Yoga and Religion

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vincent
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Location: Medford, OR

Yoga and Religion

Post by vincent »

I started practicing yoga 5 years ago, somehow fell away from it for a couple of years and in June renewed my practice, and have been going to classes faithfully and three or four times a week for four months.

Today, I had my first yin class, which was very interesting.

But my main question in this thread is about religion and whether yoga is a religion and whether yoga would contradict my religion, which is Catholicism.

I'm kind of frustrated and feel like I'm caught in the middle, since many Catholics and other Christians think yoga is idol worship or will take one down the path to demonic possession, but others involved in yoga say it is not a religion, but sometimes religious elements seem to be present in the classes.

I enjoy yoga and the immense health benefits, and at 55 I feel like I'm 30 again, and it seems sometimes that yoga is a "fountain of youth."

But I'm very confused sometimes about what "yoga" actually is, and there seem to be endless varieties and strains of it. Then again, sometimes it seems that what defines yoga is the "six limbs" or is it "eight limbs" as discussed by Patanjali--and all this is very new to me, and I have very little depth of knowledge about it, but am doing the best I can to learn.

At the yoga studio, there is no creed or definition of "yoga" or what it means to them either, so I don't know what their beliefs are, though I hear enough talk about meditation and ethics to get that there is more to it for them than gymnastics, though there is no teaching about what that exactly is.

At this time I feel I am doing an "asana" practice, which I love doing, and also loved my first experience with yin asanas, and hope to do more of that in my practice.

I understand that in Patanjali's system that the asanas are only a part, that the foundation is the Yamas and Niaymas, which I have read about and they in no way contradict anything in my religious beliefs, and I can point to the same things in my Catholic Catechism (and more), so I'm wondering if I already am practicing (though poorly at times) the Yamas and Niyamas in Catholic form, then do I need the "Hindu version," and is it even Hindu, anyway?

I understand a little about "pranayama" and its importance and see no conflict there, either.

Where I am concerned is in the last stages.

Are any of the meditations designed to lead one to totally emptying the mind, or to entering into a "trance"? If so, I believe that would be something I would be very concerned about.

Lastly, is the goal some kind of union with God, but in a way that the individual totally disappears and becomes "one" with God in the same way that a drop of water would become one with the ocean?

If so, that would definately go against Christian beliefs that we have individual souls and are persons separate and distinct from God, created by God, and meant to live with God happily forever.

If anyone can shed any light on my questions and concerns it would be most appreciated.
Vincent
vincent
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Post by vincent »

A question I failed to ask in the original post--can the asanas be stripped out of yoga and whether or not we call that "yoga," is there anything wrong with that, and are there yoga studios that do just that, and teach it only as exercise and omit any Hindu or other cultural trappings? (And I'm not implying these are bad things--just that some might have different ideas about them).
Vincent
Jessica Powers
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Post by Jessica Powers »

Vincent, thanks so much for bringing all this up! I read your post then took my dog for a walk and I was very content reflecting on it. This, then, is a long response

I've had lots of people in my classes, and most I don't know the religious/spiritual faith of. In a general classes where I've chosen philosophy or spiritual themes I remind people that they can take however much or little of what I say with them. I give them a free pass to ignore whatever doesn't resonate. After all, I can only speak from my individual experience of spirituality and I would resent being asked to take on anyone else's view in the context of a yoga class. Of course, I can say that clearly because I have been in positions where it was, wrongly, assumed that all present were on the same page, as it were. That is not the environment I wish to create or be a part of.

You are already finding that there are parallels between your beliefs and some of the concepts in yoga. I find that from a yoga standpoint I am more able to connect and relate to organized religions, so it goes both ways. But whether one can harm the practice of the other? I think that fear is all in how you perceive things.

You say that 'sometimes religious elements seem to be present in class' - what in particular do you mean? If you could say what potentially alarms you, you may be able to get a clearer answer to your feeling of being stuck in the middle. For example, I could take that to mean how Frankincense incense is a prime ingredient in Catholic incense, and it does show up in the east and in yoga incense. All activities have a beginning, middle, and end - and whether a spiritual activity or a religious one (I do find there is a distinction between them) there are common elements. I do not think yoga is a religion - or, if it is, it is like the blanket term 'Christian' and gives no indication of the variety of practices that can be found.

