When Mohamed and I became an official boyfriend-girlfriend couple, it briefly crossed my mind that we might encounter challenges because of our religious and cultural differences. My view on spirituality and the Divine nature of humanity is vastly different now from the religion I was brought up in, but I was born in Canada and raised in the Philippines as a Roman Catholic. Meanwhile, he is from the south of Lebanon and is a practicing Shia Muslim.
But after almost four years together, religion has never been one of our issues. Mutual respect, curiosity, and earnest wanting to learn about each other’s background has made our inter-faith relationship work.
Watching my boyfriend do his prayers every day has also given me insight and new perspectives for my own yoga practice as well.
Ceremony is an aspect of yoga that was emphasized in my teacher training. Particularly by Ana Forrest who has made Ceremony an important part of her yoga spiritual practice.
I may not always choose to chant OM or burn sage at every yoga class I teach, but I have been creating my own sacred ceremonies and rituals that make sense and feel authentic to me and the energy of the space where I practice and facilitate. And I have have learned and observed many things from the Islamic approach to prayer that help inform my own approach to ritual and ceremony in my yoga practice.
Here are five of my many observations about Islamic prayer that have helped me gain more insight into my own yoga practice and rituals.
1. The Prayer Mat and A Sacred Space
There are certain rules about prayer in Islam. For instance, it should not be done on a pathway which could block people; or it should be done on a woven mat facing Kaaba in Mecca.
This has taught me to always hold the space where I practice yoga and meditation as a sacred place. Just like Mohamed has a special woven mat that he takes care of and uses exclusively for prayer and has a corner of our apartment specifically designated as his prayer area, I should also care for my own yoga mat and practice in a space that is clean and clear from distractions.
2. Praying Five Times A Day
Muslims pray five times a day and mosques will play the call to prayer on a loudspeaker during those times. These breaks during the day to devote to prayer makes God a central part in every devout Muslim’s life and also offers a reprieve from whatever may be happening during the day.
This reminds me to set a regular time each day for my practice. Because my yoga practice has become so much more than just physical exercise, I have to nurture it and allow it to help me get those same breaks during the day to be present, let go, and just breathe.
Muslims must purify themselves with water before praying. In the same way I want to begin my yoga practice with the same kind of clean slate physically as well as mentally. Starting my practice physically clean and fresh, helps me to use yoga to clean out the junk in my mind and spirit to gain clarity and insight into Truth.
4. Praying in Groups
My boyfriend told me that he often prefers to pray alone. But whenever possible, he looks for a nearby Musholla (prayer room), or Mosque to pray together with other Muslims as well.
Although I have started to get the hang of practicing yoga alone, I still enjoy practicing in group classes with the energy of those around me to help carry me through the practice. There are benefits in both and whether you pray or practice alone or in a group – each experience will reveal whatever needs to be revealed at that moment.
5. Shia, Sunni, Sufi
Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims have some differences when they pray. Their hand positions vary at some points and even the call to prayer is slightly different even in different countries. Sufi-ism, often referred to as the “mystical side of Islam,” have a whole set of other rituals – most notably the spinning dervish dances that are unique to them. At the end of the day though, without getting into the political and historical twists and turns of it, they all believe in the same God and His prophet.
With hundreds of yoga “styles” to choose from, I also believe that at the end of the day – it’s all yoga and it’s just yoga! I do not look down on practices that are purely physical and fitness oriented, and I also do not think that practices that focus on the spiritual is somehow “better” than other styles.
Yoga is not only for every body, it’s for everybody. Ultimately, yoga, religion, ritual ceremony, etc… It is all part of the larger conscious collective using tools to help find Union (Yoga) with the Ultimate Truth that is beyond the grasp of our current limited minds.