It’s a touchy subject isn’t it? Maybe it’s because I live in the South, but the question “Is yoga a religion?” does come up and I want to share my view on how I handle it. Since yoga has become more mainstream and has found it’s way into gyms, schools, and even churches, there is a lot of room for different opinions on the spiritual aspect of yoga and how it fits into western religious beliefs.
There are purists on both sides who would argue strongly that without the spiritual aspect, yoga is simply stretching. There are also christians who believe that yoga is going against their own beliefs and they are skeptical of trying it for this reason.
I say this: Let Yoga be whatever it is YOU are seeking, not what someone tells you it must be. Let it be there for you in any way you need. And let others enjoy it how they need to without judgement.
If it’s the strong physical practice you desire then so be it. That’s OK. There is no better way to move your body than through the asanas and breath work of yoga. I am so happy more people are trying it and feeling the physical benefits.
If you seek spiritual guidance and direction from Yoga then great- Go deep, study, and absorb everything you can from this ancient practice. Read, learn, and embrace it. Find a teacher who is knowledgeable about this side of yoga and practice with them.
But please don’t tell either side who is right and who is wrong. I know students who cannot stand incense, chanting, or meditation. I don’t judge that because I know they need something else from Yoga and who am I to stop them?
I also know teachers who get irritated and defensive if gyms or fitness centers teach yoga without using sanskrit or bringing the spiritual side into the practice. In the big picture, who cares? Let people enjoy what they can from a beautiful and complex form of exercise and practice how you want.
I recently had the opportunity with some friends to teach yoga at a very large Baptist church group fitness symposium. It was amazing to witness all of the congregation in prayer pose and moving in unison. There was no barrier or judgement to what anyone believed or who they worshipped- we were just all there together breathing and moving and being present. They were connected to themselves and we were connected to each other for that brief period of time.
Isn’t that what Yoga is all about; Connection?