I will say, having been approached and questioned by Christians as to the meaning of some things in class, the following things that I've found helpful to find commonality in or various understanding of:

OM is the Hindu concept that maintains that the Universe arose from a vibration; quantum physics now states that rather than matter and energy theres is only energy, and that energy, being a wave, is vibratory and this supports the Universal vibration theory of OM; from New International Version (©1984) we have the translation of John 1:1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. and I've always seen this to be a similar idea of vibration.

Namaste, while it can have many long meanings, can be simply translated as "I honor the Spirit in you which is also in me." For those who see delineation and separation between individuals as well as with god, a dualistic perspective, this might be taken to mean that you acknowledge the other person as a child of god, the same as you. From a nondual perspective there would be the idea that essentially there is only one. But it's also simply the hello and goodbye of India, Tibet, Nepal, and can be used in that way to thank those present at the class.

You are right to feel that the yamas and niyamas have foundational similarities with your faith. Do they offer a 'Hindu version' of what you have already from your Catholic faith? Probably not. But they do offer a different way of thinking about your behaviour, one that is not morally based, that is tells you what you will be punished for doing, but ethically predicated and asks you to look at the way you do a larger number of things so that the principle of good action comes to bear on a larger realm of your life. In that way it's not just that we refrain from doing someting, it's that we work to be in integrity in all our actions.

You're alright with asana (makes you feel better) and breath (no conflict as you say) but stumped with the last few limbs. I would put them to you this way: if you recite the Hail Mary or Our Father (both which can be seen as mantra practice, in fact there have been studies on the Hail Mary and Gayatris that show they induce the same brain patterns) you are already working to foster withdrawal of senses (pratyahara), concentration (dharana) and meditation (dyana) on not only the rosary and the phrases, but the qualities that those inspire in you. Your meditation just might be more along the traditional concepts of prayer. Samadhi, for you, might be the attainment of heaven after death. There are lots of differing explanations of samadhi and nirvana, and I believe that in the end, it is an individual who creates the meaning of these in their life.

In yoga classes I feel we are rarely given an opportunity to practice these last four limbs, perhaps meditation a bit. But as all my meditation teachers have taught me, from yoga, buddhist, and other traditions: our mind will only be empty if we are dead; that's not the goal really. To say that meditation empties the mind isn't actually a proper description. More to the point we will be able to remain unreactive to the busyiness in our minds, the judging, the future planning, the memory re-inactments, etc. We will develop better inner discernment that leads to more appropriate outer actions with those around us. We will be able to sit with the chaos but not be intangled with it: be in our inner mind's world, but not of it. Does that make sense?

As for trances...I think the only thing you are likely to find with yoga practice is that you move into the present moment, which is like entering the well talked of 'zone' - it's not an altered state, it's a fully present state.

And, finally, about the becoming one with God in yoga: I think this varies more than people believe. Patanajali's 8 Limbs and the Upanishads for instance, both classic texts, are at odds about what this will mean. For myself, I do believe in a nondual situation, but I find that often in yoga philosophy what is espoused is a dual one. If anything, all people are hoping to be better able to hear their god(s) and follow the guidance and advice given by them, I think yoga can absolutely help this ability.

In the end, it is my desire in teaching that people use yoga as a tool to help them establish and/or maintain their spiritual or religious beliefs, whatever those are. For me that means that divorcing the poses from the other limbs creates an intense stretching class that is not yoga (there are, after all, only so many ways the body can move, yoga has no exclusivity over body movements, just special names and sequencing theories). But would I be able to tell if anyone came to my class and ignored everything I said except the asana portion? No. So, there are probably people doing just that, getting a good, safe stretch and letting the rest fall away. I love that idea! In the end, they might choose not to come to my classes but find another teacher, who isn't so 'woo woo', and that too is great.

There are plenty of styles, and even more teachers, for everyone. One of the studios I trained at has almost none of the 'normal' yoga trappings on display. They use tingsha bells or a singing bowl to bring you out of relaxation at the end, and say 'namaste' but aside from that it's a totally neutral space, which is what the owner wanted to offer people.

So! That was long winded! Hope something sparked in you - and looking forward to continuing the conversation!
:) :)
Bernie
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Is Yoga a Religion?

Post by Bernie »

Jessica - thanks for a nice response to Vincent. Lots of good stuff! Maybe I can just add some historical perspective.

Is Yoga a Religion?

