Recently, as I was headed out the door for a yoga class, I realized that I had never invited my good friend out to a class with me. I thought she would like just to get out of the house, especially considering the fact that she is very active in the running community. But when I got her on the phone, she almost couldn’t say no fast enough because she felt that yoga delved too deeply into religion, and since she is a staunch Jehovah’s Witness, she felt it went against her belief system to go to a class.
This got me to thinking; is yoga a religion? Is it seen as such? Hmm…investigation is required.
Now, I’m someone who truly feels that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, as long as they aren’t forced upon anyone else. I believe in God, but that is my own personal choice, and I don’t choose to worship in a public church venue and I don’t feel that my belief in God affects my yoga practice. And I also believe that we have so much to learn from one another and other religions, so much so that to me, every day is a new and important experience on the path to my own spirituality.
Once the idea came to my head, I felt a real need to research the idea of yoga as a potential religion. A really great article can be found here: simply click on the “Is Yoga a Religion” link. I’ve read countless articles on the topic, several books on Hinduism and Buddhism, and several forums. The debate obviously still exists.
As most of my readings deduced, there is no denying that yoga practices are rooted in eastern traditions, however, that is simply because that is where yoga originated. And although these concepts often still remain in yoga itself, it doesn’t have to be a part of your practice.
I use an analogy based on Canada as a whole. Canada is a country where a majority of the original immigrants were of a Christian faith. However, Christianity certainly isn’t a necessary criteria that regulates one’s ability to become Canadian. In fact, what makes Canada so amazing is the mix of ethnicity and faiths that comprise our amazing country, and the right to retain your beliefs no matter where you are. I see yoga as being similar to Canada. You can stroll into any yoga studio and believe in any deity, God, or higher power, and still retain that faith, all through the class, all while stretched into warrior pose.
For those of you who worry that yoga will encroach upon your own personal religious beliefs, I encourage you to go to a class and shop around for a studio that makes you feel comfortable. If the teacher is spouting off with a bunch of Buddhist ideology that makes you uncomfortable, then feel free to walk out of the room and into another studio that is more in line with your beliefs. Yoga is more accessible today than it ever has been before. One no longer needs to go to a retreat in India to learn the path to a deeper practice. There are books, DVD, classes, whatever! The belief system that exists in yoga is not married to any religion. This is what makes it so beneficial to people across the world.
So from what I’ve learned, the answer to my original question is no, yoga is not a religion. It is simply a tool to deeper understanding of yourself, and in fact, can often deepen your relationship with whatever God you believe in, or don’t believe in. Yoga can give any number of things to yourself and to your body, if only you let it.