationship with Christ and within the context of their chosen variety of Christianity. Many who are of other religious persuasions report that their walk on their chosen religious path has deepened and strengthened.
In our practice we end with the Sanskrit blessing and greeting of Namaste:
The Divine within me, which the source and root of my intrinsic Goodness, Dignity and Beauty bows to and honors the Divine within you, which the source and root of your intrinsic Goodness, Dignity and Beauty. When we are both in remembrance of That, there is only One of us.
To me this is not different from the injunction to remember that The Kingdom is within.
If one's belief system holds that what dwells within us is not intrinsically good but is in fact intrinsically inclined towards evil, then of course there is just no point of fruitful connection for that person with Anusara Yoga . That's sad but, in my experience, that's the way it is.