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Yoga and Religion: A Yogi’s Beef With This Controversy

Zoie Konakis
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I should start out by saying, I respect all religions. I’m not trying to sway people away from their beliefs, but rather add a different perspective. I’ve never been one to find solace in the sermons, but I know that millions of individuals do.
 
Downplaying the impact that religions have had on human development would be neglectful. Religions advertise finding a feeling of purpose in life. Bringing together communities of like like-minded individuals. Supporting our fellow man (or woman), all in the name of faith.
 

Yet, our melting pot country is becoming less faithful. There are no longer one-size-fits-all religions – and people are revoking conventional religious beliefs.

 
The Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study divides religion into four major categories: Christian, Non-Christian, Non-affiliated (agnostic/ atheist), and undecided or unsure. The Christian population makes up over 70% of Americans.
 
Millions of people sit in church every Sunday for more than the free wine and bread, but who are these churchgoers? Statistics show that Americans are becoming less religious. According to the Pew Research Center, about 59% of baby boomers consider religion “very important,” whereas only about 38% younger Millennials (born between 1990-2000) would agree.
 

When it comes to religion, I don’t buy it

I cannot respect an institution that monetizes on soul-searching individuals, or one that values one life over another. But most importantly, I cannot respect close-mindedness. Religious beliefs are often interpretations of unknown phenomena.
 

I believe in things like crystal healing and reiki, but my boyfriend thinks I’m nuts! We understand that we may have different fundamental beliefs. It’s called coexisting.

 
Coexisting means living with others who hold different beliefs and interests. If you want to go off and dedicate your life to “God” and spread “His” messages, go ahead. It is does not affect me, so why would I care? (I would ask, “If you spend your life serving “God”, then whose life is it, really?”)
 
When it matters is when you start to influence the lives of others. Take for example an article on Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, titled Should Christians Do Yoga?
 
“Christians probably shouldn’t practice yoga since the intention of yoga is a path to attain salvation through union with a false deity . . . Yoga is more than just a physical exercise. We as Christians do not want to make our mind more flexible. We do not want to leave our mind open to false teaching.”
 
I’m sorry, but that’s a load of crap. Yoga is whatever you want it to be. If a yoga instructor pushes any specific religious beliefs on you, then go somewhere else. There is controversy about whether yoga is a religion or not, and honestly, I find it silly.
 

These days you can make anything into a religion, like my morning coffee. I worship that sh*t like it’s straight liquid gold.

 
There are so many different types of yoga, that to try and make a statement like “yoga is a religion” is too broad. It’s like saying all Christian faiths are the same when we know that’s not true. Stop focusing on labels.
 
If you’d rather call meditation “praying” then go right ahead. The point of the exercise to connect yourself to something and quiet the chatter of the mind. Not one specific deity, but rather whatever helps center you.
 

Yoga can be religious

Consider its origin. Yoga was developed and practiced in India since the dawn of time, and its roots are in Hindu beliefs. That does not mean we can’t take what we want from it . . . and leave the rest. I find that most religions have a similar ethical foundation. We find a common ground as human beings and build from there. Yoga has that too.
 

We find a common ground as human beings and build from there. Yoga has that too.

 
Yoga has a structure of ethical principles called Yamas and Niyamas at its core. These principles help individuals find a connection between their spiritual and physical practices. This is where you’ll find terms like Ahimsa (non-harming) or Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion to a higher power).
 
But like I mentioned before, yoga is what you want it to be! If you want your sun salutations to be your morning prayer to “God,” then have at it! For me, it’s about getting my muscles warmed up. Yoga can be a lifestyle – keeping you in balance with your mind, body, and the physical world. Or, it can be another way to exercise and release built up stress.
 
If mantras and mudras are a yogic turn off for you, then try a more Western approach. We have this image set in our mind of what yoga looks like, but we rarely realize it’s only as serious as you make it.
 
Want to learn more about different styles of yoga? Read A Beginner’s Guide to Yoga: 14 Yoga Disciplines Defined and Explained.
 
New styles of yoga are always popping up – and are born from playing around and feeling what your body needs in that day. The evolution of yoga in the modern world is affirmation that it is a malleable practice that we can tailor, altar, and customize. For example, Vinyasa Yoga is fast, moving in and out of poses with each breath . . . versus Yin Yoga, where you sit in poses for several minutes.
 

 

Yoga helped me find my light, but it was far away from a god

As my strength grew through my yoga practice, so did my love for myself. Look at the things I can do! Look at where I’ve come! I am the reason for my accomplishments. Of course I get help from my friends and family, but I’m still the reason why I am where I am today. My passion comes from within.
 

“Be vigilant; guard your mind against negative thoughts” – Buddha

 
Motivation is different, however. There are a million and ten things that can motivate you, and that’s where religion can be helpful! Motivation helps you get through the tough times (whatever it takes to get your ass out of bed). But don’t forget, it’s still you getting yourself up. It’s still your body doing the work. Take pride in that!
 

You can’t begin to learn without first coming to an understanding

If I’m not picking up what you’re putting down, then how can we move forward? If you fail math, do you move on to calculus? The answer is no, and religion is no different. I’ve always hoped there was some type of afterlife, but never agreed with any “God” concept.
 
It wasn’t until I started doing yoga that I felt more connected – to everything. Some of us need to put a purpose to our existence, while others are looking for an answer to why we are here. But, it doesn’t matter. Finding your true light is exactly that – your light.
 

Your religion is not the problem

The real problem is this divide of heaven and earth. We like to thank the cosmos for our achievements but our person (spirit, soul, whatever you want to call it) needs love too. The idea of being a puppet is not appealing. This whole “do what I say and all your dreams come true,” sounds more like a sales pitch than winning Willie Wonka’s last Golden Ticket. But hey, call me a skeptic.
 
Before you cast me as some soulless heathen, know that I actually am a very spiritual person. I believe that an energetic force connects all living creatures to each other, the earth, and the cosmos. Whether your “God” is in the sky or embedded deep within your person, take control. You are the driver.
 
Don’t downplay your accomplishments because you’re convinced they’re some cosmic prophecy. Take responsibility for your actions, both good and bad. They are yours like the opinions above are mine. And most importantly, take what you want from my words . . . but hopefully, it’s something good.
 

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Yoga and Christian Faith: A Controversy Explained
More than 20 million people flock to yoga because it is a physical… Read »

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Zoie Konakis

My name is Zoie and I am your typical amateur wellness enthusiast and wanna-be yogi!. If you ever need me I'll be dying in chaturanga or at home playing play-dough with my daughter!

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