WARNING: This blog contains information that you may or may not agree with. Please be civil in your comments or email me your concerns. This blog is my interpretation of Yoga, and if you disagree I am ok with that but please do not leave foul comments, there are others who may not wish to see them.
Something has been nagging in the back of my mind lately, and it stemmed from a radio segment my husbands grandmother heard on a Christian radio station. She came to me and told me that she heard a man preach, "Yoga and Martial Arts are against Christianity and God"...Wow.. It took all of my willpower not to get angry at this comment, but most people look at yoga from the outside without trying to understand it. I couldn't help but think to myself "I am a Christian for Pete's sake. How can something as wonderful as yoga be against God?" Yoga does nothing, in regards to religion, but bring one CLOSER to God — at least in my opinion.
[This blog will concentrate on yoga rather than martial arts. Not that I believe martial arts goes against Christianity, but I simply do not practice it.]
I read a blog this morning on Daily Cup of Yoga called Even the Devil Does Yoga, and you may be thinking "Woah now!" but in all actuality, the blog explains that Yoga, in itself, is NOT a religion.
For a practice to be considered a religion:
"The main requirement for a religion to be classified as a religion is that it has a publicly proclaimed set of beliefs that adhere to a specifically named power that goes beyond the physical realm. A religion will generally also involve an organized hierarchy with some type of clergy or formal structure and chain of command."
With that being said, Yoga is not a publicly proclaimed religion (unless those who are ill-informed proclaim it as such). Yoga gives people a way to connect with the Divine— whether they are Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jainism, Jewish, Islamic, or Spiritualist. No where does it state, "You must worship [insert God name here] in order to practice yoga and reap the benefits."
Yoga does, however, provide a way for us as individuals to draw closer to whatever God we worship. In my case, I am a Christian and therefore my practice brings me closer to God and Jesus Christ. Not only am I purifying my body through practice, but also I am becoming a better person by adhering to the discipline of yoga.
Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras, which explains the eight disciplines of yoga, so that people could understand and follow the disciplines of yoga. These eight limbs are ways of purifying oneself, as well as, a way to help draw closer to God.
I took this next section from the afore mentioned blog, because they are very well put.
[For more information on these different limbs please feel free to either shoot me an email or ask in the comments of this blog. I would be more than happy to delve deeper into their meanings for those who are interested]
The eight steps (limbs—my addition) of yoga are as follows:
The word “yama” means restraint, so yoga teaches practicing restraint from unhealthy practices such as violence, stealing, lying, etc.
This one means observance, or being content, pure, tolerant, remembering and studious.
Asana means physical exercises, and this is the part of yoga that most people are familiar with; the poses such as downward dog, warrior pose, etc.
4: PranayamaPranayama is the breathing techniques that yoga promotes, such as high breathing, low breathing, complete breathing, etc.
This is the time before one settles down to meditate, and is the moment when you are preparing for your meditation. The word can be explained as the withdrawal of the mind from the senses.
Dharana is the ability to concentrate on one object for a pre-determined amount of time.
This is meditation, another yoga principle that most people are familiar with. In involves the ability to focus on just one thing (be it an object, scenery, person, etc) or nothing at all (clearing the mind) for an indefinite period of time.
This is absorbing or realizing your own nature, or becoming more self-aware.
So there you have it, the eight limbs of yoga. Yoga is not just about the asanas (or practice) nor is it a religion either. Nothing stated above would hinder anyone from practicing their intended religion either. While the ancient texts may comment or point to stories of other forms of religion, I like to think of them as merely stories that help us along our paths to understanding yoga. There are quite a number of references to different gods, but this in no way insinuates that one has to believe they are gods. Take them as stories, or parables if you will. Learn from what they are teaching and move on.
Oh, David Swenson also has a section that addresses this question. A person, J., asked if practicing yoga is against Christianity, and David responded with this answer here.
Yoga is a wonderful practice that, if looked at with non-prejudice, can help bring balance and peace to life. May those of you who are interested but fearful dip your toes into this wonderful practice and blossom in yourself for having done so.
If I can be of any assistance to anyone (albeit there are by far many more suitable people out there to better answer your questions I suppose) I would love to help you learn as much as you can to make an informed decision for yourself.