February 3, 2011

Myth: Yoga is a Religion

A very dicey subject is the relationship between yoga and religion, but it is a valid concern among those contemplating a yoga practice. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu—anyone can practice yoga.

No, yoga is not a religion.

Yoga is a physical and mental practice, but it does not require deity worship, rituals, sacred icons, or membership (all elements that are part of the definition of religion). Being spiritual, yoga is centered on exploring the self and our place in the world. In comparison, religion is a counterpart to spirituality, focusing on an externalized organizational structure.

You will not be betraying your faith by chanting om or saying namaste to your teacher. One of the ultimate goals of yoga is liberation. Chanting is just another way of opening up the mind, but as with any other element of yoga, it is optional.

Everyone is welcome to their religious choice when practicing yoga. Still, there will be those who interpret yoga as a religion and, despite the given facts, will continue to believe so. In the end, those people are missing out on yoga’s plentiful opportunities to grow in a myriad of ways.

“Yoga provides us with an opportunity to pause and connect to our own divinity,” says Elena Brower. “Rather than something separate from ourselves, we’re actually connecting to what is highest within ourselves.”

Our world is full of numerous religions, each with their own explanations for the origin of our species and for our connection with what can’t be seen. In a similar fashion, there is an ever-growing number of yoga styles, giving us the opportunity to select one that feels right for us and our religious path. Whether you believe in one god, many gods, or no god at all, yoga is a spectacular extension of our search for understanding.

“Many people find that yoga actually supports their existing religious tradition,” says Natasha Rizopoulos. “They discover that it helps them to integrate their spiritual beliefs into their daily activities in ways that are both tangible and profound.”

The debate on whether yoga is a religion is vibrantly ongoing, with no end in sight. Just like the many religious texts, the concept of yoga is translated in many ways. When approaching the possibility of practicing yoga, I implore you to be open-minded. Don’t let your fears or interpretations hold you back from trying yoga for yourself.

“People of all faiths, beliefs, and religions can use the tools of a yogic life to deepen their spiritual practice,” says David Lurey. “It’s up to the practitioner to feel the essence of yoga’s messages and apply them to their own beliefs.”

If you are so inclined, delve into the wide world of written yogic knowledge, exploring the subject on your own terms. As with any other resource, yoga teachers are a fantastic asset in your search for understanding yoga’s spirituality.

Yoga is based on the concept that personal experiences and realizations trump untested theories. So don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Adapted with permission from 27 Things to Know About Yoga by Victoria Klein ©2010 by Victoria Klein.

[Photo credit: Religione 2.0]
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