Is yoga a practice closely related to religion? Is it just a bunch of exercises to gain flexibility? Or is it something in between? To be honest, when I was a teen and didn’t know much about yoga, I used to think of it as a stretching sequence that a lot of people (mostly women) did as an alternate to real workouts. Little did I know about the spirituality and philosophy behind it.

Interestingly enough, what convinced me to try yoga a couple of years later, were precisely the mind and soul aspects of the practice. I read some concepts of yoga and a little bit of history and I was completely blown away by the profundity of something that I once criticized due to my ignorance. To me, the physical benefits were always secondary.

Yoga and religion stats

Back to the questions I asked earlier, if the yoga practice goes well beyond the mat, does it mean that it could be some sort of religion? Well, it seems like not many people think so. According to a survey we at BookYogaRetreats.com conducted, more than 80% of practitioners do not relate yoga to any religion; and 52% said that one of the main benefits of yoga is an increased flexibility, a factor that at first glance doesn’t have much impact on spirituality.

And yet, Patanjali‘s Yoga Sutra clearly presents a moral code for yogis that some could interpret as the guidelines of a religion. Or there’s no denial that the origins of yoga are tied to the Vedic sacred texts. And it’s no secret that yoga is an important aspect of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. So, can yoga be completely detached from these traditions? […]

Not religious, but spiritual?

This same survey reveals a bit of a contradiction that is very telling. Almost 70% of the 600 respondents think that the best way to define yoga is as “a practice to balance body, mind and soul”; 46% admit that they practice meditation; 50% consider that they live life with a higher level of consciousness and compassion thanks to yoga; and a whopping 80.5% feel more connected to nature, the universe or a higher power through yoga!

Could it be then that yoga is indeed somewhat related to religion but people refuse to accept it? It is debatable, and in my opinion, it mostly depends on the definition that each person has of religion. However, based on this numbers, it’s hard to completely detach yoga from spirituality.

My yoga and Catholicism

Which leads us to the next dilemma; considering the spiritual side of yoga, is it compatible with Islam, Christianity, Judaism or any other religion? This is a question that will probably never have a straightforward answer to, nor do I intend to give one here; I think it depends on how each individual lives their own faith and the intention that they put behind yoga.

I can only speak for myself on this matter. I come from a very conservative culture in which most people are Catholic. Thus, you can imagine I’ve heard at least half a dozen relatives and friends questioning me for taking part in a practice that “doesn’t align” with Catholicism. Some may even quote Pope Francis when he said in 2015 “yoga doesn’t lead to God” (he didn’t really say that literally and he also included catechetical courses explaining his point, but I guess it doesn’t sound as dramatic for the headlines).

Anyway, what I normally respond to catholic yoga detractors is this – Would a Hindu become a bad person by learning the catechesis? […] No. So, if yoga makes me a better person too, why should I stop? – If anything, yoga makes me a better Catholic; I’m not the most devout by any means and that could influence my last statement, but I’m pretty certain that no one has become a mean person because of practicing yoga. Indeed, according to the above-mentioned survey, 91% of casual practitioners (less than one session per week), still think it has had a positive effect on their lives. And even if it doesn’t enhance one’s spirit, at least it gives you a leaner body.

Fully embracing yoga

In the end, as a yogi, I think the “worst” thing one can do is to deny all ties with religious practices. Now, it doesn’t mean that there’s religion in all yoga practices, but in my opinion it is important to acknowledge that there’s yoga in some religions; it could very well be that the one in which you were born into doesn’t have a yogic tradition, which is not a bad thing. Who knows? Maybe the custom will eventually change thanks to people who choose to adopt and embrace good philosophies and practices from cultures that differ from their own.

Move your blog to Nouw - now you can import your old blog - click here!

Likes

Comments

Thailand is an amazing country with much to offer for all sorts of travelers. Nature lovers rejoice in its beautiful beaches and astonishing landscapes; party animals won’t find a better nightlife than the one in Bangkok; foodies can treat their palates to the delicious Thai cuisine; backpackers find ease in their pockets with the affordable lifestyle of Thailand; and yogis are delighted with the deeply ingrained spiritual culture in this part of the world.

