Dear Sadie Nardini—Please Don’t Whitewash Yoga.

Via on Apr 9, 2012
Jesus on the cross
Photo: stock.exchng

I’m a yoga teacher. I understand the temptation to whitewash the practice, so as not to offend anyone.

I feel moved to respond to Sadie Nardini’s recent post: To the Christian Who Sent Me Hate Mail on Easter Sunday.

First of all, to Sadie, I’ve been following your yoga career for many years now. I discovered you on YouTube maybe in 2004 or so and it’s been fun watching the progression of your YouTube channel and your career. You really have made quite a name for yourself and I understand how much hard work it is to put yourself in the public eye, and to attract a humongous group of loyal followers as you have done. Kudos to you! I admire and respect you as a sister on the path. You are a woman with a mission and there is no stopping you.

I also was both surprised and touched to learn that you overcame a spinal cord illness, to become the super strong and amazingly flexible proponent of core strength that you are today. I appreciate that you are a positive role model for both men and women alike (myself included), and I bow to you.

But (you heard that coming) I feel moved to speak my mind on a few issues that rose to the surface as I read and re-read your post, as well as  the many comments that were posted.

So here it is:

I’m a yoga teacher. I understand the temptation to whitewash the practice, so as not to offend anyone.

Clearly yoga’s popularity is on the rise. Historically, there has never been a better time to be a yoga teacher—and specifically to be a career yoga teacher or to try to make a living teaching yoga.

This is an unparalleled time in history for wannabe yoga teachers. The potential pool of yoga students is mushrooming at speeds never before seen in the 2000 year history of yoga as we know it. Suddenly everybody (and their mother) is doing yoga. My mailman’s wife, my hairdresser, the captain of the football team, the 95 year old lady who lives down the street. Yes, just about everyone you meet these days is either doing yoga themselves, or knows someone who is doing yoga.

There has never been a better time for athletic, spiritual, career minded individuals to sign up and graduate from the various yoga teacher trainings being generously offered through out the United States. To gain certification, the initial investment of time and money seems small in comparison to the huge potential for making a healthy profit, teaching yoga to the masses.

But as the esoteric practice of this ancient tradition continues to be bought and sold by new age corporate yoga moguls, do we run the risk of throwing out the baby with the bath water?

Let’s face it. Your average God fearing, middle American, may not be quite ready to hear the truth about yoga. And those uber rich ladies at the country club who do yoga because “all the girls are doing it,” may not be quite prepared to hear the answer to the age old question:

“What is yoga?”

But answer this question, I must! And so, if you are easily offended by hearing of a practice and philosophy that is designed in many ways as a method of gently guiding you out of your comfort zone and asks you to look at yourself and the world from a radically different perspective—be forewarned!

I am about to divulge the cold hard truth about what yoga is and what it isn’t. And I am not going to mince any words in the process. So frankly, if you can’t handle hearing the truth, you had best be on your way.

What I am about to tell you, may be frightening. It may seem totally incomprehensible or woo woo. It might sound like a lot of esoteric, new age mumbo jumbo. It might feel like it directly contradicts your religious faith. It might seem supernatural or like science fiction. And quite frankly, it may sound like a load of crap.

But regardless . . . here goes.

According to Swami Rama of the Himalayan Institute in his book Lectures on Yoga:

“Regarding yoga, many people in the West think it is a physical and beauty cult while others think it is a religion. This misinformation serves to obscure the real meaning of yoga.

The teachings of yoga are an integral part of most religions but yoga itself is not a religion.

Yoga practices may be found in the sacred scriptures of most religions. The book of Genesis and the book of Revelations contain such teachings. And in the book of Psalms, meditation is mentioned frequently in Psalm 119:15, 23, 48, 78, 97, and 148.

Yoga is based on Sankhya philosophy which shares many aspects with Judaism. Like yoga, The Kaballah, acknowledges the link between breath and spirit.

Over the years Christianity has produced many yogis such as Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Bernard, Saint Ignatius, Saint Teresa, Saint John of the Cross, Dionysus and Meister Eckhart.

The origins of yoga are considered to be divine rather than human. The purity of this ancient practice has been maintained through the master-disciple tradition and was eventually codified around 200 BC as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

The central teaching of yoga is that man’s true nature is divine, perfect and infinite.

Man falsely identifies with the body and is therefore unaware of his divinity. Through meditation, man can cast off his ignorance and become aware of his true Self.

Yoga represents the union of the individual self with the supreme universal Self. The supreme universal self is considered to be absolute reality

A similar mystical union is mentioned in the Bible.

Man in his ignorance chases the fleeting shadows of wealth, position and power but can derive no real happiness from finite objects.

Yoga therefore implies the removal of impurities, the stilling of lower feelings and thoughts and the establishment of a state of perfect balance and harmony.

The greatest problem for the beginner is his inherent restlessness of mind. This is why the attachment of the mind towards worldly objects is the arch enemy of yoga.

The goal of yoga is self realization.”

Therefore, if you are looking for a yoga butt…this is the wrong practice for you. You’d be better off signing up for the glutes and thighs class at your local gym. As Swami Rama said: “The goal of yoga is self-realization.” Hopefully yoga teachers are staying true to the goal of yoga.

