Under The Bohdi Tree - Is Yoga Religion?
Although the long and short-term medical benefits of Yoga have been widely documented, many people still refuse to try it. For the longest time I couldn’t understand why people seemed to prefer high impact, body jolting, injury promoting fitness regimes over proven low impact Ancient methods. It wasn’t until I moved to the South that I realized, I had failed to notice the elephant in the room. For many Yoga is off limits because they do not want to compromise their Faith, for them the question remains: “Isn’t Yoga a Religion?” In the South Eastern United States where most identify as Christians, this question looms large.
Thankfully, I can say honestly and with great integrity: YOGA IS NOT A RELIGION.
Religion is categorized by both a belief in a God or group of Gods and an organized system of ceremonies to worship a God or Gods. Yoga has no God or Gods and therefore no one to worship. However Yoga & Religion do have some parallels.
The world’s various Religions exist to promote greater connection for man with the natural world, his divine origin, his spirit, and himself through his devotion to a God & obedience of divine law. While Yoga has a divine origin, if the myths of its creation are true, its philosophy is purely secular. The preeminent work on yoga philosophy – Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras – clearly explains that Yoga is not a Religion but rather it is a vehicle for self-transformation.
Yoga is about You. Yoga promotes introspection, increased physical &emotional awareness, perspective shifts, release of stagnant energy, personal growth and internal peace. The truth is that Yoga and Religion have one obvious parallel: each promotes positive self-transformation through action and reflection. Yoga does this by causing the individual to come to the mat and experience themselves in that moment with out any buffers.
The act of engaging in mindful movement & breathing, while focusing on the intentionality of one’s acts gives each person the opportunity to dive deeper into themselves. During a Yoga Asana practice, One will inevitability confront some truths about oneself that will not be pleasant. On the mat you’re safe to explore those experiences, and you’re free to cultivate a foundation for resolution, release, and renewal.
Some of you are thinking, “None of this explains why there is giant Elephant headed dude in that Yoga Studio I visited,” and your right - it doesn’t. What is important to know is that Yoga has many lineages, these lineages are all influenced by the different Yogi’s who started them. Since Yoga originated in South East Asia, many Yogis did incorporate some of their Hindu beliefs into their yogic lineages – while many others did not.
The first yoga Studio I ever visited was adorned with many Hindu fetishes, images of Gurus hung on the walls, and the air was heavily saturated with rich incense. I had no quarrel with the iconography, but it did not resonate with me. The next Studio I went to was bereft of any spiritual imagery and displayed a strict minimalist philosophy with its exposed brick, wood floors and space heaters. This second Studio seemed more amenable to me, but I was still looking for something more. After continued searching, I came across a Studio that felt right. Its natural wood floors and paneling coupled with lotus tea light candles felt like home from the moment I walked inside. The final Studio was able to achieve a balance between spiritual and physical that was perfect for me. However, there are many Yogis who prefer a Studio that teaches yoga absent of spirituality, and even others that prefer Studio’s with Guru based lineages. Ultimately the choice is yours.
Be open to exploring the abundance of options. You will find that some teachers will vary the extent to which they focus on the spiritual during their Class, some pepper it in while others completely leave it out. While certain Yogic lineages can certainly offer a spiritual outlet for those looking to mix in mythology with their movement, there are many lineages that focus on self-exploration through movement electing to highlight physiology, alignment, and introspection. The one fundamental truth is that Yoga is certainly not a Religion.
 Yoga was said to have been created by Shiva during a 1000 year mediation.