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Religion vs. Yoga

My typical news feeds include astronomy news, star watching updates, soccer rumors, and some local news and happenings in Las Vegas. Google gets into your head and can predict what you like. With the start of my new yoga endeavor, my news feed is bringing up articles about yoga. For the most part these articles highlight amazing young yogis or discuss the benefits of yoga. All and all the articles are pretty tame and just give me something to read in my downtime … until last week when I read an article about a school banning yoga.

Specifically the article discussed a Benedictine Catholic college in Kansas that banned yoga classes and rebranded them as “lifestyle fitness”. The college and community members feared that the students would learn about “eastern mysticism” which may lead to “spiritual harm” to their students. The school wants the benefits of yoga without all the harm of foreign spirituality.

My first reaction was confusion. Then as the week went on and I saw more and more people speak out against the Catholic Church and reposting the article or similar ones, I became sad. Understanding, acceptance, mercy, love, peace, all of these concepts seemed to go out the window from both sides.

As an active Catholic and avid yogi, I have to wonder, why are these sides so divided? As with so many things, people tend to focus on their differences and ignore that we all have more in common than we do that separates us. Yoga, while spiritual, is not religious. This idea is where much of the confusion comes from. All yogis are called to acknowledge the parts of themselves and others that are more than just the physical or mental. Specific religious practices are left open to the individual. That is why you find Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, and many other people from many other faiths of the world practice yoga.

While stretching and breathing have become synonymous with yoga, these aspects merely represent a small portion of what real yoga encompasses. Many of the poses were developed to help people sit for long periods of time to meditate. The poses and breathing do have almost immediate benefits to the physical body, which most people enjoy. However, these benefits should not be mistaken as the true goal of yoga. “Acrobatics and difficult postures do not make a true Yogi. One who, within his limitations, modestly strives each day towards a certain goal- he alone follows genuine Yoga.” (Krischner, 17)

Each day yogis find ways to bring their practice into other aspects of their life - what many refer to as “off the mat”. Being kind and understanding of others is a yoga practice. Wishing others health and happiness is a yoga practice. Making sure our actions do not harm others or ourselves is a yoga practice. These values are consistent with any religious teaching.

Our government has set up a separation of church and state which has made open discussion of religious beliefs banned from public schools. These conversations need to happen if we hope to understand those different from ourselves. Strong, independent thinkers have the capability to learn about other faiths and different religions and maintain strongly rooted in their own faith and understandings. We should encourage our young to come to their own conclusions after presented with all of the information.

My hope continues to be that we all strive for a better understanding of one another. We remove fear and confusion from our decision making process. We say kind words to one another. We keep open minds and open hearts.

Krischner, M.J. Yoga All Your Life. Schocken Books. 1958.

praying child

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