I went to a yoga retreat recently. The teacher was known as Swamiji. I thought that this was his name, until I went to another retreat and the teacher—a different man—was also called Swamiji. I asked the pertinent question I should have asked the first time: What does Swamiji mean?
The answer was basic. If the title “-ji” is placed at the end of a person’s name, it is a sign of respect or admiration. It may also be used in a familiar way to show genuine, respectful affection. A common example is to call one’s spiritual guide “Swamiji.” So, many Swamiji’s are present all over the world, helping us understand the Indian, Hindi traditions more affluently in the U.S. and around the world.
As a yoga instructor for over 25 years and the author of my own yoga video, “Boga Fitness,” you would think I would understand some of the more pertinent tenants of the Hindi and Ayurvedic tradition of yoga. But, for me and most people in the Western world, we would rather know just some of the tradition, not have to chant every time we practice, and only take the part of the culture that fits our own spiritual paradigm. Only now, am I investigating the more intricate facets of the Hindi belief system, more out of curiosity, than a deficit or hole in my own spiritual life.
I would recommend that you do this with all cultures. Spirituality, not religion, is an intimate walk into another’s culture, not just belief practice. To really understand Swamiji’s all over the world, we would have to walk a mile in their shoes in the caste system of India, which I’m not willing to do anytime soon. I went to ONE almost completely Indian retreat, and if I had to eat one more bowl of raw oats and drink one more bowl of Dal soup, I was going to have painful digestive problems for a week. Some parts of the tradition simply don’t fit my way of life or comfort zone. That is perfectly okay.
Most yogis from India are completely vegetarian. Perhaps, this isn’t a good fit for you in your complicated and fast-paced life. Others sit for hours in the lotus position. For me, my back has sustained an injury since a bus wreck at eight years old. No matter how hard I tried to learn to sit in this position, I was completely challenged—more so than sitting quietly.
Gently, I allowed myself the reality that sitting would have to be more comfortable for me with a back support, or I would never be able to meditate for long periods of time. So, taking the best parts of any religion and adding them to your practice is a great way to allow your spirituality to be an amalgam of great theory and practice from all traditions. I find this part of searching for what truly benefits me as a sentient being to be the best part of my own spiritual life.
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