Is yoga a religion? You may already have an answer to this question, but your answer probably depends on how you define religion. Whether you think of yoga as a religion or not, it’s hard to deny that yoga practiced with deep devotion has a lot in common with religion. If you practice classical yoga, the connection between yoga and spirituality is hard to miss.
Does the Connection Between Yoga and Spirituality Mean Yoga is a Religion?
When I studied world religions in college, I saw that all religions seek to explore the mystery of suffering and death. In its simplest form, that’s how I’ve always thought of religion, which involves following certain practices to bring seekers closer to God. In fact, the word religion means to reconnect. The goal is to point us to a truth that is greater than our individual selves, to remind us of who we truly are.
Most of us want to live in peace and believe our lives have meaning and purpose. Unfortunately, many religions go off track, wandering into the realm of worldly power and other things that don’t do much to connect us to our source.
Years ago, I joined a yoga book group, and one of the first books we read was Autobiography of a Yogi, about the life of Paramahansa Yogananda. When I read the book, I was struck by similarities between Hinduism and Catholicism (the religion I was raised in). Many people think of spirituality and religion as different things. (For the most part, they are.) “I’m spiritual but not religious,” they say. Sometimes it’s an excuse to avoid discipline and practice, but often enough, people who say that are genuine seekers.
The connection between yoga and spirituality is what hooked me, even though my focus at first was stress relief. Your reasons for practicing may be different, and you may have no interest in the connection between yoga and spirituality or religion at all. Even without a religious or spiritual focus, there’s no doubt the yoga lifestyle changes lives for the better.
But the question of religion still comes up, probably because yoga originated in a part of the world that is deeply spiritual, and I suppose, religious.
The Spiritual Connection Between Yoga and Christianity
The religion of the ancient yogis was Hinduism, and that’s why we often encounter Hindu gods in yoga classes. But there is a connection between Christianity and yoga as well, and since I come from a Christian background, this connection is especially interesting to me.
Father Anthony Randazzo, a Catholic priest and yoga teacher, co-wrote a book with yoga teacher Madelena Ferrara-Mattheis called Beatitudes, Christ, and the Practice of Yoga. Non-religious in a sense, the Beatitudes are sayings that come from Jesus’ Sermon on The Mount. They are, in fact, sutras—verses—that guide how we should interact with and think about ourselves and each other:
are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10
Christianity and Yoga
If you think about these eight statements of Jesus’, you’ll notice a lot of yogic wisdom. In yoga, we learn to be humble, to seek truth, to be kindhearted and above all, to cultivate peace.
The Beatitudes are mainstream Christianity, but there are Christian writings that are not as well-known, because the organized church did not include them in the official Bible. For example, the Gospel of Thomas emphasizes seeking the Kingdom of God within. The text reminds me of yoga, which also tells us to go within. We do this to know ourselves and ultimately, to seek truth (God).
To me, yoga and religion are compatible, and yoga can only enhance or strengthen traditional religious beliefs. What do you think?
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Hi, I’m Maria. I created Yoga Circles for you if you want to delve more deeply into the philosophy, practice, and life-changing effects of yoga. I’m also a writer and editor who helps small business owners, wellness professionals, teachers, and authors publish books, develop marketing strategies, and connect with readers, clients, and students. Visit my website (link below) for more about that. I’d love to hear from you!