Although yoga is quickly becoming a standard form of physical activity in the US, there are still many questions surrounding its religious roots. Often times, people who are devout in their own religious practices are concerned about the influences of yoga and whether or not it might be prohibited in their faith. Many ask, how does yoga impact my religious convictions?
Before I go further, I’d like to first establish a working definition that distinguishes a difference between “religion” and “spirituality”. Religion is an established set of doctrines and beliefs that followers adhere to in the practical aspects of their lives. Spirituality, on the other hand, does not have any formalized doctrine, but is rather an awareness of self in a bigger realm of universal forces. Of course, many religious practitioners have a spiritual experience within the framework of their religion. In this same vein, many people who consider themselves to be spiritual, have no claim to any specific religion.
One of the most beautiful things about yoga is that it is a practice that promotes complete health, merging the body-mind-spirit as our complete human state of being, a concept quite foreign in our modern-day existence where everything is separated out and specialized. In fact, the word “yoga” comes from the word “yoke”, meaning to be yoked together in body and mind and spirit. This is not a law for living according to any religious doctrine; it is, however, a way of living that is harmonious with all religious doctrines.
Nonetheless, yoga does have a religious connection. Many religions incorporated yogic practices into their worship and life patterns. For example, Hindis used yoga to focus on surrendering to the Divine; Buddhism was influenced by the practice of meditation in yoga. And today, many Christians are using yoga as a way to enhance their own expression of prayer, devotion, and worship.
Father Tom Ryan (Christians Practicing Yoga ) says that yoga is a “valuable instrument to promote one’s spiritual well-being”. And Michelle Thielen, founder of YogaFaith in Seattle, WA argues the value of yoga within Christianity referring to Biblical scripture, Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others”. She says that no matter how Christians chose to honor the human body “temple”, do it for the glory of God. Certainly the practice of yoga is a beautiful practice that results in honoring the body. The spiritual effects of practicing yoga are personal, and therefore can be applied to all religions.
These examples show the versatility and universality of yoga and how, no matter what your religious convictions are, a regular yoga practice is a meaningful and effective tool to bring your faith to deeper expression.