But now getting back to Sadie’s article, I take issue with the following quote:

“Yoga is not Hinduism, necessarily. They were originally separate practices. Yet over time some people and lineages have fused them together, even many of today’s well-meaning yoga teachers who are not Hindu or Buddhist but still insist on bringing both into their classes.”

According to Eknath Easwaran, the great Hindu scholar and meditation teacher, the Bhagavad Gita is an Upanishad (a genre of Hindu literature) and part of the Mahabharata (national epic of India from 200 C.E.). According to Georg Feuerstein PH.D., the Gita belongs to what is called the tradition literature of Hinduism. Feuerstein also refers to the Gita as the most famous of all yoga scriptures and Easwaran refers to it as the text on the supreme science of yoga.

So to say that yoga and Hinduism were originally separate is a misnomer. My understanding is that Hinduism gave birth to yoga.

And regarding Mike’s statement and your response:

He continues: “These are postures that are offered to the 330 Hindu gods. Yoga poses are really sacrifices or offerings to the gods.”

Wow! I wondered why I always say “your yoga practice lasts 24-7.” Because I’ve been trying to appease 330 million gods! No wonder it takes so long!

Mike, don’t worry. I am not a Hindu.

Sadie, I understand that you are making light of Mike’s perspective because he seems overly threatened by the Hindu aspect of yoga. But in this case, he is not that far off the mark. If  we take the Gita seriously, the main message of the Bhagavad Gita is renunciation or non-attachment. And the way we practice this renunciation is by allowing all of our actions to be offerings to the Lord. To live as a yogi is to be continually offering your actions to God.


However, the interesting thing about Christianity or any religion for that matter, is they all basically preach the same thing (surrender to God, live as God intended you to live, etc.).

Mike is clearly not comfortable with the Hindu brand of renunciation.

I’d also like to mention that Dharma Mittra, who is a highly regarded yoga teacher, has the custom of asking students to form a big circle. Then he plays some music —maybe Krisha Das (again these are chants to Hindu deities) and he asks one person to go to the center of the circle and do a yoga posture and offer it to the Lord. This is generally a very high energy, fun time for students and gives them an opportunity to basically “strut their stuff” by perhaps trying a difficult or risky posture in front of a roomful of onlookers. And by offering it to the Lord, there is a lesson here. There is a certain letting go of the ego that happens when we offer the posture to God.

I am quite sure Mike would not appreciate this ritual. However, I would argue that there is nothing inappropriate here and the ritual and the music is totally in line with creating a space for people to experience yoga or “union.”

I also cannot help but take issue with this quote from your post:

“As I am not a Hindu, I usually do not bring Hindu gods into my classes, just as I would not sing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ or dance

Christian Cross
Photo: stock.xchng

the Horah in a classroom that contains all creeds, colors and religions. I do not chant Hindu verses, in the same way I wouldn’t read from the Bible or the Koran during a yoga session. Religion is personal, as is yoga.”

I believe I touched on the “Hindu verses” issue with my example of Dharma Mittra using Krishna Das music, which seems to be very much in line with what many yoga teachers are doing today.

I also believe that in Ashtanga yoga, they chant in Sanskrit on a regular basis. I am not sure if that qualifies as Hindu, but I imagine there may be some overlap there. Shiva Rea also has us do some Sanskrit chanting, which I believe may have Hindu roots as well. And even you, Sadie Nardini, are known to chant an Om or two.

But the part of this that pressed my buttons even more is your attitude about playing certain types of spiritual or religious music during class. I do understand Sadie, that you are speaking for yourself and you are not preaching and saying that all yoga teachers should follow suit. But something about your tone made me uncomfortable in parts of your post.

You are speaking as an authority on yoga, and therefore, I assume that there is some implication that playing this type of music during a yoga class is somehow not a good idea.

I must respectfully disagree with you here. I will use Shiva Rea as an example again. I have very vivid memories of the music she has often played during teacher trainings at Kripalu.

Some notable songs come to mind:

  • “Let My Life Be Prayer” ~ Ken Whiteley (gospel feel)
  • “People Get Ready” ~ Eva Cassidy (gospel feel)
    “Ya don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.”
  • “Oh, Happy Day” ~ (mentions Jesus)
  • “My Sweet Lord” ~ George Harrison (sings Hare Krishna)

The fact that I remember these songs from perhaps five to six years ago speaks to the power of music and the positive effect it has had on my yoga practice.

And I don’t think Shiva is alone here. I believe this practice is quite common in the yoga world.

Shiva is also known to integrate some Kirtan into the teacher training modules as well as puja (religious ritual performed by Hindus, as an offering to various deities) and some ritual fire ceremonies.

And although I may not have been comfortable with all the rituals that Shiva introduced, I certainly appreciated being exposed to a culture quite different from my own. I did not feel frightened or threatened. Quite the contrary. It felt inclusive and like an honoring of the roots of yoga.

In closing, I don’t feel the need to tie this up in a neat package.

Regarding the relationship of Hinduism and yoga . . . it’s complicated.

Personally, I like Shiva’s approach of mixing and matching the traditions. She has no problem bringing Jesus into the room. And I also love Dharma Mittra’s approach of unapologetically integrating the Lord into the practice.

I know that some Christian yoga students have issues with yoga’s Hindu roots. For me, the answer is not to hide it. I think these students need to examine their feelings and their priorities. It’s all a part of self realization.

