The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

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October 24, 2012

Yoga is not a religion

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 — Is yoga a religion? Is meditation a religious practice? I have been asked these questions many times and the answer to both for me is no. I believe a person can make a religion out of anything they choose, but I have never been taught or practiced my yoga as a religion.

With roots of the practice in India, it is easy to see how the influence of Hinduism is displayed in the names of some of the poses and the stories of the deities. The Sanskrit language alone can scare some people into thinking this is some sort of religion.  But Sanskrit, one of the oldest in the world, was the language used during the time of yoga’s conception and is rarely used today.  

Buddhism is often associated with yoga. That has come to pass because of a similarity in the philosophy of kindness and patience and love, beliefs that are also embraced in many Eastern and Western religions.  If a new practice were formed in the United States today, you might surely see a Christian or Jewish influence. But Christianity and Judaism would not embrace this new practice as a part of their religions, even if they saw the benefits and incorporated it into their lifestyle.

To me, yoga and meditation are spiritual practices because they calm my spirit and they create a quiet space in my mind that reminds me that I am me, not my many thoughts. Yoga cares for my body while honoring it without any criticism. Singing, playing instruments, dancing, exercising, being outdoors, watching a movie or a play can all feel like spiritual experiences without existing inside of our religions. The same is true with yoga.

I believe that God is everywhere and in everything, so I do feel that meditation is a time for me to listen to God and to find my connection to the universe of which I am one with. But even if I did not believe in God, meditation would benefit me physically by slowing down my systems and helping me gain control of my breath and my thoughts.  

The physical benefits of both practices are so extraordinary that it saddens me to think that someone would be afraid of them as a contradiction to their religious beliefs. I know many devout Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists who practice yoga together in peace. In this world of war and anger and emphasis on our differences, I feel so blessed to have found a beautiful place where all are welcome and accepted without judgment.  


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