“I’m concerned for your soul,” “You’re doing the devil’s work by teaching yoga,” “How can you say you’re a Christian when you’re teaching the belief system of the Hindu religion?” These are some of many comments and questions that I’ve received about me being a Christian who teaches yoga and meditation. In my book, BE STILL: The Power of Biblical Meditation, I wrote about a specific incident that happened to me about 4 years ago. I’m honestly not offended by people who express their concern for me; in fact, I appreciate the fact that they care enough to express their concerns. What I am not crazy about is the fact that most of these people’s concerns are based on what they’ve heard other people say or on a negative experience that they’ve had either personally or through someone else. I would like to take this time to dispel the rumor that Yoga is a religion.
YOGA IS NOT A RELIGION… UNLESS YOU WANT IT TO BE.
In my training as a Yoga Teacher (through the 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training I completed and all the advanced training I’ve received since then), I have learned that Yoga was not meant to be a religion but rather a tool to help you meet the Authentic You. This “authentic you” is the pure essence of who you were created to be, before you accumulated all the baggage that you carry (which you received from yourself and from others). For me, the goal of Yoga is to get in touch with who God has created me to be since the beginning of His plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11-13). I use Yoga as a tool to get my mind quiet and my spirit still enough to hear the voice of God (1 Kings 19:12, Psalm 46:10).
Depending on the lineage and the style of Yoga a person practices, it can be a more physically-based practice or a more spiritually-based practice. What I practice and teach are somewhere in the middle with a whole lot of science. I start each class with setting an intention for the practice, whether it be “stillness” (to experience stillness in each movements), “gratitude” (to be grateful for breath, for movement, for strength, etc.), “perseverance” (to be okay with discomfort in the challenging poses), etc. At the end of the postures, I guide my students through a guided relaxation during savasana which activates the parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” response to homeostasis). We finish with a breathing exercise called Pranayama where I guide them to use their breath to continue creating a balance mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This is where they (and I) really experience stillness.
In addition to considering their physical levels, I take time to create yoga practices for my students in a very scientific and methodical way. Since I only teach morning yoga classes at the moment, I make sure that the poses that I incorporate into my sequences are balancing and uplifting (if you’ve ever done a back-bending yoga pose, you can attest to the energizing/uplifting effect and a balancing/centering effect if you’ve stayed in a standing pose like Tree Pose for several breaths). There’s science to back up the neurological benefits of yoga such as increase in endorphins and reduction in cortisol level (check out this article about “Neurobiology of Asana“).
To me, Yoga is a tool, not a religion. It’s like walking (I use this example a lot, so if you’ve ever heard me say this in a workshop or seen it in a blog or social media post, just bear with me): You can be walking toward someone with the intent of giving them a hug or you can be walking toward someone with the intent of robbing them. The walking itself is not good or bad. The walking, in this case, is simply a tool to complete your goal. Just like this example, you can use Yoga as a religion or as a tool to enhance your faith.
At the end of each class, I bring my hands to heart-center — in prayer position — and take a moment to give thanks to God for that very moment. I also pray that I commit to keeping my yoga practice centered around Him and Him only.
So to answer the question, is Yoga a religion or not… I must use what one of my Yoga Teachers, Nikki Myers says a lot:
The answer depends on you.
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