I once had a Christian student confront me during class. We had our mats in a circular formation and there was a small altar in the center of the circle with a statue of Shiva Nataraja. This student (who was in the middle of taking yoga teacher training at Kripalu) told me that she was uncomfortable being forced to look at the statue. And I remember being a bit shocked because Kripalu is full of these types of images.

My sense was that she needed to make peace with this inner conflict she had between yoga and her Christian beliefs. I did not feel in any way wrong for setting up the room in that manner. I was not asking her to worship Shiva. I also had a cross on a table in another part of the room.

My intent was to be inclusive. But I also feel people need to respect the roots and the rich history of this practice we call yoga.


Editor: Brianna Bemel

About Dee Greenberg

Dee Greenberg is a freelance yoga instructor and spiritual warrior, residing 6 miles from the beach, in Delray Beach, Florida. Dee’s resume includes 9+ years of teaching yoga, 4 years owning a yoga studio and 40+ years of personal yoga practice. Trained in both Kripalu and Prana Flow (Shiva Rea), Dee’s teaching style is a homogenous blend of both, with a strong sprinkling of intuitive spirituality thrown into the mix. She spends most of her free time drumming, dancing and in various fitness pursuits including skateboarding, running and lifting weights. For more of Dee’s musings on yoga and life, please visit here. To add Dee as a friend on Facebook, please click here, or follow her on Twitter at @50PlusYoga. SUBSCRIBE TO DEE ON ELEPHANT JOURNAL.



65 Responses to “Dear Sadie Nardini—Please Don’t Whitewash Yoga.”

  1. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

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  3. Bryan says:

    This is outstanding. I really enjoyed it.

  4. Jelena Carina says:

    Dear Dee, Namaste.

    I would like to say THANK YOU for your article, as I have been following this and similar topics with interest and observing the tendency in western yoga teachers to 'divorce' yoga from religion.

    In today's society, sadly, religion seems to have become a four-letter word, creating tension whenever mentioned. Personally, I was once one of those who scoffed at religion until my spiritual path led me to reconcile with it, make peace with it, understand it and eventually love it.

    When people react, get defensive, fearful and judgemental about religion, it usually reveals a lack of understanding in people and a lack of consciousness.

    In my case, I have come to know myself enough to detect these reactions within myself, so that when an issue crops up and I find myself reacting to a word, idea, concept or opinion, I can stop, take a breath, investigate the truth and reflect on it.

    Take the word 'religion', for example. At first, one might feel rejection, a strong internal reaction, or defensiveness, but take a look at what the word means: it comes from the latin root 're-ligare', which means to 're-connect'. This refers to a reconnection with a Higher Power, the Source, God, if that is what you choose to call it, with the Divine, with Spirit, with Love.

    Most western/mideastern religions of today have come quite far from the original teachings of their respective Spiritual Educators, but if we really take the time to study the various scriptures and texts of yoga and religions, and put the spiritual teachings into practice, we will discover that the various teachings and ethics are essentially the same.

    I am only just discovering some western yoga teachers, but I find it disconcerting to discover that while many teachers may advertise a long impressive resume of this and that school, X amount of years teaching and this and that famous person on their client list and a body more bendy than a freshly baked pretzel, their understanding of anything beyond asana practice is frighteningly shallow.

    Many opinions are expressed about Hinduism, for example, and I would like to clarify a couple of things about this religion. Hinduism is a monotheistic religion. Hinduism has, believe it or not, ONE God, ONE Creator/Source, who is indescribable, incomprehensible to the human mind, but who manifests itself in various forms, which are the different deities, or different aspects of God. This God is the same as ours, whether it be called God, Allah, Jehovah, Ishwara, Love, Universe, the Source or other names, but again, if one does not investigate the truth, if one chooses to live in ignorance and focus on material appearances and differences, well then conflict arises. As many well-known Swamis like to say: Truth is One, Paths are many.

    At my home, my husband and I, host a weekly meeting for prayer, meditation and inspiration in which we explore topics such as compassion, service, health, etc, and use many different religions and spiritual/inspirational materials as a basis for dialogue. The idea is to nourish the soul, to connect, create unity in diversity and to learn. This has been an invaluable source of personal and spiritual growth for me and the more I study various Holy Scriptures, reflect on them and above all put the teachings into practice, the more I fall in love with God, Spirit, Love, religion, spirituality in all its expressions.

    Finally, I would just like to thank you for allowing me to bring my 'grain of sand' to the dialogue; thank you to Elephant Journal for providing this space to learn and grow and I hope that the yogis and yoginis of the West will be encouraged to go deeper, ask themselves deeper questions and dare to explore spirituality AND religion.

    To finish, I would like to share some beautiful words from the Bahá'í faith's Abdu'l Bahá:

    "Let all associate, therefore, in this great human garden even as flowers grow and blend together side by side without discord or disagreement between them. Love ye all religions and all races with a love that is true and sincere and show that love through deeds and not through the tongue; for the latter hath no importance, as the majority of men are, in speech, well-wishers, while action is the best."

    With gratitude and love, Om Shanti.

    Jelena Carina

  5. yogaboca says:

    MikeG – Thanks for joining the discussion!

    Regarding your claim – This post makes the claim that Yoga is Hindu.
    I am not sure where you got that idea but I never made that claim, so there is nothing to defend here.

