Or Is Yoga a spiritual practice?
Yadder yadder yadder - I bet the first headline grabbed your attention then I'm guessing as soon as your saw the strapline your eyes rolled and the thought ' ah another smuck has a go at that old chestnut' crossed your mind. I like the word 'smuck' and I know it's pretty much a stateside put down but it seemed a much better and forthright diss than any UK equivalent e.g. nincompoop - you get my drift!
I'm not really going to answer the question - too many have tried and failed and it's just too big a can of worms to open - plus I've not got the time or patience (that's a joke by the way). Lots of yoga people get rather hot under the collar trying to justify why their practice is spiritual more so than the next person's. Usually these people make such a song and dance about how their practice has made them a much more balanced and a better person 'godammit' and if you can't see the change for yourself then you can go blow it out your... Well you get the picture.
I remember one time a few years back I was waiting in line at the Old Shala in Mysore (ahh the Old Shala, I love the way it's become this fabled yoga haven according to every Tom, Dick and Deidre who have been there). I was sat at the top of the stairs waiting diligently to descend to shala heaven and just in front of me were two friends having a whispering blather I think about how many times do you roll in garbha pindasana (how many times is it ? answers on a postcard please). Now at the top of the stairs in the old place was a little landing area where folks would go to do finishing postures and to 'take rest' NOT savasana 'bad man/lady'. Just when the talk was getting interesting between my two yoga stair compadres (actually they were on to talking about maybe they should try Jivamukti Yoga next year as the queues were shorter ) a resting yogini stood up and shouted across to them 'Will you shut up I am trying to rest'! Yikes!!! Not 'would you mind awfully keeping the whispering down a smidgeon' but an aggressive broadside straight out of the school yard. Not very Yoga I thought to myself, maybe she'd been stopped at leg behind head...
I digress but my point is to reiterate a comment from Yoga Royalty Sir David Swenson, that there are lots and lots of people who practice and teach yoga who are mean spirited and nasty. And by Yoga I'm referring pretty much to the practice of stretching the body (which may or may not be any older than 200 years - and that particular hot potato of a topic my friend, I'll be leaving well and truly alone) for physical, mental and possible spiritual benefit. I mean what exactly does being spiritual mean anyway? I'm told the answers could lay in the yoga bible 'Yoga Sutras of Patanjali' - did you read that? Couldn't make head nor tale of it myself to be honest. Now according to the book Yoga Body by Mark Singleton, the Yoga Sutras were brought to the attention of the west by an Indian dude called Vivekananda in Chicago at the Parliament of the World's Religions in 1893. But to me, more pertinently is not the authenticity of the yoga sutras as the be all and end all catechism for Yogis but the fact that when Vivekananda was at college his curriculum got changed to include the Yoga Sutras - now this is my question to the Yoga scripture police... If Vivekananda's curriculum had not been changed and he hadn't been introduced to the Yoga sutras at all would we woegies (western yogis) be making such a song and dance about it? Maybe, maybe not.
Wow, I really went off track with that one. Sorry. Ok, to summarise the original question about is yoga a spiritual practice, my small and incomplete answer is this... For me, personally, to be spiritual is more about feeling good and doing good and after I've done my asana practice, I feel good physically and mentally, and when I'm feeling like that I'm less likely to shout at the cats and I'm more likely to buy the Big Issue - not exactly changing the face of humanity but you gotta start somewhere.Suggest a correction