No, and yes. Here we go again! Which is it? If we look at the way yoga has evolved over several millennia, it definitely started out as a spiritual practice, not as a health-increasing one. The science of health in India is called ayurveda (life knowledge); yoga was the sister-practice that leads one to spiritual immortality.

Three thousand years ago (approximately), there arose in northern India the age of philosophy. Similar developments were occurring in Greece, the Middle East and China. People started changing the traditional ways of looking at the universe, which is all "out there", and started looking more inside. We started to think about how we think. The texts that describe this change in view are called the Upanishads, and they are the core texts behind Vedanta (the completion of the Vedas) - the basic philosophy or spirituality of Hinduism today. The yoga practiced then was definitely of a spiritual or religious nature.

Classical Yoga, as described in the Yoga Sutras, was codified in around 200 C.E., mythical by the sage Patanjali. The intention of this was to become liberated from the cycles of samsara; the never ending cycles of birth, death and rebirth. However, the Yoga Sutra does not spend any time talking about religious matters; there is no discussion on whether there was a creator of the universe, whether the universe always existed or not, this god or that god, etc. The Yoga Sutra actually followed a dualistic philosophy common to that of the Samkhya philosophers of that time: we have a purusha (our consciousness) and it is trapped by prakriti (created energy or matter – ie: everything else in the universe) and we need to do yoga to free our purusha from prakriti once and for all. This freedom, however, could only be achieved with the body’s death, because the body was prakriti. The only way to be liberated (mukti) was to die in a state of samadhi.

Around 500 C.E., a new form of yoga evolved, called Tantra. While certain aspects of Tantra had existed for a long time, Tantra was a new practice that lead to liberation right here and now; a living liberation called jivan mukti. Tantra was definitely theistic: one tried to awaken the Shakti energy in our body so that she could unite with Shiva, who was awaiting her just above the crown of our head (the 7th chakra). Tantra is non-dualistic. We are all just manifestations of Shiva/Shakti.

Around 1,000 C.E. a newer form of yoga blossomed, called Hatha Yoga: the forceful yoga. This was an evolution beyond Tantra, and a reaction to some of the unsavory aspects of Tantra. Hatha Yoga, however, was unique in that it was used as a ladder to other yogas. In Hinduism, Hatha Yoga can be used to prepare you to meditate (called Raja Yoga) upon Brahman. In Buddhism, Hatha Yoga can be used to help you sit for 10 hours a day and explore your Buddha nature. In fact, you can put the ladder of Hatha Yoga up against any chosen wall.

Think of Hatha Yoga in the same way that you would think of prayer. All religions use prayer; it is just a tool. Just because someone prays does not mean they are Jewish, or Christian. There are many Hatha yoga centres that are Jewish in nature. I believe that Jesus was an amazing Hatha yogi!

Hatha Yoga employs much more than asanas. It includes cleansing the body to ensure it is healthy. This may include fasting, special diets, brushing your teeth and using enemas! Jesus famously did such practices. Hatha includes chanting. Studies by Professor Bernardi has shown that the pranayama benefits one obtains from chanting mantras are also obtained by monks and nuns chanting “Hail Mary”. Jesus also taught us chants (Our Father is just one.)

Meditation, or contemplation as it is often called, has a rich and long history in the Christian tradition. [See the important text called “The Cloud of Unknowing” written probably around the 14th century. ]The contemplative Christian yogis were very similar to many Buddhist and Zen yogis.

In short: Classical Yoga and Tantra Yoga are religious practices in their own right, and you may not wish to include their practice into your religious practice. However, Hatha Yoga, which is the main form of yoga practiced in the West today, can be used to help you in any religious endeavors.

Cheers
Bernie
vincent
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Post by vincent »

Thank you Jessica and Bernie for your thoughful responses.

I have some followup questions and comments about some of the things you've said, and I will make some separate posts about that.

I'm striving for some clarity regarding this issue because I want to be able to explain yoga to fellow Catholics and other Christians who are denying themselves some great benefits based on some unfounded fears and ignorance.

But I also want to be able to articulate my concerns to those involved in yoga so that they can be more welcoming and less scary to those of other faiths, if this is possible.

I understand that everyone has a right to choose their own faith, and I have respect for the good intentions of those who practice a particular religion or belief system, as well as for those things we have in common that are good and true.