    I certainly would never make such a claim. How ludicrous! It's so ludicrous it makes me laugh.

    Yoga certainly has roots in hinduism as well as in tantra as you mentioned. There is a lot
    of overlapping and cross pollination through out yoga's long history. My understanding is
    they all grew out of Sankha philosophy and then things got complicated.

    As far as who "owns" yoga – the Tantrics or the Hindus – is not a subject of great interest to me.
    I am not sure that scholars can agree on any of this since it is so complex and many of
    the writings have been lost or destroyed. I don't claim to be any type of scholar or expert.
    I will leave the arguing to the real scholars and historians.

    Regarding this statement – The author only uses as sources persons who confirm the argument "yoga is Hindu". In order to "handle the truth" one must educate themselves and beware of the argument and counter-arguments for the positions they are taking.

    Er – – I am the author and I did not use any sources that confirmed that yoga is "Hindu."
    I am wondering if you actually read my post!

    And you also said: one must educate themselves and beware of the argument and counter-arguments for the positions they are taking.

    Mike, I can't help but feel a bit hurt by your words. It sounds like you are saying that I should have done more research on this before writing my piece. In truth I spent a lot of time researching this, writing it, editing and re-editing. It takes a great deal of time and effort to produce something that people will actually read.

    I am sorry it did not live up to your expectations.

    Namaste – Wishing you love and light in your life and in your yoga practice.

  6. yogaboca says:

    Jelena, I am very touched and grateful for your well crafted response. Thank you so very much! And I feel like giving you a big hug! And Namaste to you as well. :-)

    I am so glad you have made peace with religion. And yes it is unfortunate that religion has such a bad rap.

    I loves this line: When people react, get defensive, fearful and judgemental about religion, it usually reveals a lack of understanding in people and a lack of consciousness.

    That is so true. When people are defensive, it is due to fear and insecurity.

    And I also really appreciated this:
    In my case, I have come to know myself enough to detect these reactions within myself, so that when an issue crops up and I find myself reacting to a word, idea, concept or opinion, I can stop, take a breath, investigate the truth and reflect on it.

    That is the way of the yogi. :-) It takes a lot of work to get to that place – – but it is so worth it!

    Jelena, thank you so much for sharing your process and I am especially encouraged by the prayer meetings you are running with your husband.

    You rock! Namaste ~ Dee

  7. Eschaton says:

    Eknath Easwaran is perfectly accurate. There is no debate whatsoever. Only a neophyte will espouse the notion that Yoga or even Tantra for that matter developed outside of 'Hinduism', an all-compassing term. Tantra draws on Shaivism extensively and can be understood as a corollary to the Darshana Shastras of traditional Vedic theology. Abhivagupta and other masters of Kashmir Shaivism have expounded this at great length.

  8. Lakshmi says:

    "The relationship between Hinduism and yoga….it's complicated!" :)…so true! And @MikeG…the term Hindu itself is complicated. You are defining Hindu pretty narrowly as Vedism, but most real-life Hindus draw their beliefs from a smorgasbord of ideas that include Vedic, Vedantic, Tantric, Tribal, Dravidian, Brahmo, Buddhist, etc., even Christian ones. Yoga fits in there somewhere. Loved this article, Dee…thank you!

  9. Michael D says:

    You are not required to buy into any particular belief to practice yoga, which is an important point. Yoga asks you to think for yourself. As Dharma Mittra says, it is important that we develop non-attachment to name and form…

  10. Sadie Nardini sadienardini says:

    Hi Dee,

    I'm glad that my post inspired something in you! And to stand up for the inclusion of religion in the yoga practice is admirable!

    I am certainly not aiming to "whitewash" yoga of its spirituality, something I practice daily, in all aspects of my life. I am simply saying that personal spirituality can be different–and in fact, can be separated from religious themes within yoga. Yoga as I understand it holds a place for people of any religious (or non-religious) beliefs, because at its essence, it is a philosophical practice that did not cleanly begin out of only what we know as contemporary Hindu religion today.

    A great article to read, one that doesn't definitively prove either of our points, but does a great job of pointing out the murkiness and eclectic roots of yoga (which, again, does not have just one set definition, either, but, like "love" or "good", has a world of debate beyond the literal meaning: "union".

    My post, perhaps not clearly enough was meant to point out, that MY yoga, at it's basic meaning of one human uniting with themselves and perhaps even a greater energy more fully, belongs to no one religion, and in fact, has always been a concept that exists independently of any religion, as well as before–and also within–many of them.

    I think our difference of opinion stemmed in part from what is a difference in our own understanding of the term yoga itself.

    In this way, as in my own personal way of viewing yoga means that it can only mean what it means to the person practicing it! Whew!

    Anyway–here is the article, which gives a nice historical context. And thank you again for making me think, and strive to become clearer today.


    And an excerpt:

    Is Hinduism Really Hindu?

    If we are to really speak of origins, “Hinduism” does not accurately describe Indian religion before the British Raj.

