Claiming The Yoga Tradition
But is any of this really yoga?
Since yoga morphed into a multi-billion-dollar industry, there has been a growing public movement suggesting Christian yoga is not legitimate. The movement pivots around an attempt to define yoga by locating some monolithic center or essence, especially one that attributes a Hindu religious identity to yoga.
One public campaign is based on the argument that Christians have been duped into thinking yoga is merely a consumer product and warns that yoga is essentially Hindu. Yogaphobic critics have included Albert Mohler and Pat Robertson .
Recently, for example, Mohler suggested, When Christians practice yoga they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga. The contradictions are not few, nor are they peripheral. And Robertson warned on an episode of the Christian talk show, 700 Club:
But along with yoga, they have a mantra. And the mantra you say is in Hindu. You dont know what the Hindu says, but actually its a prayer to a Hindu deity, and so it sounds like gibberish, and so youre saying, you know, Kali, Kali, Kali, whatever, but youre praying to a Hindu deity Stretching exercise is cool, praying to a Hindu deity is not too cool.
Is Yoga Older Than Hinduism
Nevertheless, what is certain is that ancient Vedic culture, which lays claim to being the first written spiritual tradition in the world, is much older than the loosely formed religion, Hinduism, that sprang from it. The spiritual practice of Yoga was part of Vedic culture long before Hinduism.
Yoga Is Rooted In Hindu Spiritual Traditions And So Is Vande Mataram Disassociating Them From Hinduism An Insult To Our Ancestors
In an effort to increase the acceptability of Hindu traditions and practices among people from other communities, we have started forfeiting our claim to it.
Over time, a certain narrative has gained momentum in the country. In an effort to increase the acceptability of Hindu traditions and practices among people from other communities, we have started forfeiting our claim to it. This recent phenomenon was most evident when the world celebrated the 5th International Yoga Day on the 21st of June this year.
The Communist Chief Minister of Kerala pontificated on how none of the Asanas performed on Yoga Day had anything to do with any religion.
Kerala CM in Trivandrum: Some ppl are deliberately trying to mislead others regarding yoga. As if this is something religious, some ppl have even made such remarks. In fact, none of the postures being performed as part of yoga have any connection with any religion. #YogaDay2019
However, Pinarayi Vijayan is not the only one who has made such comments. Numerous top tier leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party itself, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, has made remarks to that effect. Such rhetoric may attract a few more practitioners from other faiths but its long term effects are quite deleterious.
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Is Yoga Fundamentally Religious
Although yoga is mostly practiced in a secular way, many people find it spiritual. However, this doesnt mean that yoga is fundamentally religious. Its a philosophy thats all about promoting health and living a harmonious existence. Yoga is about improving the mind-body connection and achieving inner calm. Also, although yoga can be a wonderful introduction to a spiritual life, and can even deepen existing faith, it does not require any particular religious beliefs.
Yogas Hindu roots are sometimes a source of confusion. According to Dr. Mary Pullig, yogas connection to Hinduism is likely to have led to the misconception that yoga is a religion. However, as Dr. Pullig explains in her book, Back Care Basics, Just as the practice of the Japanese martial art of karate and aikido does not require becoming a Buddhist, the practice of yoga does not require you adopt Hinduism. Instead, she explains, yoga is all about cultivating peace.
Yoga In Advaita Vedanta
Vedanta is a varied tradition with numerous sub-schools and philosophical views. Vedanta focuses on the study of the Upanishads, and one of its early texts, the Brahma sutras. Regarding yoga or meditation, the Brahma sutras focuses on gaining spiritual knowledge of Brahman, the unchanging absolute reality or Self.
One of the earliest and most influential sub-traditions of Vedanta, is Advaita Vedanta, which posits non-dualisticmonism. This tradition emphasizes JÃ±Äna yoga , which is aimed at realizing the identity of one’s atman with Brahman . The most influential thinker of this school is Adi Shankara , who wrote various commentaries and original works which teach JÃ±Äna yoga. In Advaita Vedanta, JÃ±Äna is attained on the basis of scripture and one’s guru and through a process of listening to teachings, thinking and reflecting on them and finally meditating on these teachings in order to realize their truth. It is also important to develop qualities such as discrimination , renunciation , tranquility, temperance, dispassion, endurance, faith, attention and a longing for knowledge and freedom .’ Yoga in Advaita is ultimately a “meditative exercise of withdrawal from the particular and identification with the universal, leading to contemplation of oneself as the most universal, namely, Consciousness”.
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Does Doing Yoga Make You A Hindu
For many people, the main concern in a yoga class is whether they are breathing correctly or their legs are aligned. But for others, there are lingering doubts about whether they should be there at all, or whether they are betraying their religion.
Farida Hamza, a Muslim woman living in the US , had been doing yoga for two or three years when she decided she wanted to teach it.
“When I told my family and a few friends, they did not react positively,” she recalls. “They were very confused as to why I wanted to do it – that it might be going against Islam.”
Their suspicions about yoga are shared by many Muslims, Christians and Jews around the world and relate to yoga’s history as an ancient spiritual practice with connections to Hinduism and Buddhism.
Last year, a yoga class was banned from a church hall in the UK. “Yoga is a Hindu spiritual exercise,”said the priest, Father John Chandler. “Being a Catholic church we have to promote the gospel, and that’s what we use our premises for.” Anglican churches in the UK have taken similar decisions at one time or another. In the US, prominent pastors have called yoga “demonic”.
One answer to the question of whether yoga really is a religious activity will soon be given by the Supreme Court in the country of its birth, India.
So is yoga fundamentally a religious activity?
Whether that is compatible with Christianity, Islam and other religions is debatable.
Yoga has been repackaged in the US as well.
It Is Wrong To Deny Yoga’s Hindu Origins
A 2002 survey of Americans showed that more than half the population expressed an interest in practicing yoga, and a 2004 news report claimed that there were nearly 15.5 million yoga practitioners in the country. Nearly 77% of the practitioners of yoga are women, and half of the yoga enthusiasts have a college degree.
In the small college where I teach in rural Virginia, at which participation in at least one form of physical education is required, yoga classes are the first to fill up not aerobic dance, not fitness walking, and certainly not weightlifting. Yoga Journal, the most popular magazine for yoga enthusiasts, now has a paid circulation of 350,000 and a readership of more than 1,000,000. Yoga has indeed been embraced by Americans.
But as yoga became more popular, and as the industry grew to be worth nearly $6bn, and as a variety of savvy marketers begin branding their “special” yoga techniques, it was hard not to notice that few yoga teachers and journals mentioned the origins of the practice and its connection to Hinduism. Yoga was “secularised” to rid it of any taint of a “pagan” tradition. The practice, the savvy marketers claimed, was “a spiritual path, but not a religious one”, to calm the committed Christian who wanted to hang on to Jesus while doing the “surya namaskara” .
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Origin Principles Practice And Types Of Yoga
Yoga is a family of ancient spiritual practices that originated in India, where it remains a vibrant living tradition and is seen as a means to enlightenment. Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Raja Yoga are considered the four main yogas, but there are many other types. In other parts of the world where yoga is popular, notably the United States, yoga has become associated with the asanas of Hatha Yoga, which are popular as fitness exercises. Yoga as a means to enlightenment is central to Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, and has influenced other religious and spiritual practices throughout the world. Important Hindu texts establishing the basis for yoga include the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
Can Philosophy And Practice Be Separated
Weve seen that yoga is an ancient spiritual discipline whose central doctrines are utterly incompatible with those of Christianity. Even hatha yoga, often considered to be exclusively concerned with physical development, is best understood as merely a means of helping the yogi reach the goal of samadhi, or union with God. Furthermore, weve seen that all yoga, including hatha, has the potential to be physically, mentally, and spiritually harmful.
In light of such evidence, it may appear that this questionCan yoga philosophy be separated from yoga practice?has already been answered in the negative. And this is certainly the view of many yoga scholars. Dave Fetcho, formerly of the Ananda Marga Yoga Society, has written, Physical yoga, according to its classical definitions, is inheritably and functionally incapable of being separated from Eastern religious metaphysics. Whats more, yoga authorities Feuerstein and Miller, in discussing yoga postures and breathing exercises , indicate that such practices are more than just another form of physical exercise; indeed, they are psychosomatic exercises. Does this mean that separating theory from practice is simply impossible with yoga?
Rick Rood gives us an understanding of this major world religion which is becoming more a part of the American scene with the growth of a Hindu immigrant population.; Taking
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History Of Christian Yoga
The Christianization of yoga is not new. For example, the 19th-century American social radical and Protestant Christian Ida Craddock was an early sex therapist who incorporated yogic elements into a system for enhancing sex for heterosexual married couples.
She considered the Christian God to be a third partner in the sex life of a married man and woman. Her efforts were not without controversy. In 1902, facing incarceration for charges of obscenity, Craddock took her own life. The attempt to silence Craddock was based, in part, in yogaphobia, a fear of yoga grounded in the assumption that it is incompatible with ones own religious doctrines or moral codes. Over a hundred years after Craddock, yogaphobia is still alive and well.
Despite this, Christian yoga is taking many forms in different parts of the world. Christian yoga entrepreneurs are marketing products and services that claim to strengthen Christian identity and practice.
There are now Christian yoga brands founded by Protestant Christians, such as Yahweh Yoga and Christ Centered Yoga. The website for Holy Yoga, based in Michigan, describes it as a community of believers on mission to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth through the modality of yoga. Holy Yoga has an instructor training program, and there are hundreds of Holy Yoga classes each week in locations across the United States and Canada.
Modern Yoga Is Very Different From Ancient Yoga
Yoga as it is practiced in the West today certainly diverges from the yogic practices of ancient India.
Nineteenth-century groups of intellectuals in both Europe and America, like the German Romantics and the American Transcendentalists , developed an interest in all things Indian. This was an interest complicated by Indias status as a British colonial outpost. Figures like Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk and mystic who frequently lectured in America and England, brought the practice of yoga to the attention of Western intelligentsia.
In the early 20th century, the intellectual fashion of yoga transformed into a Hollywood fitness craze through the efforts of the wealthy Russian-born Eugenie Peterson . She read an occult book on yoga Fourteen Lessons in Yogi Philosophy and Oriental Occultism by William Walker Atkinson, a white American author writing under the pseudonym Yogi Ramacharaka. She was inspired to study yoga in India and used her political connections to access the mystic Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.
But yogas increased popularity has brought with it controversy. For some Hindu scholars and thinkers, yogas adoption in the West as a popular fitness fad is a form of cultural appropriation. In 2008, the Hindu American Foundation launched a take back yoga campaign after the popular Yoga Journal declined to refer to certain postures as explicitly Hindu, choosing the more generic ancient Indian because the mention of Hinduism had too much baggage.
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Yoga Is A Modern Golden Calf
As Ive reflected on Saturdays show, I cant help but think of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf after the exodus from Egypt. I used to think the Israelites understood the calf as representing a deity other than Yahweh. However, as some scholars note, they likely viewed the calf as a representation of Yahweh. They simply were trying to appropriate the idol worship they had learned in Egypt for worship of the one, true God, whom they barely knew.
This seems much like what Christians are doing today with yoga. We are not worshipping God in spirit and truth. Instead, were trying to worship Him through an idolatrous practice that emerged from a lie about His nature. But, just like God called the Israelites to be separate from the idolatry surrounding them, He calls us to do the same today.
So, I would encourage Christians to stay away from yoga. Given its thoroughly Hindu foundation, I dont think it can ever be fully stripped of all its religious meaning and become mere exercise. And, it certainly is not a valid means of Christian worship. As one Christian author wrote, Saying that we can Christianize yoga is, in a sense, saying that we can Christianize Hinduism. Yes, we Christians may have co-opted days like Christmas and Easter for Christian celebrations. But, we dont incorporate pagan practices into our actual worship. Truth is, yoga is not holy and it certainly is not Christian.
Yoga To Come Closer To Christ
Many forms of Christian yoga assign Christian terms and prayers to certain yoga postures or sequences and replace South Asian imagery, such as the popular Om symbol, with Christian imagery, such as the cross. Other forms, such as WholyFit and PraiseMoves, remove all explicitly yogic language and imagery, including the term yoga itself, to avoid associations with yogas historical connections to other religions.
Some Catholics are also teaching yoga as a Christian practice. The Reverend Anthony Randazzo, a priest at Notre Dame Roman Catholic Church in New Jersey and co-author of Beatitudes, Christ and the Practice of Yoga, has taught yoga for years. He insists that yoga has always brought him closer to Christ.
Christian yoga is not just an American thing. Indian Catholic priest Joseph Pereira has written about Christian yoga and teaches yoga for the practice of Christian meditation to Indian audiences. Pereiras Kripa Foundation also uses yoga as a component of recovery from alcohol or drug addiction as well as a form of support for those living with HIV.
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Why Christian Yoga
Americans love their yoga. The groups most likely to participate are women , adults aged 18-44 though kids practice too and non-Hispanic whites . What about the 71 percent of Americans who identify as Christian?
In November 2018, an Assemblies of God megachurch pastor in Missouri, John Lindell, provoked emotional reactions by telling his 10,500-member congregation that yoga opens Christians to demonic oppression. As to Christian yoga, he asked: Why would you call it yoga?
The sermon was unpopular because many of Lindells congregants participate in traditional yoga or Christian versions. They claim yoga brings them closer to God.
Yoking with the Divine
The term yoga, from the Sanskrit root yuj, is a cognate of the English yoke. Although some argue that yoga predates religion, the earliest written references are in what people now identify as Hindu texts. The Upanisads and Bhagavad Gt describe yoga as meditative disciplines for withdrawing ones senses from the world to yoke with Brahmanthe all-pervading divine reality behind everything in the universe.
The popularity of yoga in the United States has accelerated since the 1970s. It would be simplistic to think all yoga is the same thing, so its best to focus on particular examples. One influential popularizer was the Indian Hindu Shri Krishna Pattabhi Jois , developer of modern Ashtanga, or eight-limbed, yoga. Jois made his first of many visits to Encinitas, California in 1975.