But how would you feel if I were somehow the emcee at a gathering of yoga teachers and I began our meeting crossing myself and asking that we begin our meeting in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

This is something I would NOT do or consider doing, because I would feel I was imposing my religion on you. If it were going to be a Catholic meeting or based on Catholic principles, you would have been well-infomed ahead of time, and everything would have been fully explained.

Yet I go to a yoga studio, and there are statues that look like some kind of dieties, am asked to "OM" with no explaination what it means, am told to hold my hands so my thumb and forefinger make a circle, and with the other ones pointing down, so that my ego can travel through those fingers into the earth, am told that a beam of energy is going through the top of my head and out the soles of my feet, am directed to my chakras, etc., with NO EXPLAINATION whatsover from the yoga studio what all this means. (This varies from teacher to teacher, and there are other things that were more of a concern to me at the time, but I can't remember them.

Why is that? Why do they presume a yoga student already beleives all these things or that they will be taken on faith with no explaination?

I started doing yoga after a few Thai massages, and wanted to maintain the benefits of the work that was done on my body, and it was suggested I "do yoga." But to me, and to everyone else who does not do yoga, yoga is mainly postures and exercise, and it seems most of us conjure up an image of someone who has twisted himself into a pretzel. But of course there are also those who are concerned it is much more than that, and many Christians will not even consider yoga, because they are convinced it is a religion, and do not want to practice another religion, and I would not blame them for that, IF that is what it really was.

I find it frustrating that there are many sources online that will swear yoga is not a religion, but then they start talking about God and what God really is and how religions have the wrong idea of God, and when they do that, it seems to me they are entering the realm of religion.

And other sources say that yoga is just a philosophy that can be plugged into any belief system.

And then there are Hindus who are adamant that yoga is Hindu and Hindu is yoga, and the two cannot be separated, and we in the west have a lot of nerve for corrupting it.

I am very interested in yoga and some day I hope to be involved on some level that goes beyond just being a student. But as I learn more about yoga and learn about those who teach it, it seems almost all of them are practicing an eastern religion that is based on reincarnation and/or monism, and it seems they all somehow or other incorporate their personal religious beliefs into their teachings, and teach those things as facts.

For example, there are many references here to Mr. Grilley who seems to be a yin authority, and I would guess he taught the teacher I had for my first yin class, since she lives in the same town. I did some searches on him and what he teaches and it was very interesting and informative. And I watched three of his video segments, and learned a lot, but the third video was about Taoism, and he was teaching it, and he was talking about oneness and he told someone in the audience something to the efect that "he was looking at himself through her."

Again, if this is his personal relgious belief that's all well and good, but does that have to also be a part of learning yin yoga?

It seems to me that many yoga teachers cannot help but incorporate their own religious beliefs into their practices, and in my humble opinion, and with no disrespect intended, since I love and respect all the yoga teachers I've had, they are being somewhat thoughtless and rude (though unintentionally, I'm sure), when they fail to take into consideration that their students could have a background different from theirs, and when they teach as fact what is in the realm of faith.
Vincent
vincent
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Post by vincent »

Hatha Yoga, which is the main form of yoga practiced in the West today, can be used to help you in any religious endeavors.
Is it likely that my yoga studio is teaching Hatha Yoga?

Do you see anything wrong with someone using Hatha Yoga ONLY because he wants to get in shape or because someone told him it would be good for his back, etc.?

I was at one time a much more enthusiastic and devout Catholic than I am today, especially the three years after I converted to Catholicism 16 years ago. If I really wanted to take my religious endeavors up a notch or two, I would go back to going to daily Mass, would visit the chapel more often, would pray the rosary twice a day instead of just once as I do now, and would visit the sick and the old. I would see a yoga practice as a very small component in my spiritual endeavors, and not at all a necessary component, since I know many saintly people who don't have a clue about yoga, but on the other hand, the good health, good posture, overall feeling of well-being etc., certainly would aid in doing all the good things I could or should do.

I'm having a little difficulty understanding why for many doing yoga postures cannot be totally divorced from religion, ethics or spirituality. Why can't an asana practice be somone's basketball, bowling, running, or swimming?
Vincent
vincent
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Post by vincent »

Here's another example.

I will refrain from naming any names, but I think he's fairly well known and respected, is a published author, and is associated with our yoga studio. He has something to do with training the teachers.

I read in his book that yoga could be incororated into any religion, including Christianity.

