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Ann Pizer

Is Yoga a Religion?

By October 28, 2008

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The recent case in which a high school decided to suspend an in-classroom yoga program instructing students in breathing and relaxation techniques because of parental objections to their kids being taught Hinduism in school has brought this issue to the fore. Is yoga a religion? Yoga was allowed back into the school's program under the name Raider Relaxation, by the way.
October 29, 2008 at 7:37 am
(1) Maria says:

Oh, brother! Once again, people allow fear and ignorance to rule their actions. I am a member of a conservative Christian religion/community. When I first started telling people how much I love yoga and depend on it for stress and pain relief, I got some very odd looks and comments. Once I educated them, they calmed down. Whether or not yoga is a religion, I think, is determined by the heart of the person practicing it. If you’re in it for exercise and relaxation, the answer would be no. If you use it as a means of prayer/worship, then yes.

October 29, 2008 at 10:00 am
(2) Kari says:

I have to say that while I agree with the heart of Maria’s comment, I don’t agree with the last sentence. As a yoga teacher, I believe that students can use their yoga practice as a tool to enhance their own spiritual/religious beliefs in the form meditation and prayer. Yoga is a personal and private journey. The teacher is a guide on a journey. The path the individual takes is up to them. You can practice yoga to stretch, increase strength and flexibility, reduce stress AND meditate and pray and it’s still not a religion. It’s a tool to evolve on your own spiritual journey, whereever that may take you and however you choose to take it. Shanti

October 30, 2008 at 2:11 pm
(3) anne says:

I think we must differentiate here between organized worship (religion) and spirituality. Yoga is not an organized religion, although many Hindus do practice yoga. However, it can be a very spiritual practice, though that can mean many things to people. Almost anything can be a spiritual practice if it connects the person doing it to a deeper or more universal sense in the world.


October 30, 2008 at 7:27 pm
(4) Kara-Leah says:

One definition of religion is “A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.” While in yoga we may look to the teachings of other yogis, eventually the only teacher we need pay heed to is the one that resides within each of us. In essence we each follow our own inner teacher. So is yoga a religion?

If it is, 6 billion people practicing yoga would mean 6 billion religions!

As the ultimate goal of yoga is self-realisation, or realisation of one’s connection with the divine… it could be perceived as a religion as it does compromise a path to God… but it’s not exclusive so one can both be Catholic and practice yoga. Does this mean one has two religions?

October 31, 2008 at 3:30 am
(5) Gordon says:

When human beings use the mental force to try to define, explain, convey, or rationalize a divine experience it does, to say the least, leave a lot to be desired.

The features that commonly define religion (as opposed to the words that commonly define it) is that a pathway to divinity is crafted, it is crafted in only one way, that way but be specifically employed by the aspirant (or they do not “get there”) and that is the only way for each and every person.

It’s not prose, I admit. But it is a fairly solid and functional definition which withstands several tests. And from it we can clearly see that Yoga does not fit into the parameters of the definition. Why? Because there are infinite pathways for the aspirant to evolve in Yoga. There is no one right way and no two aspirants are required to follow an even remotely similar path.

When “religion” unifies and spiritualizes the human race, then we can have a discussion:-)

November 3, 2008 at 8:45 am
(6) fred says:

Yoga in America right now is a transplant, meaning it’s a long way from what is practiced in India. We think it is what we want it to be. In India, it is not confusing at all; Yoga is part of an unbroken lineage going all the way back to the basic texts of Hinduism. Ever chanted in a Yoga class? It becomes very clear, even with clever translations taking Krishna out, that there is a religious component.
Good luck re-interpreting Yoga as a philosophy. It’s been going on for centuries and that works for some – until you see how connected it is to Indian culture. Then it is what it is – Yoga.

November 3, 2008 at 4:51 pm
(7) Ann Pizer says:

It’s true that we in the west are doing a yoga that is far different from that in India. I see that as a natural evolution of this branch of hatha-centric yoga. There are many instances in world history of religious practices and rituals becoming more secular over time, for instance the Olympic Games.