It is a fantastic destination for yoga practitioners. There is a wide variety of yoga studios, yoga retreats and workshops held year round, along with massage training programs, meditation retreats, organic permaculture farms, natural healing and Ayurvedic offerings.

No wonder why, in recent years, Thailand has steadily become one of the most visited countries in the world. In fact, according to the World Tourism Rankings by the UN, it is currently the second Asian country with most visitors per year (32,588,303 in 2016), just behind China; and it is ranked 14 in the world above some highly touristic nations like Austria, Greece or Canada!

At BookYogaRetreats.com we want to provide you with all the tools you need if you’re planning an unforgettable yoga experience in Thailand. That’s why we partnered with some bloggers who have lived in Thailand and love yoga the way we do, to share some of their best kept secrets in this insider’s guide to get the most out of your time in the Land of Smiles. They’re Anne and Brandon from The Yoga Nomads; Amélie from Mostly Amélie; and Alana from Paper Planes, who have given their advice to travel in Thailand like a true yogi!


Thai traditions you should be aware of

First and foremost, it is very important to know the traditions of Thai people before you arrive. And while there are many aspects that are different from the Western side of the world, there is one thing you should never forget: beware of your feet! “Pointing your feet at others, touching the feet and propping your feet up on a chair or table are considered rude in Thai culture” warn Anne and Brandon.

But why is it that feet are so problematic in Thailand? To understand this ideology a bit better, Alana Morgan explains that “Thais believe the feet are the lowliest, dirtiest part of the body and it's seen as disrespectful and offensive to show the bottom of your foot”. That’s why it is also disrespectful to leave your hiking boots dangling on the outside of your backpack, so be careful if the purpose of your trip is a hiking adventure.

You should also bare in mind the following tips to blend in the Thai culture and make sure you don’t disrespect anyone:

  • Despite being hot and sunny all year round, people in Thailand dress modestly and are usually covered up. While showing skin is expected at the beach, and areas that see a lot of tourists are used to the way Western tourists dress, wearing strappy yoga gear out in public really isn't very appropriate.
  • Many Thai people greet one another by placing their hands, palms together at heart center. It is a sign of respect.
  • It is not uncommon to take off your shoes before entering a temple or spiritual dwelling. It’s important to take note of this as you enter various places during your travels and remove your shoes.
  • Always dress modestly when visiting holy sites. Cover your knees and shoulders. And never point your feet at the Buddha when sitting!


Must dos for yogis in Thailand

Most visitors head down to the islands of Koh Phangan, Koh Samui or Koh Tao. And they’re popular for a good reason. The North of Koh Phangan Island is Amélie’s personal paradise for example “Many people know only of the full moon party; the northernmost part of the island is still very unknown to a lot of people. There are amazing yoga schools, secluded beaches, vegan restaurants, and magical untouched forest all around. There's also a Buddhist temple that offers a ten-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat high on a mountain. Definitely a must!” she describes.

Alana Morgan, on the other hand, is a blogger who has lived in Chiang Mai for the past five years and has completely fallen in love with northern Thailand even though it doesn’t have a beach. “I could never get sick of the jungle-covered mountains and rice fields outside of town. The greenery and welcoming atmosphere more than make up for the lack of beach and there is a ton to do - from checking out the town's burgeoning cafe scene (coffee grows in the mountains), to visiting Elephant sanctuaries, to indulging in some of the tastiest and cheapest food in the country.”

The Yoga Nomads agree with Alana, and they think Chiang Mai and Pai are the two places to visit for yogis. “These two northern cities are conducive to the yogic lifestyle with a variety of places to find healthy food and plenty of spots to practice yoga. If beaches are more your thing, Koh Lanta hasn’t been overrun by tourism quite as much as the other islands yet still has stunning views and wildlife” they say.