    The term’s use to designate a religion per se sprung from the meeting of British rule and what sociologist M. N. Srinivas called the “Brahminization” of Indian culture. Colonizing British deemed those religious activities in India that were closer to their own as more evolved and genuine than others. These were the hierarchical, centralized and vaguely monotheist (or deist) theologies of Saiva and Vaisnava Brahmins. The Brahmins themselves had been struggling with armed tantric monastic orders on one front, unsubordinated folk religion in small communities on another, and against Muslim rule on yet a third. The British presented an answer to all three woes. They broke the power of the Naths, the most powerful of the monastic orders that held North Indian trade routes. They also generally favored Brahmins to Muslims, and offered communication technologies that would spread and streamline Brahminic religion. The propagation of Brahminical culture and repression of contradictory folk practices included putting down the “superstitious” practice of Hatha Yoga.

    This is partly because Hatha Yoga and affiliated systems, while often sectarian, emerged out of the busy exchange between Shaivite, Vaishnava, Buddhist, Jain, and other tantric virtuosos on the periphery of religious society. One could therefore with similar success claim that yoga is a Buddhist practice, or a shamanic one. Yoga has always been a changing discipline: as David Gordon White and others point out, the semantic field of the word yoga is highly contingent upon when and where the word was used. Its intellectualized application in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is not what it meant in its (quite rare) Vedic and early epic uses. Yoga was a path to divine afterlives and superpowers for early Tantrics and a psycho-physical heal-all for Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), who is popularly considered the grandfather of contemporary yoga practice.

    Then again, Krishnamacharya’s teachings themselves bear the influence of the YMCA and its calisthenic appropriation of yoga in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. At many times throughout the development of yoga, there existed more disagreement among practitioners within the same general sect of Hinduism than among, say, Buddhist and Hindu tantrics, as to the meaning and practice of yoga.

    It is through early Hindu Nationalist organizations like the Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj that yoga emerged as a “Hindu” practice. This new yoga, however, was made to conform to the still-Brahminic inclinations of party leadership, as well as to the esotericism of European supporters like the Theosophical Society. Purged of its mixed roots, yoga came to represent Hinduism to the world through celebrity gurus such as Swami Vivekananda and Swami Shivananda.

    Thus the re-invention of a “Hindu” Indian history, along with nationalist revolutionary movements and a freshly-minted yoga, combined to foster the complex relationship between Hindu nationalism and yoga that exists today.

  11. Eschaton says:

    Sadly there seems to be a huge misunderstanding about the term 'Hinduism' . It is the modern day avatar of the more accurate 'Sanatana Dharma', which is comprised of the six Darshanas of which Yoga is one…I often hear people try to de-link Yoga from it's Hindu context by claiming that the term 'Hindu' was coined by outsiders upon seeing the Indus plains for the first time. However that has absolutely no bearing on the current debate since Hinduism is now used to describe the entire system of Indic thought as ultimately based around the Vedic concept of Advaita or non-duality. Hinduism, unlike Abrahamic faiths, does not require conversion or encourage proselytization. Anyone can avail of the 'revealed wisdom' or Shruti contained in the scriptures. It is very important that people clarify their definition of the term 'Hinduism' as used in contemporary parlance if this debate is to have any validity. All major Hindu concepts are based on Samkhya. The term 'yoga' (Bhakti, Jnana, Raja, Hatha, Kriya etc) covers the entire gamut of Hindu thought and vice versa. They are symbiotic, twin, interdependent concepts. Trying to decouple one from the other is absurd and laughable. Sanatana Dharma or 'Hinduism' as it is called nowadays is a body of knowledge that would take at least one entire lifetime to complete. Taking the word of semi-literate assembly line 'yoga teachers', razzle dazzle celebrity gurus and lightweights like Deepak Chopra is doing a great disservice to this bottomless ocean of wisdom.

  12. Maggie lee says:

    You know. You both need to live your own personal yoga. It’s not this complicated. It just isn’t. Downward Dog.

  13. yogaboca says:

    Maggie, it's unclear who you are speaking to when you say "you both." I am sensing some impatience or frustration on your part. As for me — I love Downward Dog – but to keep it really simple – – Just breathe. And you are right – yoga is not rocket science! :-)

  14. Eschaton says:

    Dee, I am just clearing up some confusion over the term 'Hinduism', what it means today as opposed to it's historical antecedents, as pointed out by Sadie. The source she quotes from relies heavily on Mark Singleton's contentious work Yoga Body which has been discredited by great scholars like Mallinson. I guess I was also responding to the larger debate – whether Yoga is Hindu etc…on which much has been discussed. Chopra came up in reference to that. He is not evil, far from it. Merely a hack who is able to combine new age fluff, pseudo science, pop psychology and repackaged Vedic concepts into a marketable, palatable, fluffy package for spring break sadhakas. He should stay away from areas where serious scholarship is of the essence. Some good sources I recommend are Mikel Burley's work, Muller-Ortega, Mircea Eliade, James Mallinson, Robert Svoboda, David Frawley. You mentioned some worthwhile sources yourself.. Of course nothing replaces actual study of the scriptures in the original Sanskrit. Yes certainly you can teach asanas but it is important to bring attention to the historical, cultural and esoteric context. Thanks for the straight-from-the-heart write up.

  15. Eschaton says:

    here's an erudite expose of Chopra –

  16. Jennifer says:

    I think "whitewash" is an overstatement. It is also important to note that many people start taking yoga for the "workout" and come to understand the spiritual relevance later. Self-realization is just that and not teacher- imposed realization. I think your criticism was harsh and unnecessary. Sadie has helped people access yoga and it is up to each person to find the meaning within themselves.

