Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Yoga: A Conflict Of Religion?
I came across the following article which may be of interest to you.
Avondale's Kim Mason is a Christian who takes her faith seriously. She also practices yoga several times a week.
No way, said Mason, who scoffs at the notion that yoga is an overt or subliminal homage to ancient Indian gods or spirituality.
"You don't have to worship anything" during yoga, Mason said. "You can worship a Gucci purse if you want to - you have to look at your motive."
Mason's motive? Glorifying Christ.
"It is a form of praise and worship, in my opinion."
Given that nearly 16 million Americans practice yoga and spend $5.7 billion a year on classes and related products, Mason isn't alone in embracing the practice. But there are also many who view it as spiritually suspect at best and spiritually corrupting at worst.
The issue was thrust into the spotlight in November when an Islamic religious council in Malaysia banned Muslims there from practicing yoga because it includes postures, rituals and chants with ancient Indian origins.
That ruling mirrors the concern of some Jewish and Christian leaders who warn their followers against participating in any activity violating the biblical prohibition on idolatry and that tends to claim that all religions are equally valid paths to salvation.
And the issue is on the minds of studio owners and others as doctors, psychologists and other health professionals are increasingly recommending yoga as a way to combat everything from depression to stress.
Is yoga a religion?
Yoga teachers and studio owners draw a distinction between "spiritual" and "religious" when describing the practice: It's spiritual because it can do as much to strengthen existing faith as it can muscles, they said.
"It's a spiritual path," said Shri Hamilton-Hubbard, owner of Bliss Yoga in San Marco. "It works very well if you practice a religion along with it."
Yoga postures are more effective in both the physiological and spiritual realms if a practitioner is focused on what is most sacred to them during a session, whether it's Buddha, Jesus, Ganesh or simply "spirit," she said.
"Spirit for you can be connecting with your breath," said Kate Cordell, director of Ocean Yoga in Atlantic Beach. "Spirit could be connecting with a particular deity - maybe you're a Christian, and Jesus is who you honor."
Hamilton-Hubbard, Cordell and other teachers and studio owners said they never push a particular deity or agenda in their classes - just the principle of connecting with the sacred through practice.
Clergy advice: 'Be careful'
Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov said he's no yoga expert, but he knows for Judaism some forms are acceptable and some are not.
Kahanov, spiritual leader of Mandarin-based Chabad Lubavitch of Northeast Florida, said he's often asked if it's OK to participate in yoga. He reminds people that Judaism prohibits worshipping or honoring other deities in any form.
"I tell them it's OK when it's just trying to help people focus and meditate properly," Kahanov said. "But when it starts becoming religious in any way, I advise them not to be involved in that."
The Rev. Pradeep Thorat said he advises people to stay away from the practice, period.
Even yoga that's completely devoid of Sanskrit spiritual terms should be avoided because some of the postures originate from Hindu worship.
"If it comes from a spiritual background, it does carry some sort of spiritual effect," said Thorat, pastor of First Baptist Church of India in Jacksonville.