Is yoga a religion?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn a word, no. However, a one-word blog entry isn’t terribly interesting, so allow me to elaborate. Yoga is mistaken for a religion because it is often found in conjunction with Buddhism or Hinduism. Depictions of Hindu Gods and Goddesses can be found in yoga studios all over the world. Despite all of this, yoga itself is not associated with any particular form of worship. You can do yoga and be a Hindu, an atheist, a Buddhist or a Christian. Yoga is sort of like a bagel – put your favorite thing on it and it’s perfect.

It saddens me when I hear of Bible belt schools banning yoga. You don’t have to be or believe or do anything to be a yogi. You just have to be. Yoga is, first and foremost, a discipline of self-discovery. Yoga isn’t so much about learning something you don’t already know. Rather it’s about discovering things that are hidden from your view.

The more I study, the more I find the same themes throughout all of the world’s religions. In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of loving one another, of turning away from anger, of helping those who are less fortunate. All of these are yoga principles. If there is a grand doctrine of yoga, it is the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali. In Chapter 1 he says “Mind becomes purified by cultivation of feelings of amity, compassion, goodwill and indifference respectively toward happy, miserable, virtuous and sinful creatures”. Sounds a bit like “turn the other cheek” to you? It sure does to me.

Religion, for the most part, has one seeking wisdom outside oneself. Either in the teachings of a prophet or other writer or in holy scriptures. Yoga is about seeking wisdom from inside. It’s about uncovering what you already know. That is the real discipline of yoga. There is no answer out there somewhere. The answers are in your own heart. Waiting to be discovered as you practice. Whatever you bring to your yoga practice will be your path, your journey. Whatever you lift up will be elevated by your practice. Whatever you devote yourself to will be nurtured.

Categories: Yoga Myths

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