by Ved Valmiki: Yoga has spread across the world not only as a system of achieving wellness, but also as a method of exploring our spirituality…
The practice of yoga is an incredible avenue for self-discovery and spiritual growth.
Certainly, yoga has become a powerful vehicle for self-improvement and even community transformation.
But why do we call yoga a “science?” And how exactly is it making us more spiritual?
When you can answer these questions, then you will really be able to harness the power of yoga for self-transformation and spiritual growth and development.
That means becoming conscious of what makes yoga science (not religion) and how it is helping you spiritually.
What Does “Spiritual” Mean?
Let’s talk about the spiritual aspect first. When we say “spiritual,” we are saying “of the spirit.” Now that may seem obvious but have you thought about it deeply?
It means that it does not belong to the physical, emotional, and mental realms. Spiritual means that we are transcending those dimensions of our existence.
I am sure that you know the incredible benefits that yoga can bring, and that is probably what brought you to yoga in the first place. But like I tell my students, the physical improvements you feel – like greater strength and flexibility and health in the body – that is the icing . . . NOT the cake.
The mental clarity and emotional stability that you experience are still not the main event. Those are the sprinkles on that yoga cake.
The real substance of yoga is that it is a practice that can take you beyond the regular dimensions of human life.
How Do We Create Spiritual Growth?
This is the question that the great sages of yoga have always contemplated.
It’s fairly obvious how we can improve our lives physically. Perhaps a little less so if we try to improve our emotional or mental condition. But if I ask you to become more spiritual, what would you do?
In my classes, someone usually pipes up: “Practice more yoga!” And we all laugh. Because the path to deeper spirituality is not obvious. It is mysterious because it’s hidden beyond what we are familiar with in our lives.
The science of yoga, created by the ancient sages of India, is a path to that spiritual dimension. That is what it’s designed to do. It is a process that allows us to experience a part of life that would have otherwise remained unknown within us.
Here Are 3 Important Reasons Why Yoga Leads to Spiritual Growth:
Everyone who practices yoga can tell you that it is a process. It requires effort, discipline, and a curious mind in order to make progress. But what is it that defines that process as a science? Why do we call it the “science of yoga?”
There are three main reasons that I share with my students that define yoga as a science and as a system of knowledge:
- Methodical: There is a procedure or a method that you must follow
- Based on evidence: The experiences that come validate the methods
- Repeatable: No matter who follows the procedure, the evidence is the same
Let’s look at each one of these and how you can harness them in your practice.
1. There Is a Clear Recipe for Success
No matter which branch of yoga you choose to pursue, there is a clear method. Whether it is Hatha, Raja, Mantra, Bhakti, Jnana, or Kriya, the sages have laid out the path to success.
Those ancient yogis were inspired spiritual scientists who developed the methods that we are using today.
If you are sincerely seeking spiritual evolution, then you should examine the path of yoga that you have chosen. Remember that each path of yoga has a sophisticated method that is utilized to help you grow.
The better you understand the path you have chosen and the methods that are used, the quicker you will make progress. It’s like choosing to be a biologist, engineer, or a mathematician. They all have their procedures that they follow to make them sound science.
2. The Evidence Is Key
Science is based on evidence. You must carry out a procedure or experiment and then observe the results. So we must be willing to observe the evidence that is in our lives.
When choosing a teacher or a guide in yoga, we should examine the evidence. Do they show integrity in their practice? Can we see that they are able to get the results that are important to us?
We also need to observe the evidence on a personal level. Can I see in myself that there is some measure of progress? Perhaps we may see physical, emotional, or mental progress, and that is wonderful! But remember that we are looking for spiritual growth and progress as well.
If we do not see that progress, then are we honest enough to observe our method? We might need to follow the ancient wisdom more closely in order to feel that spiritual connection.
If we do not see progress, then are we honest enough to observe our method?
It is not good enough that someone else says, “You can have spiritual growth and experiences.” You need to become curious for yourself, follow the methods and go after the evidence.
In my own practice, I have seen that evidence provides guidance. It is not about judgement of what is there, but rather acceptance of what comes to us, and using that to inform our practice.
Remember that trying yoga once is not the basis for validation. You can’t get the evidence of spiritual growth and experiences from yoga just from going to one class. Or even trying it for a month or a year.
You can’t get the evidence of spiritual growth and experiences from yoga just from going to one class.
Because all through the texts of yoga it is clearly stated that a long time is required. You must make the holistic practice a part of your life. Then you will start experiencing spiritual growth.
If you think about the way we do scientific experiments, we follow the experimental procedures for years before obtaining the results that we are looking for. And even then the results may tell us that we need to change something in the procedure. It is the same with yoga.
We have to follow the procedures critically before the evidence will come to us personally.
This is a main difference between science and dogma. With a dogma, we are expected to accept without having evidence. We are expected to blindly believe in the spiritual possibilities.
In yoga science, we are not expected to believe. Rather, we are expected to perform the methods ourselves and validate the results through our own experiences.
3. All Are Equal on the Path
No matter who practices the methods as described by the sages of yoga, the results are guaranteed. If you are true to the holistic path bringing every aspect of your life into alignment, then the end result is spiritual growth. That is what “repeatable” means.
Now I can appreciate that the spiritual results may not seem guaranteed considering that so many people practice yoga yet don’t see any of those results. You might also have tried yoga hoping for some spiritual experiences but did not get that result. But it is possible for you too.
When we don’t get the spiritual results that we are looking for, that is an important clue. Lack of evidence means that we are not holding to the authentic methods of yoga. It does not mean that the principles of yoga are somehow lacking and that it is a sham.
As an example, everyone is familiar with the principles of weight loss. But many people try it and struggle with it. Even though they may be making some effort with diet and exercise, they may not be losing those pounds.
When we don’t get the spiritual results that we are looking for that is an important clue.
Does that means that the principles of weight loss are flawed? No. We have seen conclusively that eating well and getting exercise contributes to weight loss. It must mean that something about the application of the principles are flawed. And if those same people work with a coach, they will begin seeing results.
That is because working with a coach helps them to come into better alignment with the principles. The coach knows how to apply the principles to get the results they were looking for.
If you are looking for spiritual results from your yoga practice, then you need to follow the deeper principles of yoga. That means – at very least – it must be a holistic practice.
The holistic practice of yoga means that you are not only excited about asanas. It means that you will give due diligence to your diet as well. It means that you will reflect on your relationships. And certainly it means that you will not leave study, reflection, and meditation out of the equation!
“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise; seek what they sought.” – Matsuo Basho
Real effort is required in every area of yoga practice – not just asana. That makes it a holistic practice. When you commit to the principles of yoga and put in that all-round effort, that is when the results will come to you.
This, for me, is the great promise of yoga. We can all climb to the heights of the great spiritual masters that have gone before us by following closely in their footsteps.
Every person who practices yoga can achieve the same inner experiences of the sages or prophets. You can experience bliss, unconditional love, wisdom, and unity. You can experience complete liberation or enlightenment if that is what you want.
All that is required is dedication to the ancient wisdom and perseverance in your personal practice.
The Takeaway on Yoga Science and Spiritual Growth
For anything that you do in life there is encouragement and inspiration to continue because of the results that you experience. These results are the evidence that convince you that your actions are impactful.
But the lack of results is also important evidence and we should learn to be just as excited about this. The lack of results tells you that there is something missing from your practice. It gives you clues about what you need to do to experience the results that you want.
If you are not seeing the spiritual growth that you want from your yoga practice, then something must be missing. That is a call for you to examine your practice deeply and to learn more of the principles of yoga science.