Is Yoga a Religious Activity?
Yoga originated in Ancient India. There is evidence that dates the origin and development of yoga some five thousand years ago. However, there are reasons to believe that yoga may have originated around ten thousand years ago. Ancient India has given birth to three major world religions that are widely practiced even today: Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Historically, yoga has been associated with all these three religions. However, yoga is not a religious activity.
If one studies the ancient Indian scriptures, the Vedas and the Upanishads, it is easy to understand how yoga has been a completely segregated practice from religious activities, rituals or customs. Yoga has never been a religious custom in Hinduism, Buddhism or Jainism. It is true that Hindu saints and Buddhist monks perform yoga and have been doing so for thousands of years. It is also true that gods and their various avatars in these three religions are often portrayed in yogic postures. However, no Hindu, Buddhist or Jain is required to perform yoga, not routinely and ritualistically or even once in their lifetime.
Modern yoga, especially the kind that is now being incorporated in schools, is more focused on the physical benefits of the exercise. Yoga has scientifically proven health benefits. Traditional yoga or ancient yoga was not solely confined to its physical benefits. It has psychological and philosophical rewards as well. Yoga is essentially a practice that unites the body and the mind. It requires one to meditate with controlled breathing in naturally correct postures. The eventual objective of yoga is to lead a healthy and fulfilling life, to be fully conscious of one’s inner thoughts and being in connect with the larger spirituality or energy of the world and by extension, the universe.
Yoga does not propagate any religious belief. It does not advocate for any one religion and does not even take a stand on the existence of one god over others. It does not delve into any other religious doctrines either, neither in support nor in confrontation, especially because yoga predates all modern religions of the world. Yoga is simply a collective philosophical and physical pursuit to attain the harmonious unison of the mind and the body.
There are innumerable books, videos and audios where one can learn about yoga. ‘The Lost Teachings of Yoga’, an audio course by Georg Feuerstein, lucidly elaborates how the exercise and meditation associated with the practice do not propose any god. Feuerstein goes on to explain how yoga is actually science and philosophy, spirituality and physicality, all focused on the experiential growth and evolution of the human body and mind. Yoga is about observation, understanding and acceptance, living a healthy life, caring for your body and mind, finding inner peace and controlling one’s extreme desires. One of the integral objectives of yoga is self awareness and discipline.
Even the courts have ruled that yoga is not a religious activity. San Diego Superior Court has recently ruled on the yoga program at Encinitas Union School District and found nothing religious or mystical in the practice. The ruling was upheld by the 4th District Court of Appeal.