Yoga is a Religion
In my previous blog, I discussed how modern day yoga has a focus on Asana -- the yoga of postures. Many modern Hatha yoga postures are less than 100 years old, and many others were invented by the 19th century British YMCA. The Yogasutras of Patanjali dates back to 400AD, and it outlines the 'eight limbs of yoga.' In my last blog, I pointed out that meditation comprises 3 of the 8 limbs! I also covered 3 more limbs: Pranayama, Pratyahara, and Asana. In this blog, I will cover the other two limbs, Yama and Niyama. I consider these two limbs to be the limbs of religion (Niyama) and ethics (Yama), which, between the two of them, comprise 25% of yoga.
Hinduism is the Most Popular Yoga in the World
As I touched upon in my previous blog, Raja Yoga is a foundation of Hinduism based on meditation. While Hatha Yoga (the yoga of posture) is the most common form of yoga practiced in the West, Bhatki Yoga is the most common form of yoga practiced in the world. Bhatki Yoga is the aspect of Hinduism related to devotion, service, and love of god and others. So, this means that the most popular version of Yoga in the world is not based on postures, but based on what most people would call religion! The Bagavad Gita, one of the earliest yoga texts, brandishes the word yoga often. The book is divided into three sections - Karma Yoga: the yoga of actions; Bhatki Yoga: the yoga of devotion; and Jnana Yoga: the yoga of knowledge. It also mentions the word 'yoga' in reference to being suited up for battle with all of the gear. Nevertheless, it says nothing about stretchy body postures. Now that you are a bit loosened up about the pre-concieved definition of the word 'yoga,' let's address the Yamas and Niyamas, which I consider the two limbs of yoga related to ethics and religion.
Yama: The Limb of Restraint
The first limb as defined by the Yogasutra is restraint. It includes several sub-categories that can generally be classified as morals and ethics. These ideas are not unique to yoga. They are tenants of every major religion, even modern ethical atheism!
Aparigraha can be misused to emotionally control ourselves and relationships with others. Gurus and yoga studio owners use spiritual bypassing to get people to work for them for free.
Niyama: The Limb of Constraint
Religion is a big word to brandish because it often implies a belief system; however, when we consider that the word also means a 'practice,' then we can clearly see that doing daily stretching exercises can be a religion! For some, their religious practice is watching football every Sunday, or drinking a glass of wine every day after work. I'd argue that Niyama is the yogic limb of religion because it outlines a set of recommended practices for all practitioners of yoga. I can't imagine how following any of these religious practices would do anyone wrong!
Now, Go Practice Your Religion!
As you can see between this blog and my previous blog, yoga is much more than a set of postures. It is a belief system based on the nature of reality. It is a practice of meditation and breathing to get in touch with that reality. It is also a set of recommended practices to integrate into that reality. Yoga is a religious practice, but on its highest level, Yoga is not particular to any creed. Yoga does not force us to believe in any specific deities, nor does it preclude us from believing in any specific deities. Therefore, it is compatible with ALL faiths. Not only that, but as far as I can tell, there's nothing in a non-denominational yogic practice that is contrary to any faith. Now go practice!
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Copyright (c) 2015 Russell Eric Dobda