Yet, I went to his website and listened to a speach he gave at a yoga conference. It was on the anniversary of 9/11 so he offered a prayer for the victims, but his prayer involved visualization and sending light to those souls, and although I don't doubt the sincerity of that exercise, such a prayer would not be at all comfortable for a Christian, but he proceeded as if what he was doing was the norm and was accepted by all.

This talk was at a time when George Bush was still president, and though he wasn't mean about it, it was obvious he was no George Bush fan, and spoke as if he presumed HIS politics were the norm.

So he alienated me as a Christian and as a Republican, and I get the feeling that he might say Christians and Repulicans could do yoga, but they would be the exceptions and oddballs.

Again...there seemes to be a presumption that people who do yoga fit into a certain box regarding religion and politics, and that the religious and political beliefs of yoga teachers will be welcomed and accepted without question or explaination.
Vincent
vincent
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Post by vincent »

Hatha Yoga employs much more than asanas. It includes cleansing the body to ensure it is healthy. This may include fasting, special diets, brushing your teeth and using enemas! Jesus famously did such practices.
But are these other things taught at the yoga studio?

I am not aware that Jesus ever had an enema. What leads you to believe he did these practices?

If enemas are a requirement of Hatha Yoga, please count me out. Because her sister had some complications from not having a bowel movement for a long time, my mother was a freak about enemas, and I remember as a boy, if I hadn't had a bowel movent one day, she would force that torture device on me. Though I was honest for the most part, I learned to lie about whether I did my "number 2" for the day. But I did end up having my share of enemas, and no thanks to any more.
Vincent
Frank
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Post by Frank »

Hello,
While I don't share your concerns Vincent - I believe I understand them somewhat. I could add much to this discussion(purely opinion) but feel Jessica and Bernie have done wonderfully to ease some of your concerns.
There is one person that may be able to help you with understanding that you can practice yoga and your Catholic faith and even deepen your faith without worrying about the issues you have brought up. His name is Thomas Ryan, he is a Catholic priest and a Kripalu certified yoga teacher. If you google Fr. Thomas Ryan csp you can find a website at which to reach him. While I don't know him personally-I have one of his books and his yoga dvd.
On my last teacher training @ Kripalu center I saw on a wall a photo of a Catholic nun. She apparently was the recipient of a scholarship to take the kripalu teacher training. Her name is Mother Cecilia osb. She is a Benedictine nun and kripalu yoga teacher.
I will add one opinion regarding your concern about trances. From what I've heard about Saints it would appear that many of them experienced trances during their meditatioins and prayer time. Through having a strong/deep meditation or prayer practice I feel this is a good thing as we are trying to get closer to God(Self). Thanks for listening-Stay safe-Frank.
vincent
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Post by vincent »

I think what's needed on the part of yoga teachers and schools is some kind of explaination--something in writing--a creed, guidelines, etc.--something that goes into detail about what yoga means to them, what they believe, what they wish to impart to the student, and what is "mandatory" vs "optional."

I think I really shouldn't have to be floundering around trying to find answers and sort this out, because I think this information should be provided in adavance from the studio and/or teachers.
Vincent
Jessica Powers
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Post by Jessica Powers »

Any yoga that involves the body is a type of Hatha Yoga. Right now it sounds like you are probably not matched to a studio/style/teacher that bests fits you, where you are; while you may like them or the sequences, I'm sensing that you feel uncomfortable bringing these concerns to them.

I would think that the most appropriate place to start is with asking your teachers about what is occurring in class. Tell them that you are a practicing Catholic with concerns. Ask them what OM means. (I used to explain it all the time to the church car wash kids who cleaned my car in the summer since I have the sticker on my bumper.) Ask them what the meaning behind the mudra/hand gesture you've practiced is - and if you are still not comfortable, ask the teacher if you can not participate in the things that make you feel uncertain (I never once said the pledge of allegiance during high school and I was not questioned once, my comfort refraining varied and sometimes I would do nothing, other times place my hand on my heart).

As adult students, I believe that pretty well everything we expose ourselves to is optional. Nothing is mandatory. Even if you are only interested in the physical postures of Hatha Yoga, you are ultimately responsible for doing or not doing what feels appropriate in your body. If something makes us unhappy in our society we often are told to 'vote with our pocketbooks' but this leaves out the important aspect of personally stating our concerns and allowing for communication and, hopefully, collective growth for both parties.

