Yoga is both a spiritual and physical practice but can you do one without the other. The answer is yes, you can practice the physical side of yoga without getting involved with the spiritual. With the rise of science and atheism, there is a rise in the amount of people who do not wish to practice the spiritual side of yoga and want to focus on the health benefits. I am someone who has their own spiritual path and yoga just happens to fit nicely into it but there are those who do not practice any spiritual beliefs what so ever and for them, a branch of yoga science has formed.
When I teach, I ask my students what they would be to be taught, the physical yoga or the spiritual. With the physical yoga, I also teach the meditational. There’s benefits to meditation that extend past just the esoteric side. I know that there’s a great amount of push back in the yoga community for going back to the roots of yoga and teaching the spiritual side of it. I think that it’s important to know the foundations of yoga but I don’t think that you have to know them to receive the benefits of the physical practice. I think in this age of science and discovery, more will be uncovered about the mental and physical benefits to yoga and it’s only natural that the spiritual side will be reserved for those who seek it out.
So whether or not you practice the spiritual and philosophical side of yoga, you will still receive all of the physical and mental benefits to yoga but just practicing the asana (poses). If you are not ready or do not wish to learn about the origins of yoga and it’s spirituality, then you don’t have to learn them. If you happen to take a Yoga Alliance certified yoga teacher training, you will end up learning about it because it’s a requirement of the training that you do but what you choose to do with that information after is totally up to you. You can either choose to take it further or you can just focus on teaching anasa to the best of your ability.
The reason why you practice is just as important as the practice itself. If you wish to grow as a yogi as a spiritual practitioner, then your yoga practice is going to be much more internal. If you want to focus more on the mental and physical health benefits of your practice, then your yoga practice is going to reflect that as an external practice as well as internal. Some would argue that the very practice of yoga asana is still spiritual even if you are not intending it to be. I have yet to see someone have an emotional or spiritual breakthrough outside of my yoga teacher training while in a class but that’s not to say that it can’t happen inadvertently, I am sure that it does.
For me, my yoga practice is mostly about the physical and mental. I do not practice the classical form of yoga spirituality but I do use its teaching as a tool to practice my own spiritual path which is pagan/animism. I have not had any of the spiritual “aha” moments in yoga as explained by my yoga teachers but I have felt the emotion and mental shifts while in practice. I have also experienced a dramatic shift in my ability to be more mindful about my actions. Am I on a path to “enlightenment”? No, I am just trying to live the most fulfilled life that I can while I am walking on this planet. I have no intention of seeking one with the universe while I am here. However, if it is your path to seek enlightenment, then I will do everything in my ability to make sure you have the best resources to help you follow that path, even if that means that I show you to a teach who can further your education beyond that of my own.