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.