Yoga is a Religion and all Yoga teachers are Saints
or: 10 Misconceptions about Yoga (Part 4 and 5)
As a Yoga Teacher, I notice that there are a lot of misconceptions about yoga. I can list at least ten of them, which I will do spread out over several weeks.
This week I will elaborate on the premise that Yoga is a religion and that all yoga teachers are saints. If Yoga were a religion, then it shouldn’t be taught to children in public schools as part of their physical education classes, or so it is believed by some. And of course, if you teach yoga then you should know how to live stress-free, meditate 2 hours every day, and always eat a healthy diet. Or maybe not.
You may have read about the lawsuit that The National Center for Law & Policy (“NCLP”) has initiated against the Encinitas Union School District (“EUSD”). In this civil rights suit, NCLP claims that the yoga curriculum EUSD offers to its students violates the California state constitution’s freedom of religion clause. In other words: NCLP alleges that the practice of Yoga is a religion and therefore cannot be taught to students at a public school. The big question obviously is: is Yoga a religion, or not?
I think it is sad that such a question even needs to be asked, let alone result in a lawsuit. That only shows, once again, what a loaded word “religion” is. In my opinion, the world would be better off without the concept of religion, especially when this concept is used to proof that some ways of living are better than others. How many wars have been fought, how many people have been killed, all in the name of religion? And why would the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, or any other scripture for that matter, make taking people’s lives all right? Even though it is widely accepted – if not proven by scientific research – that the regular practice of yoga results in healthier living, I don’t know that a war has ever been battled in the name of yoga. Maybe this lawsuit is going to be the first.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not an atheist. I do believe in God, as much I believe in every living being on this planet. I believe that everything alive should be handled with respect and awe, if not worshipped. Just by the fact that life is a miracle, and how awesome is it to be a part of that. But I digress…
I deem yoga not to be a religion. I guess I should explain why, but I am not going to in the scope of this blog. If I did, I would be doing the same thing as all opponents do: trying to convince you of my right. That doesn’t serve the world. I do encourage you to ponder these questions though: What does yoga do for you? How do you think it serves school children, or anybody, in trying to deal with stress? What effect has the practice of yoga on your health? If the practice of yoga has some components that could be called religious, does that make it a religion? Does the fact that the practice of yoga is rooted in India, where Hinduism is an integral way of living, make it a religious practice per se? You may also want to read this well researched blog by Carol Horton, in which she explains why she believes yoga is not a religion.
Now, what about the people that teach yoga? Aren’t they referred to as gurus?
The fact that I am a yoga teacher doesn’t make me a saint, let alone a guru. I think there are a lot of misunderstandings about the guru-concept. Some people may have many years, even decades, of experience in the practice of yoga. That doesn’t make them a better person than those with less practice. Although, they may be more aware of who they are, where they are going, and how they can serve the world, and theoretically that would make them happier then if they didn’t. It may be tempting to think that you should be exactly as your yoga teacher (or guru), and merely try to be them. But, as the Buddha said “Don’t look at my finger, look at the moon”. A teacher/guru is a guide to help you along on your own path. In the end you’ll have to figure out for yourself who you are, where you are going, and how you can serve the world. Me too, I am doing exactly that. Some days that seems to work out pretty well, and other days not at all. My hope it that I inspire people in one way or the other. Does that make me a guru? I don’t think so, and it doesn’t really matter. What’s in a name anyways? As the afore-mentioned California lawsuit shows, nothing good comes from trying to put things in the proverbial box.
In my next blog, I will tell you about my meditation practice. It may not be what you think….
To be continued.