Best place to meditate or do yoga

There are so many beautiful places throughout the country and such an emphasis in living here and now, that it's hard not to feel inspired to practice yoga anywhere in Thailand. However, our insiders have shared their favorite places to relax, find peace and be mindful:

  • Yoga Nomads – Mar Ngat Dam and Reservoir.
  • Amélie – Koh Phangan.
  • Alana Morgan – For meditation, all Thai Buddhist temples dotted across the country. For yoga, a studio in Chiang Mai that's situated in a traditional wooden Thai house surrounded by a tropical garden


More adventurous activities for yogis

If you’re looking to add some adrenaline to your visit and complement your yoga practice, there are some activities that will for sure enrich your stay in Thailand. The Yoga Nomads recommend to try snorkeling, diving and rock climbing “Thailand is known for their turquoise beaches and stunning limestone cliffs, which are great places to do these activities. Yoga compliments each of these in unique ways, but one common way is by using your breath. Creating awareness in your body and mind around your breath can influence your performance.”

And if you have a truly adventurous soul who want to try something very unique, Amélie thinks that you definitely need to try free diving. “Free diving, or free immersion, relies on your ability to calm your mind, breathe deeply, and hold your breath until resurfacing. It is such a calming and soothing experience, and pranayama exercises really come in handy. Truly the best yoga companion.” She explains.


Tips for travelers on a budget

Having an insider’s advice when traveling is very helpful to have a better grasp of the culture, visit not-so-popular places, and of course, to not overspend your money in touristic places or restaurants that aren’t normally worth a visit. Though the cost of living in Thailand is already quite affordable compared to most western cities, it never hurts to have some tips to make your money go further.

  • Stick to Thai food. And don’t you worry about eating in the street, often times it can even be better than restaurants since it is typically made to order (meaning, fresher) and always dirt cheap! “We recommend seeking out the street food stands that are busy and have a lot of locals in front” say the Yoga Nomads.
  • Buy at the local farmer’s market. You could get very affordable fruit and veggies as snacks on the go.
  • Use local transportation. It will always be cheaper than flights, taxis or private cars. Riding scooters is very common and you'll likely find yourself driving one or sitting at the back of one.
  • Find a roommate. Either your travel partner or a new friend, finding a private room for two (or dorm style if that’s your thing) is a way to cut costs on accommodation while traveling in general
  • Unfortunately, yoga classes at studios in Thailand aren't much cheaper compared to other destinations, but they're worth the splurge for practicing in some gorgeous, tropical spaces. And you always have the option of trying an affordable yoga retreat in Thailand instead.


11 Things you must bring

For your convenience, in collaboration with our insiders, we’ve put together a list of things that will make your life easier while in Thailand. Don’t forget to include these items on your packing checklist:

  1. A travel yoga mat.
  2. Light loose clothes. Preferably air-wicking and fast-drying yoga clothes (it’s humid in Thailand!).
  3. Reusable water bottle. It’s hard to get safe drinking water in Southeast Asia. Instead of buying a lot of plastic water bottles which hurt your budget and the environment, bring your own.
  4. A carry-on size backpack. The last thing you want to do is lug around 50 pounds’ worth of stuff you won’t use. A small bag not only lightens the load physically, but mentally too.
  5. Journal. A place to write your thoughts as you experience, learn and grow in ways you never imagined before.
  6. A big-ass knife for foraging coconuts in the forest – as literarily suggested by Amélie.
  7. Sunscreen.
  8. Bikini or swimming trunks.
  9. Palo Santo stick.
  10. An open mind. It is difficult to get the experience you want if you don’t have an open mind.
  11. Patience. Things here are different than home and often run on Thai time (later than expected) but that's part of the country's charm.

Likes

Comments

Since the beginning of times, human kind has been driven by one simple, yet complex motivation: to be happy. But, what does happiness mean? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as feeling or showing pleasure or contentment. Nonetheless, we know that true happiness goes beyond one or two laughs every now and then. It’s a more sustainable state of satisfaction and gratefulness in our lives. It’s waking up every morning knowing there’s a meaning to starting a new day.

What Brings Us Happiness?

