Although yoga has deep connections with religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, it is not a religion in and of itself. Religions follow the teachings and rules of certain gods and there is always an ultimate goal of salvation. These two factors alone are not present in the practice of yoga.
So what is it then? Yoga can be viewed through different perspectives. For one, it is a physical exercise that involves stretching and aerobic elements and helps improve the body’s flexibility. Just like most exercises, it requires the correct posture, form and repetitions. If you are doing yoga, you will be following steps on how to achieve proper body alignment. It also works out certain muscles in your body, making it an ideal exercise for people looking to improve their health. In its physical aspect, yoga can provide the body with health and fitness benefits.
Another way to look at yoga is through science. Yoga provides different benefits to the body in physical, emotional and psychological aspects. In recent years where related literature are already published, there is already a critical body of evidence showing that yoga is beneficial for the heart, for stress management and as therapy for anxiety and depression. Yoga also follows mechanisms in movement and breathing, which should be done properly for optimal effects.
Yoga also opens you up to a spiritual journey where you will learn to train yourself to become mindful and focused on the present. Originally, yoga was introduced with the goal of achieving optimum self-realization. The teachings and mechanisms of yoga will help you become more aware of the present moment rather than focusing on past and future events. It also helps you practice self-discipline as you disengage yourself from your ego. Once you achieve this, you become more committed to the practice without pressuring yourself to move fast.
Although a lot of people see yoga as a physical exercise that will provide weight loss and body-toning results, yoga can also be viewed on a deeper level. In this aspect, you need to have the right intention and sincerity towards the practice. For some, yoga is a perfect way to help manage stress and anxiety. It is naive to think that yoga will teach you how to control the events and the environment around. Yoga, however, will help you develop a sense of inner peace so you can efficiently control of your own self, your thoughts and your emotions by becoming more self-aware.
In Sanskrit, the word yoga means “to yoke” and is often interpreted as both a union and a discipline. By performing and following what you have learned in yoga, you will be able to find a harmonious relationship between mind and body.
A lot of people practicing Western religions are interested in doing yoga but are concerned with its perceived ties to Eastern religions. There is a misconception that yoga will lead them away from their beliefs and introduce them to another religion. Although yoga has historical associations with Eastern religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, it does not have direct linkages.
So how can you practice yoga without undermining your religion? Yoga teaches a person on how to balance their mind and body. It also teaches the practice of mindfulness through meditation, breathing and posture. Since yoga does not operate in instilling which god or savior to follow, it has the right flexibility to fit in any personal beliefs without causing any conflict. If you observe, a lot of yogis and yogini come from different religious affiliations. Yoga should be viewed as a tool for strengthening your own faith and understanding, regardless of what and who you believe in.
If you look at it, the teachings of yoga also share common ground with Christianity. In Christianity, you are taught to love and to worship. You practice it through formal sacred rituals, through prayer, or through devotion on a certain saint. In yoga, practitioners are taught the concept of bhakti yoga which means “to adore or worship God”. It teaches the person on how to unite one’s self with their God through a spiritual journey.
Another similarity of yoga to classical religion is through the teachings based in the yamas and niyamas. The yamas deal with universal morality or one’s attitude in interacting with others. The yamas teach practitioners to be non-violent, to speak of the truth, to never steal, to practice moderation and to avoid greed. Niyamas is about personal observances that guide one’s life. It teaches the concept of purity, contentment, self-reflection, proper use of energy, and devotion towards the Divine. These first two limbs of yoga are concerned with the practitioner’s relationship with other beings and ultimately, with one’s self.
If you look at it, learning the philosophies of yoga will not undermine the learning that your own faith has taught you. In fact, it can even strengthen your appreciation towards your own religion. The teachings in yoga also do not counter teachings in other religions, but instead reinforce them through different techniques. When a concept is presented in a different world view, you are able to look at your faith with renewed appreciation which you might not have had before.
Yoga is seen through different perspectives and can be considered as the science of the self. It is through this practice that a person understands his inner being and of the world through various techniques such as the postures, awareness, meditation, breathing and behavior. Deepak Chopra believes that yoga provides a religious experience. However, it should not be treated as a religion when based on a dogma or ideology or compliance. Yoga offers practitioners with an approach to engage one’s self with awareness to body and mind.
Although yoga is organized with a sense of community and group dynamic similar to how organized religion is framed, what makes the practice different is that it does not put its practitioners within strict rules of conduct. Instead, it enhances one’s understanding of their own faith towards themselves and the Divine.