Yoga, contrary to popular belief, is not a religion. Yet when I was trained on ritual, an aspect of the integrated practices of Yoga, images of religious ceremonies came to mind. Ritual is a universal feature of human social existence that has been practiced by our ancestors for millennia; as such it resonates deep in our bones says Francis Weller, psychotherapist, soul activist and writer. And in fact the field of its study not only encompasses religion but also, philosophy, anthropology, psychology, sociology and cultural history.
What is Ritual?
Rituals are religious or secular. Many of us just engaged in the Thanksgiving ritual that likely included a large gathering of family and friends who shared a traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, gravy, green beans, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. Larger scale, collective experiences include the Olympics and of course, the upcoming Christmas and New Year celebrations around the world.
Again, I turn to Francis Weller for his definition: “ritual is any gesture done with emotion and intention by an individual or community with transpersonal energies for the purpose of healing and transformation.” A more standard definition comes from Dictionary.com: “a prescribed or established rite, ceremony, proceeding, or service.”
The Purpose of Ritual
- It fosters a link to the great mystery (the sacred) of the universe and makes this mystery more profane (reachable)
- Allows us to move beyond our intellect and enter into a state that moves us beyond our normal ways of thinking/feeling/doing so that we perceive and experience ourselves, the community and, or world differently. Thus, it is reparative as it can serve to re-connect us to ourselves and the larger community.
- Invites the denied and, or forgotten aspects of our psyche to come forward. Weller suggests that this is why we fear it. The ritual of meditation comes to mind. However, we also recognize its potential to disrupt our status quo which can in turn help us to heal and transform.
Just as the personal practice of Yoga sustained over time offers us the means to develop the energy, clarity, stability and determination to respond to life and especially its suffering,* so, too, can other rituals. These may include writing, drawing, or something else done with emotion and intention. As long as we continue to show up for ourselves in a way that has relevance and that we maintain our effort in doing so, these rituals go bone deep, sustaining us.
If you need support showing up for yourself or if you’d like to support some one you know with a Rocky Mountain Yoga gift certificate, I’d love to hear from you.
*Gary Kraftsow, American Viniyoga Institute
Image credit: Justin Ng. Buddhist merit lantern festival in Yi Peng, Northern Thailand