Is Yoga a religion?
A few years back, during a time when our local yoga community and some of our teachers were being held to this question on many accounts, I was asked to be part of a discussion panel at Regent University. The discussion was intended to answer the question "Does Yoga Conflict With The Practice of Christianity?" In preparation for this discussion, I wrote this article.
Yoga does not claim to be religion. However, yoga can compare to the concept of religion in that its intention is to apply mental fortitude, forward our understanding of humanity and connect us to spirit. Like all things, yoga is what it is. Each person to practice yoga has the freedom to resonate with it however serves them best. Yoga may mean many things to many people and still stay within its original intended nature. Yoga can be simple and yoga can be quite comprehensive. Yoga has the ability to accommodate the flow of our individual needs. As we change and evolve, so does the practice. Our yoga practice grows with us and at the same time we grow with it.
As yoga encourages us to strongly consider our individual senses without judgement and comparison, it therefor never intends to discern any one point of view about humanity.
Yoga’s practice allows us to manifest a sense of compassion and apply it equally to ourselves as much as it can to others around us. Yoga is a way for us to connect to the heart of who we are and therefore can compliment any religious faith. Religion is neither necessary nor unsupported by the practice of yoga.
Yoga gives us a means to thoroughly investigate ourselves. As we take to a yoga mat and work through movement and posture, opening to sensations within and making choices to be either kind or aggressive, we are also allowed to nurture the capacity to extend ourselves outward in that same way, anywhere else in our life experiences. The choice to be kind and compassionate or rigid and judgemental are considerations consistent throughout yoga and throughout life. If practiced in ernest, yoga is synonymous with the practice of being a better person. A more conscious being. This may contain religion or it may not.
Yoga is rooted in the philosophy that we are one with all beings. We all share the same common potential for a limitless spiritual essence. Yoga says we should not only experience the beauty of nature but also recognize that same beauty in our own nature. The perspective of yoga is not necessarily to merely admire religious figures or deities such as Ganesh, The remover of obstacles but towards honoring or acknowledging our own ability to overcome our own obstacles. Yoga opens to teachings like those of the Buddha with the intention of anchoring less on the system of Buddhism and more towards the path of self realization or enlightenment. In yoga we are inspired by Jesus not necessarily for the purpose of worship but to open to no lesser of a knowing, that we too may rise to a level of “Christ-like consciousness”.
Yoga collects all kinds of inspiration in exchange for the will to reciprocate that inspiration. As we apply the principles of yoga we alchemize our way of life. We change the patterns of false beliefs about ourselves and others. One at a time, we open empty spaces in the body, in the mind and in our spirit and considerately fill them with love. We strengthen all aspects of who we are and therefor experience more joy just by being. With each insight yoga brings us closer to the purest form of ourselves. Our truest organic nature. Our divine self. This is the intention of yoga. When the intention of religion is the same, there is indeed a solidarity within humanity between yoga, religion and true spirituality.
Author- Kim Austin-Peterman