As the world gets smaller each day through the mixing and mingling that happens online, via air travel, and through immigration, our cultures and traditions keep getting more and more mushed together. I’m typically in favor of cultural mushing, but it can get a bit complicated, especially when it comes to religion. For those who want to stay within lines of tradition, how does yoga fit in?
Specifically, the interplay between Catholicism and yoga has been in the news lately. A couple of weeks ago, the official exorcist at the Vatican called yoga “Satanic”, citing Hinduism’s conflicting (to Catholicism) belief in reincarnation. The viewpoint that practicing yoga is a form of demon worship seems like an extreme one, probably even to most Catholics, but the fear of intermingling traditions is worth addressing. Is there a conflict between what yoga teaches and what other religions teach?
This gets tricky because of people’s differing ideas on what yoga is (an exercise, a meditation practice, a spiritual tradition with Hindu roots, a place to go to pick up chicks, etc.), and also because of people’s differing ideas about what Catholicism (or Judaism or Islam) is, with all of the different streams and beliefs that are contained under the umbrella of each Western religion. Clearly, yoga is not part of and was not derived from any of these traditions—so is it inherently counter to these faiths? And if only some parts of the yoga tradition feel antithetical to your religion, is it ok to just practice the ones that work with it?
There’s another aspect of yoga that hasn’t gone over so well in the Catholic community: yoga pants. In fact, these form-fitting booty-huggers—which have colloquially been nicknamed “Lulus” due to the popularity of Lululemon—have recently been banned at St. Joseph High School in Canada. But to be clear, this ban has nothing to do with yoga’s connection to Hindu deities, reincarnation, or Sanskrit mantras. The pants were banned because they’ve been deemed too sexy for high school. And that sexiness does not stem from the Hindu religion; those tight, slinky pants are one hundred percent (for better or for worse) American.
Have some thoughts about yoga and religion? Or about yoga pants in high school? Write in and tell us what you think!
I hate to admit it, but the exorcist was (sort of ) right. In Christianity, Islam, and Judaism; one is either one of the saved, the faithful, or the chosen. Can you really believe that there are many paths to the same destination and still be a good Christian, Jew, or Muslim?
What is yoga for? The Sanskrit root word for it is yuj–to yoke. Yoke what to what? Are we yoking ourselves to Yahweh? Jehovah? Allah? Well, there are already very specific instruction manuals on how to do that. Any deviation is blasphemy.
Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism follow the Dharma. So, obviously, yoga can fit those belief systems. Even agnostics and atheists can reject the Dharma and still practice yoga. But how can serious Christians, Jes, and Muslims practice yoga without ignoring the basic tenets of their respective faiths?
Good point above! There’s a chapter in my book (The Incomplete Guide To Yoga) on this – where I try to offer the different possible viewpoints on this hopefully without offending anyone. Yes, I think yoga can be inconsistent with some faiths – for example, the Yoga Sutras explain creation by means of purusa/prakriti, not God. But – in the Vedanta – which is obviously a religion – yoga is described as a tool that can take you closer to God. Obviously the God(s) there are Hindu ones, but if it’s just a tool then presumably you can use it to practice your own religion. Yet again, I think it all comes down to the fact that we use the word yoga to describe so many different things. We need more words!
Ahh… at the risk (and explicit intent) of sounding cheeky… those Lulus you’re talking about are 100% *Canadian*. Check the company bio 😉
Yes, that’s true, the brand is Canadian, though all yoga pants are getting nicknamed “Lulus”, not only those from Lululemon, and the general style is what I was referring to, as that’s what was banned. (Also: Canada is American – it is part of North America.) Thanks for the great point, though – it’s a good reminder that yoga trends and fashion are originating all over the globe, and not just here in the US.
Great comments from Omar and Charlotte about the topic. It does seem to be a complex one!