Do I think that teachers need a creed? No, not as such, we do have codes of ethics though. In effect, the yamas and niyamas are the creed of yoga - creed being taken as' a set of beliefs or aims that guide someone's actions'. Do I think a good teacher can give you a brief idea of what they believe yoga is and the purpose of it? Sure do. Do I think that will change for a teacher depending on the context of the class and students? Yes. Do I think that their biographies should give you a feel of what they might offer in class? Yes. Do I think a studio should be open to your questioning them about what they share? Yes. Should you be able to discern a bit about the level to which they include spiritual or philosophical ideas? Yes. But I do not think a written statement is the best way to do this. Ask the studio, ask other students before you join a class, ask the teacher. After taking a class, I think that as a student you should ask questions, and feel safe to do so - what you don't understand, feel uncomfortable with, or generally what the teacher's intention is.

It's my standpoint that as teachers we need a clear idea of our teaching intention. Not what we hope to physically assist with any particular class, though that's what it's usually taken to mean. I mean a simple sentence that sums up, for the teacher primarily and any who might inquire secondarily, what their intention in teaching is, what they hope to be doing. This isn't a creed, because a creed is what you believe, not what you hope to achieve. This intention needs to be open and fluid enough so as to allow for the various class intentions to be possible. It also needs to be short enough the teacher can easily return to it while moving through class teaching. I'm not certain this should be included in teacher bios, because it is a personal thing. But hopefully, to those who are sincerely trying to find the best fit for them, the teacher can share it and expand on it. My own intention hasn't altered since 2004. Sometime I share it in full, other times in part. It depends on the audience. On common language. On context.

Additionally, language is going to be a problem in any case and it is up to each of us to sort it for ourselves. Seane Corn, who says 'god' a lot, is pretty straight in leading her class openings to remind people that this is 'the god of your understanding.' She is using her format/language/methods but you supply the source to which you dedicate them. If someone teaches a class about the myth of Hanuman, you can take it as a story exploring ways of being without entering into deity worship. Allegory, metaphor, history, myth, poetry, these are all commonly present in religions and do not in and of themselves enforce participation in a religion.

Yoga is very much not like religion in that when religion is discussed there is no intermediary, there is only the individual. Yoga is experiential. It can be hard to find that though, because most of us don't go that far into yoga to be told that only we can validate our experiences. Our western civilization is predicated on higher authorities validating our individual experiences and we bring that to yoga and in some ways we can see how yoga ideas in India bring that to us (there is such strong emphasis on study and attainment of degrees and terms of achievement, think 'yogacharya' rather than 'PhD)'. This potentially means that with your desire to bridge yoga and your circle you will, in part, be the experiment. That requires work, like bringing your concerns here and to the teachers you encounter. But it also will give you the best platform to speak from to others in your situation: personal experience.

Some of the stuff you're frustrated with, like chakras, isn't a big part of most classes. I hounded my first two teachers about them when I began yoga, and I'm still not sure how I even heard of them. Later I began to teach classes that specifically educated about the chakra system because it wasn't really possible or appropriate in ongoing classes. Some things take time to unfold and this extended process of exposure means we have ample opportunities to try them on and check out how they might work with our existing worldview or need to be left out of our forward movement.

Is visualization a religious thing? Is it anti-religious? Is it anti-christian particularly? Or can it just be a mental exercise of focus and feeling aided by imagination? (There are many websites devoted to the Christian understanding of Reiki, which you might look into, they are very interesting. Oh, and Matthew Fox's books! He is a Christian author and has one relating the chakras in particular.) If I go to church with my aunt and uncle, am I suddenly practicing their religion?

Yoga, while the word is simply translated as 'union', as an action or activity has many definitions. Patanajli's 'yogas citta vrtti nirodaha' has more than one take: 'yoga is the cessation of the mental fluctuations' is different from 'yoga is process of not identifying with the mind waves' - the Bhagavad Gita's famous 'yoga is skill in action' - and so on through other texts.
Why can't an asana practice be somone's basketball, bowling, running, or swimming?
I think because of the ethical basis it has: yoga asana are a place to practice your individual beliefs. Are you really non-violent? Maybe you don't hit dogs or spank your child, but the inner language you use regarding yourself or those around you might be very violent and cruel. How will you learn this though if the only measure of 'walking your talk' is outer directed and never incorporates inner practice? For example: if you don't act on coveting your neighbors wife, what about looking to where that arises within you and attending to it inwardly as well as refraining to act? What if you are coveting somebody else's back bend? Or arm balance? In this way, the seed that leads to the action is what yoga deals with and supports the action of refraining from engaging in the act.

