Yoga isn’t a religion. Although, for many people, practicing yoga is a spiritual practice.
And for others, yoga is simply exercise.
A Secular Practice, But Not Without Controversy
Yoga’s roots, which come from India where Hinduism is a religious practice, explains, at least in part, conflicts over whether the practice of yoga is a religion. To highlight one such controversy, since 1993 the State of Alabama has banned the teaching of yoga or meditation in schools because of its associations with religion and culture, according to the New York Times. A recently introduced legislative bill seeks to overturn the ban.
Yoga, however, is practiced in a secular way. To be clear, secular means not connected with religious or spiritual matters. Thanks Google and Oxford Dictionaries.
Of course, there are deeply religious yogis who practice yoga. Some of these yogis may have ways of incorporating, respecting, or balancing their religious beliefs and yoga practices. I personally know some people who are religious, but also practice yoga as a complement to their religion.
In addition, there are also people who practice yoga who are ashiest or agnostic–or who have their own unique beliefs or philosophies that they find compatible with yoga practice.
The Philosophy of Yoga
Yoga is a philosophy. The main underpinning of the philosophy is that the mind, body, and spirit are all one. The mind, body, and spirit cannot be easily or clearly separated.
I think of the practice of medicine as an illustration of the mind, body, and spirit connection. So you know, I’m not a doctor; this is just how I think of the mind, body, and spirit connection.
If you go to the doctor complaining of headaches, the doctor can do all of the lab work, imaging, and diagnostic tests under the sun to try to determine a cause. But if no findings show up in the results, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a headache. That doesn’t mean you aren’t feeling well. There could be an emotional or spiritual component at work that doesn’t show up in tests. Say, for example, stress or a relationship issue. The mind, body, and spirit are all connected, and you can’t just separate them into isolated, individual parts.
Yoga speaks to this connection. The practice of yoga is a practice for the mind, body, and spirit all in one.
Yoga as a Religion
Sometimes yoga is mistaken as a religion. I remember back when I first started practicing yoga wondering What Religion is Yoga? Later, I realized that yoga isn’t a religion. Rather, yoga is a philosophy or approach to understanding and appreciating the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit.
Naturally, of course, I next wondered, well then, what religion does yoga come from, if it’s not itself a religion? I discovered that yoga has historical associations with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, but the practice doesn’t spring out of religion. One religious perspective is that “yoga aids all who practice religion.” To the contrary, some historians and yogis note that yoga predates these modern religions.
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Of course, we’d love to read your thoughts. Is yoga a religion to you? Do you consider your yoga practice a religious or spiritual practice?