About two weeks ago, my significant other captured a tiny, mostly feral kitten and brought it home to me. The little gray boy has a very sweet disposition, but he has absolutely no interest in me, or people in general. I can pet him and pick him up, but he doesn’t cuddle or even really look directly at me. When I approach, I watch his eyes and see not a hint of recognition. I’m just a big grabbing blob to him.

On the other hand, he bonded immediately with my big boy, Chucky. Even before I got the all clear to let him out of the kennel with the other animals, he and Chucky were nuzzling through the wires of the cage. Little boy recognized something in Chucky, recognized his own kind. And for the last two weeks, I have had the pleasure to watch them cuddle and play constantly.

When we say “Namaste” at the end of class, we are offering a similar kind of recognition to each other. Saying “Namaste” is an acknowledgment of our shared divinity, by which I mean the sweet core of sentience and possibility and vulnerability and perfect imperfection that we all share underneath the layers of socialization and cultural and psychological experiences that make us unique. And we honor that, too. We honor the whole package.

This is one thing that makes the experience of a yoga class different from other forms of exercise. It’s not magic. It’s not religion. However, the asana practice does provide access to this kind of awareness, an essence of shared experience that the mystical traditions of every major religion seek out and celebrate. Now, if that’s not something you want to dwell on, that’s ok, too. Your yoga class is exercise that makes you feel good. It’s that feeling that matters. Yoga is a tool for accessing the full potential of the human body, which includes the hormones that create the physical sensations of calm, excitement, and joy. The asana practice is simply an entry point to an experience of wholeness that we all seek.

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