Yoga Debate: A Religion or just an Exercise?
“Yoga is in Religion, Religion is not in yoga”
Yoga is not a religion. It has no dogma or fixed set of beliefs and there isn’t any prescribed godlike figure to be worshipped in a particular manner. Religions for the most part seem to be based upon the belief in and worship of things (God or godlike figures) that exist outside one self. The hub of Yoga’s philosophy is that everything is supplied from within the individual. Thus, there is no dependence on an external figure, either in the sense of a person or god figure, or a religious organization.
The common belief that Yoga derives from Hinduism is basically a misconception. Yoga actually predates Hinduism by many centuries. Ancient seals unearthed in the Indus Valley provide clear evidence of widespread Yoga practice earlier than 3,000 B.C.E. The techniques of Yoga have been adopted by Hinduism as well as by other world religions. Yoga is a system of techniques that can be used for a number of goals, from simply managing stress better, learning to relax, and increasing flexibility all the way to becoming more self-aware and acquiring the deepest facts of one’s own self.
"The American Yoga Association states that yoga is not a religion because it doesn’t promote the worship of a deity. What’s more is that yoga practice does not endorse a creed or feature any religious organization or bureaucracy". – (From American Yoga Association Journal)
“To say that the word Yoga itself is a religion Makes as much sense as saying that the words Union or Holistic are themselves religions.” – (From American Yoga Association Journal)
So it is important to note that there is not any universal agreement on these points, nor the definition of Yoga, with many feeling that Yoga isnota religion,and many people feeling that Yoga is a religion.
“O man, realize that the kingdom of God is within you, the Lord of life is the highest of all. Anyone who has realized this would like to go to his innermost self. And there is a way for that. I am not talking about Hinduism, I am not talking about Buddhism, I am not talking about Christianity, I am not talking about Islam. I am talking about something universal. The moment you realize that the absolute truth which is not subject to change, death, and decay is within you, and then you attain a freedom, freedom from fears, all fears. That is called the state of enlightenment and that can be considered to be a state of perfection. Therefore, learn to go to the deeper aspect of your being. Everyone should learn to meditate so that he’s free from many, many diseases. That meditation should be simple, a purely scientific technique, without putting any brand, like Hindu meditation, Buddhist meditation, Zazen, Zen meditation, Christian meditation or Jewish meditation”. – (Swami Rama)
Yoga, like many religious beliefs, teaches the student to respect his or her body, show esteem for others, and allow freedom from jealousy, resentment, and anger.
The word Yoga means union, and comes from "yuj" which means "to join," to bring together into union the various aspects of yourself that were never divided in the first place. From that comes the direct experience of yourself that is beyond the false identities stemming from the seemingly countless colorings of attraction and aversion.
Yoga also recommends meditation on, and cultivation of lovingness, compassion, goodwill and acceptance, as well as non-violence, truthfulness, training the senses, non-possessiveness, and other such virtues. Religions also recommend cultivating such virtues. However, it is self evident that cultivating these ways of being or living are not themselves religion. When these are practiced in Yoga, the subtler, finer, truer aspects of our being are revealed, and this may or may not be seen in the context of religion.
During a typical yoga session, an instructor may lead students in a chant that uses one or more Sanskrit words, such as om.In traditional Hindu culture, this hymn is supposed to emulate the sound of the universe being created.However, it’s common to view the mantra as a sound that helps focus and calm the mind. Yoga instructors may use other mantras as well. If you’re not sure what a particular word means, it’s okay to ask the instructor. You can also consult one of the many online yoga dictionaries.