And what exactly makes us feel that way? Well, that’s when the broad concept of happiness gets even more complicated. Even after thousands of studies, researchers keep trying to find the secret of happiness. And it will probably be really difficult to ever come up with a perfectly detailed guideline, since happiness is mostly a subjective feeling that is influenced by many factors that are constantly changing.

In the past, maybe you would feel radiant after hunting that big mammoth to feed your family, or seeing the first sprout of the seed you planted. Nowadays, we can get all the food we need at a supermarket, so we have to be more creative with the purpose that will give sense to our lives and make us feel happy.

However, a Harvard Study on Happiness in 2015, revealed some interesting findings about the generalities that fulfill the lives of most people. After surveying the class of 1980, they came up with three simple advices that no matter the time period or location, anyone can follow to be happier:

  • Choose to be happy with whatever you do.
  • Strengthen your closest relationships.
  • Take care of yourself physically, financially and emotionally.

It sounds easier than it really is, don’t you think? Most of us have experienced discontent with what we do at one point; our busy lives make it hard to maintain a close relationship with all the people we love; and to take care of ourselves we have to do great efforts. Which leads us to the main point of this article: could yoga help us to follow these three suggestions from the Harvard study?

Yoga Makes People Happy

At BookYogaRetreats.com we decided to test the theory that yoga practice has positive effects on people’s happiness. We conducted a survey on over 650 people who had done yoga at least once to try to understand the impact that it has in their daily lives.

As it turns out, 88.4% of the people, agree that at the very least, it has represented a slight boost in their level of happiness. While 59% are strongly convinced that yoga has considerably helped them to feel better and happier. And when we feel happy, everything around us changes too, as we can tell by the 61.5% of the respondents who have no doubt that yoga has totally transformed their lives.

And the best thing is that the more advanced yogis are in their practice, the happier they claim to be. 51% of the people with an advanced level, rated their happiness to 5 on a scale of 1 to 5. And 37% rated their happiness as 4. Which gives us 88% of really happy yogis who have been doing it for a long time.

Why Does Yoga Increase Happiness?

If you’re already a committed yoga practitioner, you have already felt its benefits. But if you’re still to try it, you might be wondering why this happens. There is one relevant finding on the survey that explains some of it: yogis from all levels, who practice more than once a month, claim that their main motivation to do it is to help heal an injury, to relax, to deepen spirituality and to improve physical health & fitness. This means that once people try yoga for the first time, they notice that yoga is more than a regular fitness practice and see many other advantages in it.

Because of how complete the practice is, it is easier for people to think of yoga as an activity that increases happiness. But to get a better understanding, let’s think about the three factors that the Harvard Study mentions and compare them with the benefits of yoga:

  • Choose to be happy with whatever you do.

Admittedly, the results of the survey could be influenced by the fact that the respondents most possibly like to do yoga if they have already tried it. Therefore, immersing in a practice that they already enjoy doing, will for sure make them happier. Nevertheless, yoga also teaches to be present and enjoy the moment; to be here and now. And when yogis take this philosophy to their daily lives, it becomes easier to enjoy any task, no matter how hard it may be.

  • Strengthen your closest relationships.

Is there any closer relationship than the one you have with yourself? Yoga teaches acceptance towards ourselves, with no judgment and unconditional love to our bodies and mind. Once we’re comfortable under our skin, it becomes easier to develop close relationships with others. In addition, a yoga class is always a good place to socialize and build up new friendships.

  • Take care of yourself.

The benefits that yoga brings to the body are abundant. In the end, it is also a physical, demanding practice that tones the muscles, increases flexibility and improves the circulatory and digestive systems. That, per se, makes you feel good automatically. Add the spiritual and relaxing part that releases stress and it truly is an activity that helps to take care of yourself. Your financial side might not be too happy with the cost of yoga classes, but the good news is that you can eventually become a yoga teacher and start making money out of it.

