So lately, I haven’t had much inspiration when it comes to writing, and I won’t write something just to write it. I have to feel connected to my words. After getting a few questions from students and teaching at a new studio that’s located in a gym, I feel I need to distinguish between Yoga, Spirituality, and Religion.
Yoga is many things. It is a tool to strengthen and heal the body, mind, and spirit. We affect the body through asana, the postures we perform. We affect the mind through breath control and continued focus. We affect our spirit by getting still and quiet so we can listen to our inner wisdom the outside world muffles. What Yoga is not, is a religion. You could very easily call it a science, a quantifiable system of methods to unite the body, mind, and spirit.
In this blog I will focus on the spiritual side of Yoga.
Yoga, for some, becomes a spiritual experience, leading to confusion about how its practice impacts one's religious beliefs. Fortunately, the vast majority of people who explore yoga actually discover that it strengthens and deepens their own faith, it doesn’t replace it. Swami Satchidananda, founder of Yogaville Ashram and where I lived for a month, has always said, “One Truth, Many Paths”. He believes that it doesn’t matter what religion you follow or if you use the name God, Allah, Buddha, etc., we are all just searching for the same thing, Truth. He built the LOTUS, Light of Truth Universal Shrine, dedicating it to interfaith understanding and the Light within all faiths. Individual altars represent and honor the different world faiths and spiritual paths. Yoga is not a religion. It is a system to reconnect us to this light within, in turn, connecting us deeper to our believes.
Spirituality is different from religion. Spirituality is a sense of connectedness with something greater than oneself that manifests within us. It’s a feeling that develops within us, and Yoga helps us find that spirit within whether its through asana, breath work, or meditation.
On the other hand, religion is an organized system of faith or worship. It is a ritualized form of spirituality involving a specific set of beliefs, worship and conduct. As a path for spiritual growth, yoga enhances and deepens many different religious practices. Yoga is not a system of faith or worship, but it does foster a sense of connectedness with something greater than oneself. In other words, yoga manifests spirituality in a way that is compatible with many different religious beliefs.
Georg Feuerstein wrote:
“Yoga, it is quite true, has historically been associated with India’s three great religious-cultural traditions—Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Thus, the teachings of yoga are infused with many concepts that have a Hindu, Buddhist, or Jaina flavor…. In fact, we need not believe in anything other than the possibility that we can go beyond…our present understanding and experience of the world, and more significantly, beyond our current egocentric state of being.
How can yoga enrich the religious or spiritual life of a practicing Christian or Jew? The answer is the same as for a practicing Hindu, Buddhist, or Jaina. Yoga aids all who practice religion, regardless of their persuasion, by balancing the nervous system and stilling the mind through its various exercises (from posture to breath control to meditation). Yoga’s heritage is comprehensive enough so that anyone can find just the right techniques that will not conflict with his or her personal beliefs….
So, practicing Christians or Jews (or practitioners of any other religious tradition), should take from yoga what makes sense to them and deepens their own faith and spiritual commitment.”
For me, it’s the spiritual part of Yoga that keeps me coming back. It helps clear my body, mind, spirit of all the negativity that’s constantly bombarding me, whether it’s coming from my thoughts or news or other people. I believe in the benefits of Yoga, I teach all aspects of Yoga, I do not put it above your believes and religion.
A few further readings: