Yoga and Religion

Religion is always a difficult subject. Wars have been fought over religion and religious freedoms. Everyone believes their religion is the “right” one and some are zealous about it.

Many people who practice yoga have entwined their spiritual life with their yoga practice. Many practice simply hatha yoga. Lots of us have a belief system but enjoy the spiritual aspect of yoga as well. The bottom line is that you can fit yoga and your spiritual life together easily.

I’ve had people tell me they’ve left yoga classes because the teachers have concentrated on the spiritual aspect too much. I think it’s fair to say that a teacher is going to teach what he or she is comfortable with and sometimes that will include spirituality, sometimes with chants and music, sometimes with readings from sacred scriptures, even just opening or closing with a prayer. As a student, you have to do what you are comfortable with and if you are rehabilitating an injury, you may not want any deities with your yoga. That’s fair and certainly doable.

If you are uncomfortable with the way a teacher handles the spiritual aspects of class, don’t be embarrassed to ask a teacher if that was a special class, or if there is always an emphasis on the spiritual side of the practice. That should guide you as to whether or not you want to return to that class.

I’ve also had students tell me they felt uncomfortable with chanting. I’ve always given the same advice: if you attend a class where the teacher chants, and you’re not sure what it means or uncomfortable with it because of your own belief system, simply recite one of your prayers in your mind.

Yoga not only makes you flexible, it is flexible. It can be strenuous or gentle. It can flow or be in a very hot room. There is spirituality behind yoga, but you only have to include only what makes you comfortable in your own practice. I’m not going to pretend I’m any kind of expert on any religion, but I do know that once you open your mind to a yoga practice, balancing the spiritual side can be equally challenging. But as with so many other things, if you really want to do it, you will find a way, and not use religion as a reason not to practice yoga.