Yoga transcends titles. Everyone’s practice is different. One person’s practice might be deeply spiritual or religious while another person’a practice is the opposite. In the West, we’re so quick to put titles and labels on things as if once we’ve labeled something we truly understand it.
What is Yoga?
In sanskrit, the word yoga means union. When we practice yoga, we are creating a union between the body, mind, and breath.
Yoga as a Science
Our teacher, Rory Trollen, described yoga as a science where you are the scientist and the lab. Rory explained there are simple, valid ways of finding out why one day you wake up feeling happy or sad.
Rory taught us that yoga does not require belief or faith, just practice.
“In the last two or three decades, when yoga was introduced to the modern world, it was received with some scepticism. At first people thought that it was another religion. But in spite of this young people took up yoga and soon others began to notice its amazing effects. Then the psychologists, medical doctors, criminologists, and philosophers started making investigations and they were surprised to find that yoga is not a religion but a science.” ~Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Yoga as a System
Patanjali said that, “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” This does not make the practice inherently religious, instead it is a system to live a more present, intentional life.
The system of yoga helps you cultivate inner awareness. For example, as you advance your practice, you’ll be able to more easily change your mental state. You’re less likely to be a slave to the 80,000 thoughts that the average human has each day.
Yoga as a Spiritual Practice
Some see yoga as a union between their being and the universe. If this is your interpretation, then perhaps yoga is a spiritual practice for you. Dr. Larry Dossey, a leader in the field of spirituality, describes spirituality as “a sense of connectedness with something greater than oneself.”
“Yoga is an aid to the practice of the basic spiritual truths in all religions. Yoga is for all, and is universal.“ ~Swami Sivananda Saraswati
Do I need to be Hindu or Buddhist to Practice?
Although historical roots dating back 4,000 years show that yoga comes from Hinduism, one does not need to be Hindu to practice. There are similarities in yogic principles and the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism although one need not prescribe to any particular religion in order to practice.
“Yoga is not Hindu, it is not Mohammedan. Yoga is a pure science just like mathematics, physics or chemistry. Physics is not Christian, physics is not Buddhist. If Christians have discovered the laws of physics, then too physics is not Christian. It is just accidental that Christians have come to discover the laws of physics. But physics remains just a science. Yoga is a science—it is just an accident that Hindus discovered it. It is not Hindu. It is a pure mathematics of the inner being. So a Mohammedan can be a yogi, a Christian can be a yogi, a Jaina, a Buddhist can be a yogi.” ~Osho
Is yoga a sin?
If you’re so inclined, yoga can be interpreted as a merging between you and whatever God you believe in. So, in Judeo+Christian circles, how could becoming closer to God possibly be considered a sin?
If you want to become closer to your source or to God, yoga can help. Yoga helps remove external stimuli that serve as a detriment to truly connecting with ourselves, God, the Universe and other people.
Yoga enhances my religious practice and helps me to become a better person. As a Catholic, I’ve found that yoga has helped bring me closer to God, Jesus, the Universe, my family, my friends, and everything and everyone around me. If that makes my practice a religious practice in the eyes of others, then so be it.
Why is the debate relavant right now?
Mostly because of ignorance, fear and egos of people who do not understand yoga but feel threatened by it. Also, people who get tied up in their incessant need to label things.
Yoga can be religious. Yoga can be secular. You don’t have to apply a title to your practice. Your practice is whatever you want it to be.
It is clear, however, that what separates yoga from gymnastics or stretching is the union. The union between mind, body, breath and something bigger whether it be God or the Universe.
With the rise of technological addictions, external stimuli overload, and advertisement bombardment in the West, it seems a connection to something bigger that ourselves is exactly what we need.
You do not need to be religious to practice yoga although you might find that yoga leads you down a spiritual path that you never considered possible.