There is also this little thing: while yoga can be incorporated into any faith, who's job is that? I feel strongly it is not my job as a non-christian to remind christians of their faith. I don't try to remind anyone specifically of their faith. Mentioning the ideas behind a range of holy days also doesn't imply that I am a follower or that I expect anyone to follow them. But it does broaden the discussion we have about how humans celebrate their world. I've been highly intrigued by Jewish Yoga and Christ Yoga - formats that understandable wish to bring yoga to a wider audience who is concerned with moving away from their core beliefs, but which, I fear, reduce the ability for us to see an idea from our own perspective by limiting the vocabulary used and retreating to our separatist corners.

This has been in my mind as I do want to open a studio someday and it will necessarily reflect me. I want it to be inviting and inclusive, yet I understand some of my personal ideas will be at odds with students from the community. I anticipate this will be a concern with issues of faith as much as headstand. And I also believe that I cannot fully anticipate the concerns others will have. I will have to do my best and make space so that they may bring them to me and we can attempt to sort it out together so that I am not forced to self-censor and the students are fully heard and empowered to do what is best for them, on all levels: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual.
Bernie
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Jesus as a yoga master

Post by Bernie »

Jessica has given you a wonderful and thoughtful response to many of your questions. Let me just clarify the statement I made about enemas, since that has some unpleasant associations for you.

Enemas are not a "requirement" of Hatha yoga, but they are one of many tools employed to help heal the body. I am not personally enamoured of them either and don't chose to use them. Think of a tool box; not every tool has to be used when a master craftsman does his thing. The point is to get healthy and strong enough to do your main practice, which in your case is to honour Jesus. You are looking to see how you can use Hatha yoga as a ladder to Christ. That is great! It is possible. As Jessica points out, the onus is really on you to figure it out, but certainly it is easier if you have a guide who understands your goal. Talk to your teacher. If he or she can't help you, look for another.

The real yoga is what you can't see. It is what is happening on the inside; the way we breathe, the way we are present to what is happening in this moment, the way we are aware of the thoughts and intentions flowing through us. I believe Jesus was a yogi, not because he ever heard of Hatha yoga, or did a headstand (although, maybe he did) but because he did use many of the same tools also employed in yoga. He fasted for 40 days: that is part of the cleanses of Hatha yoga too. He meditated constantly, that is Raja yoga. He communed with His Father (Got) - that is found in most yoga traditions.

Like Jesus, you are free to use the tools that seem to work for you, and not use those that don't.

BTW: one final comment about om. While the Hindus believe that "om" is a god, the sound "om" has been rediscovered in many cultures. It is present in Tibetan Buddhism as "hum". It is the last syllable of the Jewish word for peace "shalom" and it is the first syllable of "amen".

Instead of saying "om" in a class, feel free to say "aaahhhhmmmmmen"!

Cheers
Bernie
vincent
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Location: Medford, OR

Post by vincent »

I appreciate very much all the comments so far, and I have thoughtfully reflected on all of them.

The way I see it now, I think might best be summed up the way I would do things if I owned a yoga studio, and of course this is based on my limited knowledge and thinking at this time, and I reserve the right to change my mind.

If I owned a yoga studio it would be "ecumenical."

Though I am a Catholic, I would not try to make "Catholic yoga." There would be no crucifixes, images of Jesus or Mary, or anything else pertaining to Catholic religion or culture. I would not add Catholic prayers or doctrine into the practice, because that would go against the idea that yoga is not a religion and open for all to use as a compenent for THEIR religions.

I would want prospective students to feel my studio was INclusive and not EXclusive.

I would not put someone on the spot or make them feel uncomfortable by asking them to do or say something I know they might not ever have done, and might not know what it means.

I would have written materials explaining whatever philosophy is behind the purpose of my studio, and the prospective and current students would not have to wonder about what this or that means. I would make it clear up front.

I would explain as best I could the origins of yoga and give proper respect to the cuture and religion which birthed and developed it.

But I would make it clear (as I now understand it) that yoga is not necessarily a religion, but is a philosophy and/or a discipline which could be a useful tool in someone's spirtitual and religious quest.

