What's Up With Yoga?

  • Can one be Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or any other religious adherent and practice yoga? 
  • Do people have to give up their religious/spiritual beliefs and practices to engage in yoga? 
  • Is a person “less of a Buddhist/Christian/Jew/Muslim/or other religious adherent” if they engage in yoga?
  • Is yoga only for specific ethnic/racial groups or genders?

People often grapple with these challenging, provocative, and highly relevant questions. There have been a number of discussions in secular and religious communities about engaging in yoga practice. Yoga has a long established history (over 5,000 years) rooted in Hinduism. The complete practice of yoga entails the ethical precepts (yamas), elements of self-discipline and spiritual observance (niyamas), the physical postures or poses (asana),  breath control (pranayama), sensory withdrawal (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation/contemplation (dhyana), and interconnectedness/peace (samadhi). These practices are often referred to as Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga. In some cases, the physical practice has been established as an important preparation for meditation. For many individuals, practicing yoga postures is a part of a specific spiritual and/or religious path. 

On the other hand, yoga has also been secularized or practiced with little to no mention of yoga’s religious/spiritual roots. The physical practice of yoga has also been utilized as a part of integrative and holistic medicine in hospitals, in the military, and in other healthcare settings. The documented physical and mental health benefits have been studied and reported. For more information about these benefits, click HERE and HERE. The benefits from engaging in yoga postures have the potential to be experienced by diverse people of all genders, sexual orientations, social backgrounds, and body types. Some folks, however, argue that the physical practice of yoga without the other essential limbs of yoga is inauthentic and “not really yoga.” For a discussion between Western yoga teachers about “Yoga as a Religion?” please click HERE

Is Yoga for You?

Choosing to engage in the practice of yoga depends on a person’s preferences, attitudes, and beliefs about yoga. Based on one’s cultural values, beliefs, and experiences, yoga may or may not feel like a good fit. It is up to you to decide if this practice would be appropriate for you. The practice of yoga can be taught in a number of ways, and the experiences that yoga practitioners have may vary based on how they understand, approach, and engage in yoga practice and also the types of teachers that they work with. 

Before Beginning

  • If you have questions or concerns about yoga and the impact of practice on your religious adherence, it may be helpful to talk to religious or spiritual leaders in your faith.
  • Talk with yoga instructors about their views on teaching yoga and how their philosophies guide their teaching practice.
  • Observe a yoga class.
  • If you have access to the internet, view yoga videos online.
  • Read a book or magazine about yoga at a public library or in a bookstore.
  • Consult with your physician about yoga practice, especially if you have diagnosed medical conditions that may restrict certain types of movement or activity. 
  • Find a qualified teacher or yoga studio where you feel safe, respected, and honored in all of who you are.