Voices of Faith: Is yoga a religion?

11/14/2013 8:55 PM

11/14/2013 8:55 PM

Yoga is nonsectarian

A.M. Bhattacharyya, Hindu adviser of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council: Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means “union,” by extension “union with God.”

Hindu scripture, Gita, talks about different paths of spiritual disciplines. These paths are karma yoga (path of selfless work), jnana yoga (path of knowledge through contemplation of absolute reality), bhakti yoga (path of devotion and love of God) and raja yoga (path of body-mind control and meditation).

A man who practices any one or more of these paths with sincerity and determination becomes a yogi and attains the highest spiritual wisdom while living, and unites his soul with Supreme Soul (God) in eternal bliss after death.

A yogi is kind and compassionate, tranquil in mind, unruffled by the joys and sorrows of life and free from all material attachments.

In the West, the term yoga means practices of different body postures, stretching and relaxation technique, combined with breathing exercises. Yoga is popular in America for its therapeutic values – flexible body, weight loss, concentration, stress relief and a general well-being of body and mind. The origin of this yogic exercise comes from hatha yoga, which is correlated to “asana” (posture), one of eight steps of raja yoga, as formulated by ancient Indian sage, Patanjali.

One can practice yoga without abandoning one’s religious beliefs. The ultimate goal of yoga is to open and enhance one’s inner potential power, be it physical, mental or spiritual. Yoga is nonsectarian.

Yoga means ‘yoke’ or ‘union’

Lama Chuck Stanford, Rime Buddhist Center: While yoga is an important part of several religions, including Buddhism, by itself it is not considered to be a religion by the majority of religious scholars.

Yoga is a Sanskrit term that means “yoke” or “union” – connecting the mind and body.

The yoga that most people are familiar today is hatha yoga, consisting of a series of asanas whereby the practitioner learns to hold and stretch into a series of postures. The Indian monk Swami Vivekananda brought this technique to the West in the 19th century. During the 1980s yoga became popular as a system of physical and mental exercises across the Western world.

More recently popular, kriya or hot yoga is practiced in a room with a temperature of 100 degrees or greater – the theory being that the increased heat will help loosen the joints and make the postures easier to accomplish.

Vajrayana or Tibetan Buddhism also uses “yoga” unassociated with physical postures but rather with ways of working with your mind through meditation. In this context the term “yoga” means “to bind.”

In tantric Buddhism you’ll find the term “yoga tantra” that emphasizes meditative absorption, a technique of meditation. Atiyoga is a meditative practice also known as dzogchen and is considered the highest tantric meditative practice.

Tantra is considered to be secret and is only revealed to the student by a qualified lama after sufficient study and practice.

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