For quite some time there is the controversy of "Is Yoga Religious?", as there are some religious groups who frown upon the practice of yoga, in fear that it violates a religious code. Yoga is translated as "union" or, connection of the mind-body-spirit. I would think all religious groups would want people to experience this. Yoga is a way of life, yoga is a beautiful practice that allows the individual to improve, discover, and become self aware, regardless of religious beliefs.
Yoga truly does stem from Sacred Vedic Texts, and therefore we should acknowledge/respect this, and that it is meant for the individual to reach "samadhi" or union with God. The actual/specific "God" is not mentioned, and is open to ones on personal experience. Often I tell my students to allow the practice to deepen their own personal faith, or when focusing on the 3rd eye, allow oneself to focus on the faith that inspires them. This allows the individual to make their yoga practice into a beautiful moving prayer. Fortunately for me, I have student who are Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist, and they all agree that YOGA MAKES THEM FEEL AMAZING and they LOVE YOGA!
The sound of Om, is according to Hindu Sacred Texts is the sound of God, but this is also a Hindu Science, as they understood how we are vibration, we are all made up of atoms that vibrate at various frequencies, and sound, or sound wave energy restores us to balance, each sound also coincides with one of our Chakras in our subtle body. Our scientific genetic make up is similar regardless of religion. The reality is much of Western Medicine is inspired by Ayurveda the oldest system of Science of the Body around, does this mean we are violating our religious code?
Some modern medicine Doctors are now discovering how using sound wave energy alters cells in the brain and body. Even Doctor Oz admits to practicing Yoga daily for its unlimited health & wellness benefits.
Therefore is Yoga a religion? It is up to interpretation. In my eyes, I have gratitude and respect for the fact that it is stemming from the beautiful Hindu Scriptures, and it is an Ancient Science that allowed people to strip away layers/habits or vritti as the yogis would call it, only to reach a sense of calm, peace and enlightenment.
For me, it is a chance to deepen my personal faith, and my practice is an offering to God as a moving meditation/prayer. When I teach I like to just allow the practice to unfold naturally so that I become a vessel for an awesome experience for the student. I have no pulpit, and they have no obligations except to be present and receptive to the Grace of God that exists within them as it unfolds in their practice.
What is this enlightenment? This Connection with God? Can it only be achieved on the Yoga Mat?....NO!!! The yoga practice is meant so that we can carry the lessons of love into our lives off the matt!!! The practice of Pranayama, Asana are all ways to detoxify physically, and theYamas & Niyams, Pratyahara, Dharana and Dhyana are ways for us to detoxify spiritually and mentally. So that we can achieve Samadhi, or connection with God, which is also achieved when we connect to others.
Therefore, while we are on this planet, we can experience this enlightenment when we allow ourselves to connect to everyone, "LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR AS WE LOVE OURSELVES", look at those who hurt us with compassion, Look at those who suffer with compassion, forgive, have an attitude of gratitude, lose our ego, lose our judgement of ourselves and the world around us, lose our arrogance, lose our greed, lose our jealousy, loose our "vritti's.
For some who are obsessed with how amazing their asana practice is, may find this concept so irrelevant to Yoga, but try it out, and watch how suddenly your asana practice flows effortlessly after. You are no longer grunting, pushing, struggling, or pouring sweat when you approach your asana, because you are connected on a deeper level. You are no longer doing a happy dance after you nail a pose, or looking to see if anyone saw you do the pose, or feeling bad if you didn't do the pose, YOU JUST ARE CONTENT TO BE PRESENT. You will be happier. Often times the tightness we are experiencing in our asana practice stems from something deeper, spiritual or mental or karmic blockages.
So Ultimately, in order to get to this enlightenment, connection with God....It is not mastering any asana, or doing Nauli, it can be easily interpreted as "Love Your Neighbor As You Love Yourself".......and ironically the world religions agree on this.
- You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ~ Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Leviticus 19.1
- Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. ~ Christianity. Bible, Matthew 7.12
- Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself. ~ Islam. Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 13
- One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself. This is the essence of morality. All other activities are due to selfish desire. ~ Hinduism. Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva 113.8
- Comparing oneself to others in such terms as "Just as I am so are they, just as they are so am I," he should neither kill nor cause others to kill. ~ Buddhism. Sutta Nipata 705
- "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; all the rest of it is commentary; go and learn."~ Judaism. Talmud, Shabbat 31a
- You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." ~ Christianity. Bible, Matthew 22.36-40
- One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts. ~African Traditional Religions. Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria
- A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated. ~ Jainism. Sutrakritanga 1.11.33
- Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence. ~ Confucianism. Mencius VII.A.4
Investigation for this post was inspired by a recent conversation after a Yoga class! Thanks to the owner of that studio who has invited me to teach, and for also sparking such interest in this topic in me. ~ Namaste