Is Yoga a Religion?
As yogis, we position our hands in prayer a lot (anjali mudra), but that doesn’t always equate to prayer. While a prayer often expresses a request, our anjali mudra symbolizes a greeting or offering. For the most part, prayer is linked to organized religions—but is yoga a religion? The answer is no… but not never.
Yoga and religion can go hand in hand
Although yoga is not a religion, yoga teachings can certainly be incorporated into religion and religious beliefs—it doesn’t have to be separated. Many practitioners choose to mesh yoga and religion—and it can absolutely come naturally. The yoga studio, or your at-home yoga space, is your personal sanctuary. Practicing yoga can enhance your religious experience if you choose to invite in the God of your own understanding while on the mat.
What makes yoga not a religion?
Yoga is a practice. There are no judgments. There is no one person that expects anything from you. Yes, there is understanding of a higher power—but that higher power is you. Yoga is an inward practice of self-realization and ultimately, enlightenment. It’s a sacred connection with oneself.
When you’re in the studio and you hear your teacher say, “let go of what no longer serves you,” he or she is making a great point—the key phrase being: serves you. When you practice yoga, the only person’s expectations that you’re encouraged to meet are your own. Yes, there are gods and goddesses, universal energies, mantras, rituals, etc. but following the yoga roadmap (the eight limbs) is meant to serve you. This practice peels away the layers to heal and reveal our own divinity within.
What about Hinduism and Buddhism?
Yoga originated in Ancient India, so historically, yoga has been associated with Hinduism and Buddhism. Fitting somewhere between philosophy and faith, these collection of beliefs aren’t definitively classified as religions. Perhaps they’re better defined as cultural traditions.
For example, it was Buddha himself that said he teaches “the way things are.” His nuggets of wisdom weren’t intended to be interpreted as faith as he encouraged his students to seek whether his teachings were true or false. Buddha also taught meditation and the importance of breath, which is enhanced by practicing yoga.
So who can practice yoga?
Anyone and everyone. The Sanskrit term “yoga” can be translated to so many different words that are basically synonyms of “unite.” union and connection—we are all one seeking one universal truth. Whether that universal truth reveals itself solely through yoga, religion or even a 12-step recovery program—any person of any faith can adopt yogic philosophies to deepen their own spiritual path without conflict.