Religion and Yoga. Can the two go together?
Every yogi knows there is an aspect of spirituality to yoga. Yoga is all about combining body, breath, mind and spirit. When I decided to undertake teacher training, my Catholic mother seemed a little concerned that I was going against Christianity. Quite the contrary in my opinion, as my yoga studies actually reenforced what I know about my Christian faith; that we are all a spark of the divine and should recognise that in our dealings with all beings. Mum’s mind was eased when she spoke to our priest, who as an Indian was raised with a solid understanding of yoga and its concepts, who expressed to her that yoga and Christianity are actually closely related in terms of fundamental principles. I had certainly seen this myself, with the yamas and niyamas mirroring the Ten Commandments quite closely, and the messages in the Bhagavad Gita being the same as those in the bible.
I’m certainly no theologian, and while my faith is strong, my knowledge is lacking. I haven’t done bible studies or really educated myself on the teachings of the bible or Christianity (or any other religion for that matter) so when a friend came over and was open to discussing his faith and his thoughts on religion in yoga, I was all ears. He expressed with great clarity how he meditates on bible teachings and how this is an effective method for him in dealing with stresses and issues.
He explained that Christianity is the only religion that isn’t based on doing things in consideration of the final outcome (i.e. getting through the pearly gates). Where each religion has its own unique version of this (karma, good deeds, avoiding sin, etc.), in Christianity we are actually expected to sin. We were born with original sin and it is only through the grace of God that we are welcomed into heaven. As such, we aren’t expected to spend our years trying to be our best so that we can get into heaven. Instead we should spend our years being our best in gratitude to God. Any sins we perform are a way to learn and be better next time.
He gave an analogy that really rings true to my circumstances. I can either constantly tell my children that they should be good kids, and if they are I will reward them with television or pizza or whatever tickles their fancy, or I can provide them with love and care and everything they need, and in turn they will be good kids because they are grateful to me for everything I do for them. I don’t know whether kids have the capacity to think like this or whether it’s supposedly an intuitive thing, but I think the concept is definitely worth contemplating.
This same message is expressed in the Bhagavad Gita… we are expected to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, and not consider what we will get out of those actions. The difference between the two messages? One relates to Jesus, the other doesn’t. And that’s the main (only) difference I can see between the two philosophies. They express the same message, but one is in the name of Jesus and the other is not.
My friend believes that 90% of the messages are the same, but it’s that final 10% that makes all the difference. That final 10%, where yoga goes directly against the teachings of the bible; where the bible says that we need to accept Jesus into our heart and recognise him as our saviour, yoga does not. In fact, yoga says it doesn’t matter who you pray to as long as you recognise there is a higher being.
The conversation certainly sparked some realisations for me, mainly in that I need to educate myself a whole lot more. I’ve always been hesitant to take on board anything completely 100%. I think both yoga and all religions were written by people who have their own biases and interpret things based on those biases. I believe yoga can be practiced in a safe manner, avoiding the devil’s works that devout Christians fear will make their way into yoga practices. I believe regardless of the stuff going on in the thinking mind, both yoga and religion have the ability to lead to the same outcome; it doesn’t matter what form of rationalising is behind that outcome. It’s a matter of finding what practice, be it asana, meta meditation, prayer, good works, whatever, is the right fit for the individual. And that practice will no doubt change a multitude of times throughout one’s life.
about TANYA MCNAUGHTAN
A practicing hatha yoga teacher, massage therapist, avid blogger, and perpetual student, Tanya runs a website, www.sanghasisters.com.au, based on connecting yoga, nutrition and general wellness practices into daily family life. She is mother to three little ones who delight, inspire and challenge her every day.