Yesterday, someone asked me what I thought about yoga from a religious perspective. She had a friend who shared an article with her which depicted yoga as a “non-Christian” activity and was maybe even connected to evil spirits or something. She wanted to know what I thought and how I handle those types of comments/questions.
Well, I am ALL too familiar with people confusing yoga and religion. When I was trying to get building permits from the county for the studio space they continued to deny me saying yoga was a religious practice and the space needed to be categorized as a church (they even claimed we used prayer mats!). That is a story for another day…
This topic comes up quite a bit, so let me clear the air between yoga and religion. There is none. There is no air. Yoga is not a religious practice. Ok? Thanks.
Let me elaborate.
I think the main problem here is that people fear what they do not know. I get it… the unknown can be scary, but let’s not get up in arms without doing our research first. Yoga was created as guide for the path to enlightenment, live an ethical life, and how to navigate being human in general. There are 8 limbs, or suggested practices, of yoga:
Yamas – restraints
Niyamas – observances
Asana – the physical postures of yoga
Pranayama – the breath
Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses (mindfulness)
Dharana – concentration
Dyana – meditation
Samadhi – union with the divine or with the entire universe
We could discuss these all day, but I’ll let you research them further on your own. Basically, these are guidelines for how to be good person (to yourself and to others) – how to live a full life.
Yes, sometimes “the divine” is mentioned in yogic texts and chants, and personally, in practicing these limbs I find it nearly impossible not to feel a connection to the “divine”. The divine refers to whatever you personally connect with (God, Allah, the universe, a tree, a golden cow… whatever floats your boat). Yoga includes a spiritual practice, yes. But, it is not a religion, is not a religious practice, and is not associated with any one religion in particular. Yoga is practiced by millions of people around the world – all from different backgrounds, cultures, religions, and geographical locations.
Yes, in yoga we sometimes chant, sing “OM”, and use words in another language (sanskrit). AGAIN, just because it is unknown to us does not mean it is wrong or evil. A simple google search will tell you what Namaste means, will tell you what those chants translate to in English, will explain to you that “OM” is simply a sound.
Lastly, and quite possibly, most importantly, yoga is a personal practice. Your practice belongs to you and no one else. Not your friends’, not your family, and not your teachers’. You practice how you want, when you want, where you want… or don’t do it at all. It’s your choice and it does not determine where you go or don’t go in the after life.
Be a good person, do what makes you happy, and educate yourself before forming opinions.