  17. Lakshmi says:

    The term "yoga" itself is not accurate. I guess we really should be calling most of what goes on here in yoga studios what it is…asana. It is very difficult to separate yoga from Hinduism, Hinduism from yoga…as Eschaton so eloquently puts it. Most of Hindu philosophy is Yogic philosophy. If you try to take yoga away from Hinduism, you're taking away the best parts!. I once heard a yoga teacher in a studio say, "no one in India practices yoga." Here's the (ridiculous) context: "When I was in India, I couldn't find any clothes that fit my arms. Women in India don't have "guns" (flexing her biceps) because no one in India does yoga….not like we do here." I was so offended by that!! The vast majority of people in India (including non-Hindus) practice yoga….they may not practice asana, but they most definitely practice yoga. What are people practicing here? Asana.

  18. everyone says:

    leave Sadie alone for God sake…… Yoga is Union. Yoga is Self Realization. Not Realization of Sadie or what everyone else thinks Yoga is…. If some one wants a Yoga Butt well good for them. In the process hopefully they will realize there is more to it than that but don't judge……

  19. Patrick says:

    I first met yoga and yoga open my heart to the Divine, which I feel at home within hinduism, more specifically the vaishnava brand. When I hear Krishna Das chanting Hare Krishna in a yoga class, it filled my heart with joy. So, listen your heart because beside scholar debate, God just want to be loved by you.

  20. yogaboca says:

    Patrick, I hear you! Your comment is sweet and I appreciate your sentiment.
    I think may teachers are using kirtan music in yoga classes for this very reason.

    It helps us to open our hearts! :-)

  21. Sadie Nardini sadienardini says:

    Hi Dee,

    I read your reply to my comment above, and I really appreciate you taking the time to dialogue with me. I'm glad you liked my book, too, which as you pointed out, has no asana, and was actually translating the yamas and niyamas, among other Eastern and Western philosophies into people's current challenges, to help provide solutions to help them become more empowered and harmonious with themselves and others.

    Basically, this is what I teach. If you've ever taken a workshop with me (you can see some of the Karma Talks I give on YouTube but I generally save them for the in person groups I travel to meet), you know I begin every class with at least a 30-minute conversation about how we can apply the yoga philosophies to our daily challenges, and help each person come to a Self-realization, strengthen their inner relationship and reliance and develop the Self-trust to express their truths (satya) out into the world.

    I am not opposed to bringing chanting, Hindu gods or anything else into class, but I would like to see more context given to students. I think many students get turned off from even hearing the core messages of yoga because they are too freaked out from being bombarded with Sanskrit chants and Krishna Das music (or whatever) in their first class. SOME students, mind you–not all, by any means. So who will teach them?

    This is not to say you should not call God or the Divine by those names in your studio, and immerse your students more in the chanting and The Das and such. It's just, as you said, there are many teachers for many students, and I find that my students are attracted to the non-religious vibe of my classes. That's all. Others would be more attracted to a more 'classical' experience. We can all co-exist, because we are all aiming to show people the healing benefits of yoga on all levels–mind, body and spirit, in the end.

    Once in a while, I do dip into the Sanskrit bag, such as sing the Om or bring up Ganesha, but I do it with full explanation of their symbolic meaning, and I encourage the students to each translate that meaning (Om=Intention through vibration, or Ganesha=removing obstacles to their greatness). As such, I discuss symbology, but I do not speak on religious themes in my class, and only touch on the symbols from other cultures (I also talk about Jesus, Buddha, Ellen DeGeneres, The Rude Guy in the Subway, and any other teacher with a practical message to share) to lead my students to a greater point about some aspect of transformation they can take through their lives that day.

    What I personally get confused by is when teachers bring in a lot of religious theming, Hindu or otherwise, and then don't bring it into applicable terms for the students. That can get confusing.

    Just as you want to see more God in the mix, I want to see more practical answers in the mix, such as "why am I doing this pose or singing this chant?" And "what does this mean? How can I actually use this tool to evolve in some way on and off the mat?"

    Those who understand yogic philosophy and western psychology deeply have attended my sessions and spoken to me afterward about how powerful the translation is.

    Don't mistake my simplicity for a lack of depth.

    And please, I invite anyone to attend a workshop or class with me and then decide for yourselves if the Spirit is lacking…or present.

    Thanks again, Dee–I think you're doing a great job being you!


  22. Valerie Carruthers ValCarruthers says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Valerie Carruthers
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  23. Great dialogue here and an important one to be having as the popularity of yoga grows.

  24. Nick says:

    I have really enjoyed reading this thread in lieu of doing my work… Ha! I teach yoga too in a Christian environment where Om “ing” is specifically prohibited and chanting too.

    At first I thought that this would be a disservice to my teachers. But, in time I have come to experience that silence can be even more powerful than a chant a prayer or some other religious or spiritually inspired vocals.

    I have had chrisitian pastors attend my classes who I felt would perhaps read through my deliberate ommissions of mentioning of god or union thereof. The response was good. What I am trying to say is that there are alternate ways to tune into God or spirituality without reading a verse or repeating mantra.

    I have also been taught that mantra said silently carries more efficacy than the spoken mantra.

    So if I get this vibe to be or not to be spiritual in a yoga class, I think that comes from the teacher and the teacher in parts undefined.

