Is Yoga A Religion?

Is Yoga A Religion?


Every so often, I will be at a social event and someone will introduce me to his or her friends as their yoga teacher and the friend will ask, “So do you study Hinduism or Buddhism?” There is an assumption that because of the use of Sanskrit words, chanting, or the study of ancient yogic texts such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra that yoga has a religious affiliation.

According to T.K.V. Desikachar, a prominent yogi credited with being a driving force behind the resurgence of Hatha yoga in recent decades, “Yoga is not a religion and should not affiliate with any religion”. Yoga has no religious obligations, no singular creed and it has no rituals that profess a faith such as baptism or confirmation.

So, if yoga is not a “religion” is it a hobby, a sport, an exercise routine, or a discipline such as the study of medicine or martial arts? In some ways, yoga represents all these things and more.

Many students come initially to yoga for the many health benefits. Eventually with regular practice, many find the meditative effects on the mind and emotions can become a spiritual experience.

So then, what is spirituality?

Some equate spirituality with praying, meditating or even reading enlightening literature. In its basic form, it’s your level of consciousness. It’s the way you get in synch with yourself, connecting with who you are on a deeper level. It’s the connection to our inner self. If religion could be referred to as the external frame or organizational structure for it’s congregations, then spirituality would be the internal connection and understanding of one’s self and their place in the universe.

Yoga puts us in touch with this inner self, no matter our outer beliefs.

Order ~ Flow ~Heat

During my years as Program Director of a chain of Southern California health clubs, I’d seen literally hundreds of so called stretching programs, exercise devices and slick promises to increase range of motion, strength, flexibility and lung capacity. Yet I have never found any of these to come close to being as effective, thorough or well rounded as Ashtanga-Vinyasa Yoga.

First of all, the sequence of postures in the system is extremely well balanced. Successive postures within the system are uniquely complementary developing strength and flexibility both concurrently and alternatively. Second, the concept of uninterrupted flow (Vinyasa) tied to an empowering breath sets the practice apart from every other form of yoga.

The traditional series of Ashtanga Vinyasa is the most physically challenging of all styles of Hatha Yoga. It’s equal emphasis on strength, balance and stamina can prove to be difficult for many students who do not have the time to keep up with a consistent practice schedule or who have physical challenges.

An experienced teacher in Ashtanga can translate the unseen fundamentals of this system into yoga sequencing that is adaptable to any level. By integrating the Breath(Ujayi), Bandhas (locks), Focus (drishti), proper sequencing, order and flow the power of yoga can be experienced by those who may feel that Ashtanga is too challenging.

Many of the classes seen on yoga schedules across the country today, such as Vinyasa Yoga, Power Yoga, Flow Yoga and more are hybrids of Ashtanga Yoga. It’s nice to see the different styles that have evolved from Ashtanga, however it is important to know & understand the root source before embarking on your own style. An artist who did not study the masters, may not have the same depth of experience of knowing the history of the Masterpieces before them, just as a teacher who does not thoroughly understand the source of their style may miss the most valuable part of the teaching