November 7, 2008 at 12:39 am
(8) Gordon says:

Yoga predates Hinduism.
Saying yoga is Hindu is like saying praying is Catholic.
Just as prayer is a tool used by many religions but “owned” by none, so too is yoga a tool that was used by Hindus, among others.

Dogma, dogma, dogma, how dangerous you are.

December 28, 2008 at 11:37 am
(9) andreas says:

yoga was invented by the hindus but still in yoga you are not suppose to worship all the hindu gods etc . you are suppose to see your inner self and get immortal , realesed from rebirth and death. and to understand this world is an illusion (maya) to see you in god and god in you and all other living creature. this they call atman. thats the goal with yoga. to get immortal and not being rebirth to earth again.

October 12, 2010 at 5:15 pm
(10) Julie Wright Yoga Teacher Encinitas says:

The word yoga means “to unite or connect”. Religion also means “to unite or connect with a divine power”. Yoga is not a religion, but religion itself…..an umbrella for all spiritual practices.

May 9, 2011 at 6:53 am
(11) nolagirlincali says:

Religion does not mean “to unite or connect”, nor is it an umbrella term for spirituality. Religion is the belief in a set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. (one common, though there are many out there)

Also, Andreas comments refer to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and to the Bhagavad Gita, which are commonly quoted in yoga classes. These texts are meant to be used as guides on “a path” but are not scriptures to be used in the religious context. There are an infinite number of paths as Gordon mentions. Unfortunately, Hindu practices have been interweaved with yoga which makes it difficult to discern at times. Yoga was not invented by Hindus and millions of Hindus don’t practice yoga. In fact, yoga was initially rejected by Hinduism because yoga does not require one to even believe that God exists. Some teachers choose to use the term God but you may also hear Universe, or Light, etc. Yoga is inclusive and accessible to anyone, including atheist. It is not a religion. I strongly echo the comments and sentiments made by Gordon, Kari and others.

Check out this article: http://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/283?print=1

I would also recommend additional readings by T.K.V Desikachar


November 21, 2012 at 3:46 pm
(12) soma haji.S.R. says:

EVery word has a meaning.So also the word YOGAM.What does it mean ?—Yogam or Yuktham means Union of two or more things or AIKYAM=merging one into the other.—what merges into what–Jeeva merging with Parama,which is MOKSHAM (salvation)– is NOT salvation a religious term.?–That kind of merging (YOGAM) can happen by Bhakthi or Gjnaanam or Karma or HATHA .—is it Not Religion ?–the simple question is why to hang YOGA label,if it is simple relaxation technique?–is YOGAM a marketing strategy ?–Somayaji.

June 2, 2013 at 7:07 pm
(13) Jim says:

I’m no expert on Yoga, but here is what a couple of Yogi’s say:
There is no Christian Yoga.
By Yogi Baba Prem, Vedavisharada, CYI, C.ay, C.va
The managing editor of ‘Hinduism Today,’ Sannyasin Arumugaswami, remarks, ‘Hinduism is the soul of yoga ‘based as it is on Hindu Scripture and developed by Hindu sages. Yoga opens up new and more refined states of mind, and to understand them one needs to believe in and understand the Hindu way of looking at God. . . . A Christian trying to adapt these practices will likely disrupt their own Christian beliefs’.’ East is east, and west is west, and if Christianity is to remain Christian, ‘the twain’ should never be married.
Look at the true meanings of the words used in yoga and you will find defining words like yoke and oppress. In Islam literally means “submission”. Christianity is about Jesus who died to pay the penalty for our sins and rose again so we could be saved and forgiven. He did it all and we can’t do anything to add to or earn salvation. It’s free: Eph 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.” All other religions and cults are based on working your way to perfection or earning salvation. Yoga is part of the works for spiritual transformation. If you practice Yoga you are practicing a part of a religion that rejects Jesus as God. I’m not hating on anyone, It is ironic that God who calls us to be the light shining the way to Jesus, be his open arms and helping hands in this world is often embarrassed by our pointing fingers and hard hearts. So please know I am speaking truth in love. Check out the book “The case for Christ or read the book of John” and ask Jesus to reveal himself to you and he will if you want him to. It will be the hardest and best choice you can make. God bless you for reading my long post!

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