As you can see, yoga encompasses the three aspects of happiness to some extent. It is clearer now why yogis tend to feel happy thanks to their practice. And on top of that, studies affirm that we should value love above all else to be happy. The most common meaning of Namaste is “the divine light in me honors the divine light in you”; is there a bigger expression of love than this?

Likes

Comments

Practicing yoga has many benefits. Better health, less stress and a better posture are only a few of them. If you are a yoga junkie like me, you know them all. But this article is not about the scientifically proven benefits of yoga.

There are already enough resources that discuss how amazing yoga is for your health. No, this article is different. I want to invite you to look at yoga from another perspective. I want you to think about what practicing yoga can do for your relationship.

Maybe you are single and you dream about finding the right partner. Maybe you just fell in love with someone and you pray every night that it’ll work out. Or maybe you are married for over a decade and you somehow miss the passion and love from the first two years.

It doesn’t matter where you are at in life. Yoga has the power to make you a better partner. I know this from my own experience. Please allow me to share them with you, so that you can also become a better human being and a better partner through the power of yoga…


Less Stress, Less Arguments

Most arguments between couples are attributable to stress. Whenever I was stressed, my relationship suffered. The connection was obvious.

Just imagine…

You come home from work. You are feeling stressed and your head hurts. You just want to take a relaxing bath and forget all the things that happened in the office. You open the door to the living room and what do you see? Your husband and his best friend are watching football. They are screaming and laughing. They have a great time.

What about you? You are so stressed that you start an argument with your husband about how reckless he is. Deep down you know that it’s not his fault, but you are so stressed that you can’t control yourself anymore. The next morning you apologize for your behavior. You know that stress was the real cause of the argument.

Two days after the argument you decide to go to a yoga lesson. This was the last time that you had such an unnecessary argument with your husband.

Improving Your Physical Health Improves Your Relationship

Do you feel tired? Do you have problems to get out of bed?

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I had problems to get out of bed and I’m only 27. My back pain is a genetic gift from my father. It’s terrible. There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed, and believe me when I say that the pain doesn’t get better after sitting in front of a laptop for hours.

Did my physical condition affect my relationship? Of course!

I didn’t have the energy to go on exciting dates. Whenever my girlfriend asked me if I wanted to travel somewhere, I wanted to hide under my blanket. I don’t say that everything changed after one yoga session, but practicing yoga deliberately and consistently allowed me to get rid of my pain and to enjoy my life and my relationship again.

You Become a Mindful Listener

I have to admit it. Yoga is not the only practice that helped me to become a better partner. I also used meditation to improve my relationship. The combination of yoga and meditation eventually helped me to become a mindful listener.

I became more relaxed, more focused and my ability to feel and think what my partner feels and thinks increased exponentially. I felt as if I had super powers.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my girlfriend and I always listen to what she says. But in case you are a woman, you know how men tend to listen. This changed once I practiced yoga. Now I listen and understand. No more misunderstandings, no more worries.

You Let Go of Negative Emotions

Yoga helped me to become a happier person and to let go of negative emotions. It also helped me to get rid of the one negative emotion that is known for destroying relationships and marriages: jealousy!

Everyone who has ever loved someone knows that jealousy is your biggest enemy. It’s a fear that terrorizes you without prior warning. It’s an emotion that makes you cry without a reason. Thanks to yoga I don’t feel jealous anymore. I know, it sounds crazy, but I let go of this negative emotion and replaced it with happiness and the feeling that I am enough. You can do the same.

Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar Can Not Only End Your Relationship

For me, the most beautiful thing in the world is when my girlfriend tells me that she loves me. It makes me happy. It makes me feel at peace.

Whenever she says the three magical words to me, I think about how grateful I am for having her. But I also think about something else. I think about our future and I pray that we’ll share many unforgettable moments with each other.

I guess you want the same. You also want to live a long and happy life with the person you love. The question is: What are you doing for it?

Look, practicing yoga didn’t just change my physical and mental health. It also made me a lot more self-conscious. It inspired me to change my diet and my habits.Now that I live healthier I know that enjoying a long and happy life with the woman of my dreams is more possible than ever before.

Likes

Comments