Why We Need To Talk About The Stigma Of Religion In Wellness
Ask a seasoned yogi if they're religious, and they might say something along the lines of, "I would consider myself to be more spiritual." It's a common distinction, as the binary between religion and spirituality is pretty pervasive. But there's a certain stigma with both—the former is thought to be too conservative or judgmental, while the latter may have a woo-woo, mystic stereotype.
But according to certified personal trainer, registered yoga teacher, and founder of TMAC FITNESS Todd McCullough, it's time we stop fueling these binaries—religion and spirituality are more similar than you may think.
"It's hard for me to grasp the world of tarot cards, but a person who identifies as spiritual may grapple with my love for Jesus," he tells me on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. To put it simply, the two worlds have an equal place in well-being, and they each require a little bit of blind faith. So before you identify yourself as one or the other, here's why you should maybe take a step back (and perhaps embrace them both).
Spirituality and religion are two sides of the same coin.
Meditation and yoga require you to quiet the mind and tap into your intuition, which is similar to how one might feel during prayer. What's more, spirituality and religion are both based on the values of a higher power, a certain energy that helps you differentiate between the moral and immoral. "You need some sort of base for morality," he says. "Where do you learn this value from the spirituality side without religion?"
It's also quite difficult to separate your spirituality or religious beliefs from your personal identity. McCullough explains how you carry your practice to whomever you're dating or working with, even if you may do it subconsciously. Your practice is part of who you are, says McCullough, no matter whether you're sitting in a church pew or on a yoga mat.
All this is to say, spirituality and religion are actually quite similar, even though each side may denounce the other: "I would listen to my friends in yoga class be so judgmental about conservative Christians," McCullough remembers. "And I went back home to the South and would hear people be so judgmental of [my Santa Monica yogi friends]. But most of us are all good people who want the same thing."
It's about belief itself, not necessarily the approach.
McCullough wholeheartedly believes that while religion itself is paramount in mindfulness, there is no "correct" way to believe. "God believes in the approach, not necessarily what religion you follow," he tells me.
That said, while McCullough found God through Christ, he acknowledges that all religion belongs in mindfulness, no matter what certain practices or Scriptures you follow. "I don't care what you say you belong to; I just care how you live your life." A rather spiritual way to look at it, if you ask us.
According to McCullough, religion and spirituality are grounded in many of the same principles; so whether you're an avid churchgoer or start every morning with a yoga flow, you may have more in common with the other than you thought. It's time for us to stop creating this binary of religion versus spirituality, says McCullough, so we can see how similar we truly are. "I see God in all of us," he states, a phrase that, yes, implies religious faith—but is spiritual all the same.
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.