I would explain that they might find that the asana practice tends to make one more reflective and meditative, and might want to incorporate this practice into their religious devotions. I would also make it clear that they are perfectly welcome to see the practice as "physical fitness" only, and come to get in shape, feel good, look good in a swimsuit, or whatever "less lofty" goal they might have. (And frankly, my delving back into yoga is mainly for the health and "feel good" aspect of it, and religion has only crept in as somewhat of a reaction to the religion added by my teachers).

I would make sure all my instructors were on the same page.

The instructors would not be permitted to mix their own personal religious beliefs and devotions into the practice, may not be preachy, but possibly a few lines from a philosopher, the scriptures, the Sutras, etc., could be read from time time as something to reflect on, so long as it was of an ecumenical nature.

The practices at the studio would be about and for the students and not me.

That is I think where the rub is for me. Some of my teachers create their practice in their own image and expect the student will automatically embrace their "dogma." (You can't have it both ways. You can't say yoga is not a religion and tell your student he can plug it into his own religion, and then foist your own religious beliefs on him in your practice. That's confusing, alienating, and rude. And imho, is not simply irritating to someone like me, who can roll with the punches and still keep going, but is a stumbling block to many who might otherwise consider and benefit by yoga, but don't persue it because they think it is a religion).

My overall concern about this issue is not about me and my relationship with my teachers, since I can deal with it, and am having a great time doing yoga, but mainly the overall concern that the "yoga business" is alienating people who could be customers and who could benefit greatly by yoga. I would like to recommend yoga to friends, but they might not be inclined to look into as deeply as I have, and if they go to the studio and hear "OM" being chanted or see the picture of the guy with eight arms and legs or hear a teacher asking students to look through their "third eye," or hear one of our more verbose teachers preaching a new age sermon during savassana, they will run for the hills and never come back.

(I'm not necessairly opposed to chanting "OM" and have done it many times myself for the fun of it. But the "why" of it has never been explained to me, and maybe it's perfectly non-religious, but it has a certain appearance, and to many on the outside, it could seem like a religious practice, or to those who might be more nervous about such things--as an act of worship of a false god or satan. What would be nice would be greater communication and information about all thes things. Before I became a Catholic, I thought Catholics worshipped statues. I thought lots of crazy things about Catholics and Catholicism, and had it been explained to me, might have converted much sooner. I understand that some things could be perfeclty innocuous, but are just misunderstood--but it behooves the yoga teachers to throughly explain and inform).


Once again, I appreciate the input I've received and hope I have not beaten this to death. I understand things better now because of this discussion.

Namaste.
Last edited by vincent on Fri Sep 24, 2010 1:34 am, edited 2 times in total.
Vincent
vincent
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Location: Medford, OR

Post by vincent »

I think because of the ethical basis it has: yoga asana are a place to practice your individual beliefs. Are you really non-violent? Maybe you don't hit dogs or spank your child, but the inner language you use regarding yourself or those around you might be very violent and cruel.
Could you elaborate on this.

I find the asanas often to be physically challenging, and my concentration is directed to putting energy into it, breathing, and wondering how long I can hold it, or if I need to rest.

How do I work the ethics into the asana practice?

I understand that there are times during the practice--usually at the end--when I feel calm and reflective, but I don't see a connection to specific ethics such as violence, stealing, etc.
Vincent
vincent
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Joined: Mon Sep 20, 2010 8:10 am
Location: Medford, OR

Post by vincent »

Like Jesus, you are free to use the tools that seem to work for you, and not use those that don't.
I just wanted to clarify that we see Jesus as God, The Son, fully God and fully man. Though He assumed a fleshly body, He was always in the person of The Son, one of the three persons of the Godhead.

You are of course free to see Jesus as just another man, but it would not make sense to a Christian to see Jesus as you seem to do, and I cannot really relate to this Jesus, since we believe He was God incarnate, came to die for the sins of all mankind, was born of a Virgin, performed miracles including making a blind man see, a deaf man hear, brought people back to life after having died, and after being crucified, rose from the dead himself by his own power. We accept this as part of our faith, as having literally happened, and not as if it were a fable.

We don't see Jesus as a guru or a wise man, but as God and Savior.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." From John 1. For a Christian to say Jesus is a "yogi," would be an understatement of cosmic proportions.
Last edited by vincent on Fri Sep 24, 2010 1:29 am, edited 1 time in total.
Vincent
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