I think if you break down the different arms of yoga; they are not religion specific. Every major religion speaks to some form of meditation, music, devotion, good works, etc. If you take those basic tenements, they can be inserted into any religion. where the diversion somes into play is the written word used. If you remember yoga’s origins, which are obviously hindu – then yoga is religion because it specifically speaks to yoga in their scriptures. But when you think of yamas/niyamas they mirror christians and jewish10 commandments, They mirror almost every religion’s basic fundamentals in some form. Therefore yoga CAN be incorporated into any religion if one so wishes.
As far as clothing, etc. that is not yoga. If you use a bolster from your couch only for yoga, is it yoga? no it is a bolster from your couch that you use for yoga. “Yoga pants” are a phrase like “baseball hat” is to a hat with a bill or “kleenex” is to facial tissue.
Great conversations. I just finished teaching a yoga class last night for the Lutheran church where I am a member (coincidentally we talked about the Yamas/Niyamas and how they tie to Christian 10 Commandments, and how both can guide one down their spiritual path) . I always find a way to tie together some yoga philosophy into our Gospel lessons for the week.
Our pastor is very loving and opened to yoga concepts and also practices herself. She and I both agree on this…yoga is what you make it and believe in your heart. At the heart of yoga is love. Isn’t that what religions should be? If more religions practiced tolerance and love of all people and respected all religions, like the Hindus do, well, I guess there wouldn’t be the need for having this conversation.
It is people who mess up religion…we are not the ones to judge…let go and let God.
Love it! Jai!
Yoga is a practice. Like any other practice, it gives us the opportunity to get better at something. That “something,” in my mind, is awareness: awareness of our physical bodies, awareness of our cognitive and emotional perceptions of ourselves, and awareness of how we may feel connected to each other or some greater consciousness. I would think that greater awareness allows individuals to be more strongly committed to a belief or idea because they are doing so with eyes wide open and their commitment and faith becomes a natural extension of who they are at their core – inextricably binding the individual to their ideology. Any religion or ideology that fears such awareness in their followers, I would argue, is more concerned with coercing commitment and self-preservation of their dogma rather than truly making its message meaningful to its people.
Also, for the record, I am a fan of yoga pants – Canadian or otherwise 🙂
Yoga is Satanic and that’s why I love it… 🙂
The development of yoga in the west is analogous to the development of Christmas. First the winter solstice/ yule was a pagan holiday and considered satanic and evil by Christians, but later they tried to give it a Christian spin and turned it into Christmas and made up a connection with the birth of Jesus. In the end commercialism is winning and Christmas has become all about shopping.
The same is happening to yoga. First people are creeped out by the Hindu roots of it and consider it demonic. Later they try to connect it to Christianity, because they realise they can’t fight the trend, so they might as well claim it. But ulmitately, yoga has become big business.
Personally, I laugh at the Christians who try to appropiate yoga and try to ignore the business minded people who simply use yoga to make a comfortable living. Yoga is Hindu. Hinduism is a very complex, sophisticated and multifactorial religion. Most people have very narrow views on what Hinduism is. They cannot concieve of Hindu philosophy being woven into a practice like yoga. They might even be creeped out by Hinduism or don’t want to admit that they are participating in a Hindu practice. It is their loss though, because the most rewarding way to practice yoga is in connection with its roots.
yoga is “satanic” to those religions that require an intermediary between the worshiper and the worshiped because it’s bad for business. they cant have a bunch of people going off willy-nilly and “finding god” on their own, it cuts into their profits. but anyway, yoga is this country has as much to to with religion as dwight yoakum has to do with mozart, that is, not a heck of a lot. moreover, the hindu connection is mostly kept in place nowadays because it’s good for the yoga business, it makes our exercise seem more “yogic” and so satisfies our craving for the exotic. the sooner we get away from the hindu influence and the foolish idea that yoga is a “religion,” the sooner we’ll all find our way to the true self.
If you truly want to find “god” for yourself without the Hindu roots, then you shouldn’t be needing yoga either.
might as well create your own method…
here we have people using a Hindu practice trying to deny that it has anything to do with Hinduism. This is the state of yoga in kali yuga.