As yoga has spread to the western world, it has come face to face with many religious practices. And since it’s not all that uncommon to hear your yoga teacher mention one Hindu tradition or another, it has naturally left many wondering if yoga is a religion-based practice.
While modern yoga, the stuff you see in yoga classes with your favorite yoga teacher, is mostly focused on the asana practice, traditional yoga is not so physical…
…but does that make it a spiritual discipline or a religious experience?
And does it necessarily conflict with other religious practices, like Christianity?
Well, it seems like many followers of the Christian faith are a bit hesitant to practice yoga, especially when rituals are involved or when a Sanskrit word inevitably pops up in their yoga classes.
But the truth is that it’s not so black and white (nothing ever is).
While yoga isn’t deemed a religion in and of itself, the Yoga Sutras do outline a yogic moral code of sorts and aligns well with Hindu beliefs. And much of the tradition, such as rituals and mantra chanting, does mirror a lot of other religious practices (like Christmas and worship).
So is yoga a religion, then?
Let’s put it this way: it predates religion. It was founded before Christianity and any other faith-based philosophy you’ve heard of. And it comes way before Jesus Christ, too. It’s a spiritual discipline in the sense that it connects us with the spirit of nature and everything in it.
Sadhguru says religion has nothing to do with it. Instead, yoga is a technology, a way to improve your life through very precise practices.
Yoga is a type of practice that includes far more that the postures (asana), including pranayama, meditation, and clean living. The end goal, samadhi, is enlightenment, which is basically a life with absolute clarity and peace. So if you wanna call it a religion because it makes you a better person, then yeah, okay. We can call it that.
I turned to my students and asked them what they thought about yoga as a religion, whether or not it conflicts with their beliefs about Jesus Christ, and if it should be taught in public schools.
This is one beautiful, well-thought-out response that I received, so I wanted to share it here with you here:
History of Yoga
Some researchers believe that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old. Historians have found stone carvings of Yoga postures in the Indus Valley that are dated at about 3,000 BC. The word Yoga is believed to first be seen in The Rig Veda, a sacred text of the Vedic religion. Other written Sanskrit texts mentioning Yoga can be found from the time period between 1,500 – 1,000 BC.
Like much of ancient history though, the roots of yoga are vague. Before written word, civilizations relied on oral history and teachings. So much was lost, or altered, as information was passed down from student to teacher, from generation to generation.
Is Yoga a Religion?
I have seen and heard so many arguments around this topic recently! It can be a real hot button issue in certain circles. Schools, churches, and other organizations have banned yoga from their buildings because they think of it as a religion. People are told by friends or family members that they shouldn’t practice yoga because they’re worshiping ‘’other gods” when they do. So many lies and misconceptions are keeping people from reaping the benefits of the amazing practice.
Yoga is not a religion in and of itself. Yoga is a practice designed to help unify body, mind, and spirit. Yoga is a way of life. The word Yoga means “to yoke” or “to join”. While yoga is a spiritual practice it does not belong to any one religion!
The practice of yoga has been adopted, developed, and refined by people of many creeds and cultures all around the world during its evolution. Yoga has ties to Hinduism and Buddhism, which have incorporated the practices of yoga, but you do not need to belong to either of those religions to practice yoga. I believe the practice of yoga can support any belief system you choose to follow.
Yoga is not a religion, but my mat is a sacred space. Within its boundaries, I can shed some of my own. My mat is a place of release and surrender when I can allow it to be. I have found inner peace, and I have battled inner demons. I have celebrated some victories and experienced many failures. I have learned patience and persistence, while also learning that I don’t need to be attached to the outcome. There is a certain freedom in letting go, in allowing myself to face those things I may have been avoiding. I often come away finding that I have more space to breathe and just be. Coming to my mat is like coming home to myself. Coming to my mat enables me to be my truest self.
Yoga is not a religion, but it will teach you how to be a human being. In a world where the status quo is busyness, yoga teaches us to slow down. You can become a human being instead of a human doing. We have become almost afraid to sit with ourselves! When we have spare time we are always doing something; scrolling through social media, listening to podcasts, playing games on our phones, the list could go on and on. Your practice can teach you to enjoy the pause, to get comfortable with the silence. You learn to appreciate those moments when you can just sit and be.
Yoga is not a religion, but it has taught me acceptance. Acceptance of things I can not change and things I will not change. You learn to be more forgiving and welcoming. Change has never been easy for me, I think change is hard for a lot of us. Yoga has shown me that I do not have to fear change, that change can be a beautiful process. I have also learned that change will not always be easy, but I can welcome that and use the tools of yoga to navigate it gracefully. Yoga has taught me acceptance of myself and the acceptance of others. I can be more at peace with the actions of others knowing that they are dealing with things I may never know about. Just as I struggle, so do they. I do not have to take their actions personally. I can look upon a situation with equanimity, and respond instead of reacting.
Yoga is not a religion, but it is a spiritual practice. How often have you left your mat feeling connected to something so much greater than yourself? Just knowing that there has to be more to life than what we can see. No matter what you believe, yoga teaches you that you are not alone. There is a master plan, and you serve a purpose in the grand design. We are all in this together, and only through love can we work as a team.
This practice is incredibly powerful and can bring about transformation in so many ways. So many of us begin to practice for the physical benefits alone, but soon begin to see that we are being changed from the inside out. So while Yoga is not a religion according to the first definition of the word, it most definitely can be according to the second definition given.
So how does the dictionary define religion?
- a particular system of faith and worship.
- a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.
I don’t know about you, but my practice is extremely important to me! I have shared with you only a few of the things I love about my practice, and there are so many more. Try not to let the limiting beliefs of others keep you from discovering what this practice has to offer you.