    Additionally, I think that this yoga/kirtan music can be both helpful to some. I have also taken yoga classes with rock music done in the background, maybe not my cup of tea but the experience that I think the teacher should bring the student is a sense of balance in their body. More specifically having the sushumna nadi opened. With so many classes out there, hopefully the student aligns to the teacher best suited for them.

  25. Pankaj Seth says:

    Yoga carries a seed within it that will push monotheism towards henotheism, and dualism towards non-dualism. The Bhagavad Gita mentions Yoga in its variety of Karma, Jnana and Bhakti. Yoga is a central concept in what is now called Hinduism, that textual tradition which goes back to the Vedas and comes forward into the Upanishads and the Puranas (epics). The aim of Yoga is Moksha, and the paths to Moksha can be theistic and non-theistic. Its Moksha which must be understood so to as to ascertain whether or not one is 'doing' Yoga.

    The endpoint in the monotheisms is 'salvation', which is not the same as 'Moksha'. Yoga is not just an activity but a worldview, and this worldview is pluralistic and includes monotheism, but really its henotheism… that is, the monotheistic claims are not exclusivist, and this is why Yoga will push monotheism towards henotheism. If anyone is holding on to exclusivist claims to salvation, then whatever exercises one is doing do not amount to Yoga.

  26. Pankaj Seth says:

    Its objectionable to me that some people wish to delink Yoga from Hinduism. Let me define Hinduism as the textual corpus beginning with the Vedas, including the Upanishads, the Puranas (epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana where Yoga is mentioned repeatedly), and includes stellar texts such as the Shiva Sutras, Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Vasistha and thousands more.

    By delinking, Yoga becomes universal while Hinduism is left with casteism, those strange rituals and many headed gods… this won't wash as the textual tradition cannot be delinked from Hinduism, and that is where the big ideas and practices are, which the West is welcome to, but it will change the West in the process, and has already done so, as Philip Goldberg details in "American Veda".

    The overarching scheme in Hinduism is the 4 aims of Life: Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. There are texts for each aim… like the Arthashastra, Kama Sutra and the numerous texts of Yoga, Vedanta etc which are Dharma and Moksha shastras (treatises). The 4th aim, Moksha is the purview of 6 complementary approaches, one of which is Yoga. The others are Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Sankhya, Mimamsa and Vedanta (both dual and non-dual).

    Here is a useful text towards education on these matters… A free copy of:… (2517 pages)

    Vyasa in the 7th century wrote, "Yoga is Samadhi"… both samadhi and moksha are the subjects to study in order to know what the textual tradition is pointing ot. One can of course say Yoga is whatever one wants to say it is… its a free country, but its not necessarily a knowledgable or cogent opinion.

  27. Pankaj Seth says:

    Yoga is a worldview, and contains many cogent maps which are helpful in framing experience (including self-experience) towards answering the question of one's existential condition. This worldview is not the same as the monotheisms nor of materialist science. When going deeper into the practises of Yoga, self-experience can change and its the maps in the Yogic worldview, the textual corpus going back to the Vedas which will be helpful then, rather than maps from other worldviews mentioned above.

    For example, to not know the difference between vikalpa samadhi and nirvikalpa samadhi, one will mistake one's projections for an objective truth… one result of this has been hearing the voice of God which says that one's tribal laws are actually universal laws.

    For those doing exercises for health benefits or to calm the mind, none of this need matter. But for those who are curious about their existential condition and thus take up Yoga (in this, no exercises are required but may be taken on just the same), for them the maps will be indispensible, or they can end up afraid and confused.

  28. Enorches says:

    The above article is embarrassing. Unfortunately, this sort of pretense isn't uncommon in the yoga universe. A woman looking for "yoga butt" (which is fantastic by the way) should go elsewhere because somehow she's not enlightened enough to enjoy your practice? Maybe this attitude is wanting for humility? Worth thinking about

    "Over the years Christianity has produced many yogis such as…Dionysus" Right…so..good luck with that.

  29. Juicy says:

    I practice yoga because it makes me feel good in mind and body. I am not religious so I'm very thankful for teachers like Sadie. We should be able to do healthy things for ourselves without buying into its origins or chanting its mantras. No offense to those who do use it as part of a religious practice just as you should take no offense to us.

  30. Nena says:

    Being rather new to the yoga teaching community as well as to this site I'm finding that the focus is so often on what is "authentic" yoga and what isn't. The obsession over semantics and the criticism between the authors here (however well-intentioned) are disheartening. Yoga is different for everyone, plain and simple.
    Your concern with Sadie's "attitude" and the assumptions you drew from her article is your problem, not hers. And I for one don't care about Sadie's knowledge of yoga history; I care about her amazing ability to help thousands find their version of yoga. Same goes for all the other yoga teachers I come across.

  31. Humility my virtue says:

    Meditation is not yoga. Meditation is a means to a higher level of existence to which all must aspire to be rid of the suffering of the soul. Meditation is a non-physical mechanism and in its purest form cannot be taught. True meditation is only passed on by those that have achieved this higher level of existence. It is achieved by extinguishing the five senses and thus cannot be perfected by any faculty that we here possess.

    You do not need yoga for meditation but you certainly must possess a fortunate destiny to meet with the true knower who alone can enlighten you to its bliss.

