Spiritual Materialism: Honouring the Divine in Yoga Pants

I am always on the look out for a good affordable organic yoga pant. I don’t want to pay a fortune,  I don’t want to contribute to the wealth of multi-national corporations, and I certainly don’t want chemicals and toxins leaching into my skin every time I sweat.

Lately I’ve been fantasizing about opening a yoga emporium called “The Good Life”. Here yogaphiles could find locally made eco-friendly yoga pants as well as yoga props and accessories. There would also be organic teas, beauty and household products, books and DVD’s – in short “everything you need for the yogic lifestyle!”

Sometimes I worry that my vision of the “The Good Life” would have the yogi’s of old wringing their hands. Is it an example of the rampant spiritual materialism that purists claim is twisting the true heart and soul of yoga?

The term spiritual materialism is commonly used to describe the danger of seeking spiritual gains through material objects. i.e. attempting to consume one’s way to enlightenment. To paraphrase Swami Radha, pure food does not does not deliver a pure mind and having organic yoga pants does not necessarily make you a kinder person.

The danger in commodifying yoga is that we get so focused on the possessing the externals, the right pant, the right mat, the right clothes, the right food etc. – that we forget the inner journey.

However, I think we also have to be careful that we aren’t falling under the spell of another kind of illusion. The current definition of spiritual materialism implies the spiritual is somehow separate from the everyday material world, from nature and our bodies. It suggests we move past the seductions and pleasures of worldly life in order to aspire to a higher reality.

I think the term spiritual materialism needs a new spin. I’d like to see it redefined in a more positive and ancient light.

Yoga as we know it today emerged primarily from the goddess based Tantric traditions. Tantrists believed the divine was not just a transcendent force (a spiritual power separate from matter) but an immanent one. Meaning that the sacred is not separate from the physical world, it is embodied in nature, our flesh, our cells and life force energy.

I think spiritual materialism should mean that we recognize that everything, our bodies and even the most material mundane levels of our lives has spiritual significance.

This means the products we buy for our homes, put on our plates and our bodies all have meaning. Whether it’s toothpaste or a potato, where it came from and how it was made, and what impact it will have, matters.

We have a choice to do no harm in the products we buy, and we have a choice to build local sustainable economies and communities. This is the process of spiritualizing matter, bringing the sacred back into life.

To me this is what “The Good Life” is all about. Yoga has developed into a mega-business of lifestyle because it is more than striking a pose. It is about modern yogi and yogini’s who are committed to bringing conscious awareness to all their actions, especially those off the mat and in the real world.

They represent the growing demographic of people who honour the spiritual value in the material world, and in the everyday realities of living. Yoga is obviously not the same as practiced thousands or hundreds of years ago, but a distillation of core values remains.

As the Mother Goddess of the ancient yogis would tell us, the divine is made flesh in the physical world. We can choose the good life – and it doesn’t mean we need to renounce worldly niceties to do it.

We should honour the beauty of the earth and the pleasures of our bodies; they are our bounty and reward for living. Good food and beautiful homes are not sins, and neither is a good yoga pant!

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