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BarnacleBill's avatar

Do you consider yoga as a religious practice?

Asked by BarnacleBill (16040 points ) September 24th, 2010

Recently, in his blog, www.albertmohler.com, Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, examines the idea that the practice of yoga may be in conflict with the values of Christianity. Mohler’s argument is, in part, Christians are not called to empty the mind or to see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine. Believers are called to meditate upon the Word of God — an external Word that comes to us by divine revelation — not to meditate by means of incomprehensible syllables.

I personally have regarded yoga as a stretching/centering/relaxation activity. Do you regard yoga as a religious practice, or as something else?

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25 Answers

BoBo1946's avatar

Yoga is not a religion, it’s a method of relaxing the mind. We are in agreement Bill !

laureth's avatar

Yoga started out as a religious practice. In its native habitat, it still is. But just like other things get cheapened and secularized in America, so has yoga been. If you think I exaggerate, look all the people who wear rosaries as a fashion statement.

krose1223's avatar

It is becoming that for me and I love it! I love learning about it and I can’t wait to get the money saved up to be certified. It’s such a beautiful thing. There is a religious side of it, but it is what you make it. Really the whole point of the physical part of yoga is to lead up to mediation…That’s my favorite part. It is a spiritual thing for me, but that’s what I want from it. I know plenty of people who only do it for the workout and health benefits.
I should add, when I say relgious I don’t mean it has anything to do with God… I haven’t learned enough to really explain it well.
But all in all, like I said yoga is what you make it, and what you want out of it.

LostInParadise's avatar

I regard meditation as being spiritual, but yoga is just too much work for me to attach any meaning to it.

Regarding the minister’s criticisms, meditation is a part of most religions. The end is pretty much the same in all cases, to establish a sense of harmony and connectedness. I think it is nitpicky to argue about the specific means is used in the meditation, but then that is what religion is essentially about.

chubbychu's avatar

Yes, actually I was under the impression Yoga is actually a religious practice. @laureth summed it all up very well!

However, you could potentially still do all the stretches of yoga, with violating any commandments. But then by definition, you arent really doing yoga in its entirety.

Blackberry's avatar

Yoga is a stretch and workout routine…....Should we simply not workout at all either, because that would cause us to live longer, postponing our time to finally see the lord in all his glory lol?

zen_'s avatar

Yoga is the gentle art of intentionally doing nothing.

tragiclikebowie's avatar

Er, not really. I understand how it is tied to religious beliefs, however.

wundayatta's avatar

It’s not really religious. There’s no God. There’s no dogma.

It’s spiritual technology. It helps us gain access to our non-linguistic minds. It helps us quiet the linguistic mind. In spaces where we have no words to think with, we think quite differently. We think in ways that refresh us, although we don’t know why. We calm ourselves. The frenzy of our emotions is stilled enough that we can pay attention.

It is these states that most people label as a spiritual state. It often gives them a sense of being connected to something larger than themselves—such as many other people, or all the stars in the cosmos. You understand that you are a part of everything. Many people find that comforting.

Yoga works because it is so vigorous, there is no room in your mind to “think” as we normally think. It works because we “get out of our heads and into our bodies.” In our bodies, we relate to the world physically, not cognitively. It is a more direct experience, unmediated by words or other symbols.

There are other “spiritual technologies” that achieve the same goal. Meditation, dance, music and any other practice that completely absorbs you. It is even possible to go beyond words using words.

A lot of people would disagree with me there, but I have found it to be true. I can get into a fugue state when I am deeply into what I am saying or working on in my mind. I find the feeling to be quite similar to that I experience when dancing or doing yoga.

Since yoga opens us up to direct experience of the world, it is only that: direct experience. People can put whatever ideas they want on top of that, and they sure do! Essentially, though, it is direct experience. It is “about” nothing. It’s just a way of being in the world.

People look at the history of the practice and put their on values and judgments on yoga. Some think it’s like a religion because some religions use snake-handling and speaking in tongues to reach this same state of awareness. Other religions use prayer. Since these methods have been handed down in the tradition of a religion, they assume that other technologies for reaching the same state must also be religious.