  32. Erin Sweeney says:

    Hi Dee, I'm coming to this fascinating discussion so late that I don't expect to get a reply from you – sad about that – but I wanted to let you know first THANK you for your post. Whether I agree with it or not doesn't really matter to me. What I truly appreciate about your post is that it speaks to an issue that comes up a lot for yoga teachers. WHAT do we do with people afraid of the religious components of yoga? What indeed! Of course you can't answer that and neither can I. I think all we can do is take it on a case by case basis. But one thing is for sure, telling them that yoga isn't religious so they shouldn't be afraid is nonsense. Sadie was definitely trying to reassure Mike with her post but the truth is, she doesn't need to do that. It's his job, his work; not hers. He was throwing his work at her when he sent her his anger and fear. All she needs to post back is… thank you for your comments. You said it in your post.

    "I know that some Christian yoga students have issues with yoga’s Hindu roots. For me, the answer is not to hide it. I think these students need to examine their feelings and their priorities. It’s all a part of self realization."

    Christians take issue with a lot of things. This is part of their faith. I'm so grateful it isn't part of mine. I think you are right about how to react in those words. "Thank you for your comments." Is what I feel is best. And we need not get defensive. Yoga is beautiful and we know it. SO beautiful. Never has it caused a war. We are asking people to love themselves and others – that is spiritual and to me it is religious. The religion of love… maybe love is the one true religion. And humans are beautifully good at it much of time.

    I start all my yoga classes this way:

    Citta Vritti Narodhah
    The cessation of the vacillations of the mind
    The purpose of yoga
    We set our intention to quiet our mind
    I invite you to OM with me 3 times

    And one last thing. During my yoga teacher training 5 years ago I got to meet Dr. Edwin Bryant… a scholar at Rutgars. He has a very lengthy book on the yoga sutras… rough to get through it. Anyway, I may not be explaining this well but he felt that Hinduism was a more modern term used as a blanket to describe a large variety of different belief systems and practices from ancient times. I guess maybe what we call all this stuff doesn't matter much though. We are human and we get upset and worked up – we all have our buttons and I have plenty of them. If I'm doing my yoga, the thing it does for me is to help me not overreact when my buttons are being pressed. If I do overreact then I need to do more yoga… I think… WAIT… I know what to do and I sit my beautiful yoga butt down and breathe.

  33. Sadi O. says:

    My question is, if I do not believe in God or any higher power does that mean I can not be fulling into my yoga practice?

  34. Julie Jones says:

    Wow! A lot of busy minds here. I practice Yoga everyday, and I am a Buddhist. I also love the Hindu Religion as well. I say my chants, wear my Mala Beads and have a Buddha Altar and a Ganesh statue. If one is offended with Hindu being a part of Yoga, then let them be. Not everyone is on the path that another is. Like Einstein said of ……Buddhism…. “Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and spiritual; and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.

    “If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism. So if one is offended then they are offended, no need to worry about it or try and reach out to them, they are just on a different path right now in life.
    I love the fact that I chant and am a Buddhist, I was formerly a devout Christian, but converted about 2 yrs ago, and I am a very Compassionate Being now and have changed my life for the good in such a good way.
    Namaste' in truth and love and light and peace.
    Julie….March 2014

  35. Julie Jones says:

    Wow! A lot of busy minds here. I practice Yoga everyday, and I am a Buddhist. I also love the Hindu Religion as well. I say my chants, wear my Mala Beads and have a Buddha Altar and a Ganesh statue. If one is offended with Hindu being a part of Yoga, then let them be. Not everyone is on the path that another is. Like Einstein said of ……Buddhism…. “Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology

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  37. MicheleP says:

    There is nothing yogic about this response to Sadie, because yoga is about compassion, following a spiritual and personal path, and being inward; not regurgitating someone's text from a book, or judging.
    Disagreement is fine, but perhaps the disagreement should have been kept private and cultured into compassion.
    There were a lot of points that the writer (Dee) made that made me wonder how she herself actually views yoga.

    Mentioning all the people that now "do" yoga – not "practiced" but "do"… assuming that people who take classes are doing it superficially, etc.. what a sad worldview.
    Also, the assumption that "doing" yoga means going to class… or assuming yoga is or is not religious. Yoga is a tool used in a religion just as a candle is a tool used in some religions (everything from Catholic serves to worshipping the devil) but the candle alone is not a religious focus. One can light a candle in their home without practicing christianity or atheism – as example.

    Anyway, it sounds more to me that a differing of opinion had to be made into right/wrong, rather than the very core of what yoga is, which is a path of personal growth and expression of self, of peace.

    We can all go into details about religions, limbs, texts, swami's .. hello, this is all external. If you practice yoga and want to chant om, it is just as valid to practice yoga and pray. There isn't a yoga police nor should there be. You follow who resonates with you, who inspires you… and don't disregard someone you disagree with, simply don't follow them.

    Did I seriously just read nit-picking of playlists? oh my ….

    There are many correct yoga paths, more than stars in the sky.

    Practice yoga, not asana and depend upon texts, trust yourself and let it be… yoga comes from within, that's where the alleged texts first were born. They are someone else's inner world, and if you choose to adopt that fine, but don't discount that other inner worlds are wrong.

    If I had the will
    I'd write a yoga haiku
    to defend sadie

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