Is Yoga a Religion?
Looking back into the roots of yoga, its history and philosophy, you see that yoga was always secular. Although traditionally it has always been associated with spirituality, and spirituality was never separate from religion. Yoga seeks to help us understand our inner world through various techniques that include meditation, asanas, breathing, focused awareness, and certain rules of behavior and conduct. This realization might be confusing to some and may raise the question if yoga is a religion. In fact, different religious groups forbid the practice of yoga in any form for these reasons. In order to clarify and address this issue we must first understand what yoga is and how someone religious can practice yoga without feeling compromised.
The living Master Sadguru says, ‘’What religion you belong to has nothing to do with your ability to make use of the yogic systems, because yoga is a technology.’’
Yoga doesn’t believe in any god. There is no prophet, priest, nor any holy temple or holy book. All the practices mentioned in the scriptures of yoga are the pure techniques or the methods to reach your inner being. Yoga is primarily simply a tool for exploring the depth of our human nature and discovering and connecting to the mysteries of the body and mind. All forms of yoga boil down to the assumption that we have not yet tapped into our full potential as human beings. In particular, yoga seeks to connect us to our spiritual core, our innermost nature, helping to figure out who we truly are. This nature can be described differently by various yogis, but ultimately it is up to you to find your own truth.
This is why yoga is not a religion. Rather than being expected to believe traditional theories and explanations, we are free to allow our personal experience and shape our understanding. In fact, yoga’s heritage is so comprehensive that anyone can find the right techniques that will not conflict with their personal beliefs. This freedom gives the chance to interpret your practice in a way that can enhance your beliefs. Yoga is a spiritual journey to one’s inner self and doesn’t collide with any religion, let alone be a religion.
Furthermore, religious groups or even just religious minded individuals will find in yoga many ideas and sentiments, especially about a moral life, with which they will easily resonate. Yoga can be a spiritual discipline that draws you closer to God if that’s what you wish for. Yoga is adaptable. So it can be presented in a secular context that has no elements of spirituality, or it can be presented as a spiritual discipline that supports the Christian faith, the Jewish faith or the Buddhist faith. It is for everyone. And one can adapt the practices to suit individual views.
Both yoga and religion have an essential devotional element. Religion focuses on God, and God decides whether we go to heaven or hell. The main focus in religion is to serve God. Yoga practices ‘Ishvarapranishan’ which means surrender yourself towards the supremacy where the ego loss is experienced and you seek your true self. They can complement each other and one can help you advance and dive deep in the practice of the other. It’s all about setting your goals and practicing both with full awareness of the differences. Once you do so, take yoga a step farther and have it challenge your belief system. Do so in a positive way of creating more peace, understanding, awareness, and connecting you to your greater universal truth.
Beliefs are just a conceptual framework covering reality. We should not be attached to them and they shouldn’t prevent us from being aware of true reality and ourselves. Yoga is a discipline that can helps us evolve and become our best version. Use the tool of yoga to go beyond your present understanding of yourself and merge with the universe.
After my two years of service as an intelligence officer in the Israeli Army, I desperately needed to find a way to reconnect with my mind, soul and body. I became a flight attendant and explored the world. Throughout my travels I took yoga classes and found it filled the void and nurtured my body and mind. I realized that yoga isn’t a hobby but a deep passion. I quit my job and registered with Asan Yoga School for the 200 hours teacher training course. During the course we dove deep into yoga philosophy and training and this opened my eyes to a whole new world. With a new understanding I have written this essay on the topic of yoga and religion.
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