This is typical of the “me-first” thinking some religious folk exhibit. It’s their way or hell. They mistake the medium for the message.

crazyivan's avatar

Yoga literally means Unity and under that guise, I would think that it is a religious practice. However, the modern conception of yoga is a completely different thing.

It is my experience that Southern Baptists think pretty much anything but giving them your money conflicts with Christian morals.

@zen great definition for meditation, but Yoga?

zen_'s avatar

^ Yeah – I get that crap mixed up.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

People who think that yoga is un-christian are wrong. To me, a yogi who practices often, it has no connection to any religion but it certainly plugs me into the universe.

Hobbes's avatar

I can’t think of a much more religious experience than the feeling of being plugged into the universe.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Hobbes Sure, call it what you like.

YoBob's avatar

There is a difference between a religion and something that brings us in closer contact with our higher spiritual nature. Yoga is not a religion, but the practice of yoga can help facilitate a mind body harmony that is quite beneficial.

I love @wundayatta‘s description of yoga as a “spiritual technology”. I find it disheartening how many seem to view religion in and of itself as the ideal of spiritual existence rather than a pathway to enlightenment. To me, that’s kind of like believing you are an expert on a subject because you own an unopened book on the topic that sits and gathers dust in your book case.

IMHO, self serving religious dogma often obfuscates rather than illuminates.

CMaz's avatar

If you want it to be.

Jabe73's avatar

The perfect example of the difference between spiritual and religious people. Anything that makes you feel good about yourself is of the devil. A good tree bears good fruit. This should give you your answer.

mattbrowne's avatar

It can be used as a religious ritual for example when searching for the deeper meaning of life and the universe.

Joybird's avatar

Albert Mohler might have a bit of a problem if someone where to point out that Tibetan Monks who have undergone MRI studies have much higher functional brains than most of the rest of the world. It’s attributed in part to their ability to train the mind to focus. Meditation and Yoga are among their practices. To remain mindfully in the moment and to learn to cease to be bandied about by emotinally or rational mind and instead just view both after sources of information and then to empty the bowl if you will makes for a serenity and a state of functional wise mind unparallel in this culture. There are many holistic practices denounced by religions in this culture as somehow incongruent with the thrust of their thinking. Somehow that doesn’t surprise…threatened much?

msbcd's avatar

I wouldn’t say yoga is a ‘religious’ practice at all. It is emphasized on relaxing the body and mind. I do understand how it could be considered to have a religious connection, simply due to the fact that it is practiced amongst certain groups as a way of growing spiritually. I’ve been practicing yoga for 2+ years and had never felt uncomfortable or out of place(being christian born). I will however say that after a class, you’ll feel fantastic, both spiritually and physically.

dabbler's avatar

“Spiritual Technology” is one way to look at it. I was taught that Yoga Vedanta is a philosophical system with its goal being peace of mind. It can be said that any successful philosophical system brings peace of mind.

Yoga is older than Hinduism, but they share a lot of iconography, gods, personality avatars.
Hatha Yoga (postures and breathing exercises) is designed to calm and energize the body so that it becomes a non-issue during meditation… no pain and no falling asleep.
Meditation is designed to put one in touch with truth. By stilling the chatterbox voice of the mind, one can have an opportunity to experience existence/truth directly. This not necessarily calming in a relaxation sense but is more in the direction of harmony, which can be peaceful while still vigorous.

this_velvet_glove's avatar

No, since I just do it in order to relax.

bookish1's avatar

I bloody well do!!
Its purpose is to reunite us with the Godhead.
It was not invented to flatten your abs, or give you a good sweat, or blow off steam after your 9-to-5.
Have you heard about that communion diet? Crackers and wine. Does wonders for your waistline!~

dabbler's avatar

@bookish1 I suppose it’s just semantics but I’d call that spiritual but not necessarily religious.
But you’re totally correct that yoga’s “purpose is to reunite us with the Godhead.”

MadMadMax's avatar

I studied with a master Yogi from India when I first started, and was told that yoga is a combination of learning relaxation techniques and physical exercise. He said that while virtually everyone in India was very religious when it was developed, it is separate and apart from a religious activity.

I figure he would know.

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