Is Yoga a Religion?

Dear Diane, I belong to a particular church denomination, so I'm leery of trying yoga. Will I have to chant "om" and talk in a language I don't understand? I just want to stretch, not change religi

Dear Diane,

I belong to a particular church denomination, so I'm leery of trying yoga. Will I have to chant "om" and talk in a language I don't understand? I just want to stretch, not change religions.

— Church Goer

Dear C.G.:

Because of its roots in Eastern religion and mythology, hatha yoga has often been associated with the Hindu religion. While both Hinduism and yoga have their roots in India, yoga is an independent tradition.

There are, however, a set of ethics associated with yoga that complement the practice of hatha yoga. While adherence to these ethics isn't required, there are substantial benefits to be gained when followed. It's a way to connect with your spirit, which is the same spirit you open up to in church.

The word yoga means union of body, mind and spirit. Most of our stress comes from our minds, where we spend most of our time.

When we practice yoga, we stay focused on our breath, so the mind quiets down. Then when we relax physical tension with stretching, we start to nurture a stillness inside that feels comforting and fulfilling. That peaceful place is the spirit, the small voice of feeling, heart and knowing. And the more you go to this place, or inner church, you will feel its connection to a larger source.

Regarding the chanting, it's interesting to note that "om," "omen," "amen" and "amin" — spoken in all houses of prayer — are of the same origin. Amen, like om, is a sacred sound and symbol of the power of creation itself. By chanting this sacred word, you connect to this highest power. The sound resonates in the body into our cells, shaking up toxins that clog our bodies. But you don't have to chant to participate. Listening to others feels good, too.

The language used for yoga poses is Sanskrit from India, where it was originally written down. It describes the postures with one word, making it convenient when teaching, but also gives deeper meaning. For example, the pose Parsvottanasana — "parsva" means side or flank, and "uttana" means an intense stretch. In this posture the sides of the chest are stretched intensely. Most teachers also use the English, so you don't have to know Sanskrit to take a class.

Yoga classes are full of students from all sects who find yoga helps enhance their current beliefs by taking it to a deeper feeling level. Instead of only praying, or talking to God, they listen. By calming down the body and mind with yoga poses, the spirit gets more face time to help balance and guide our lives.



DIANE UTASKI ANSWERS YOGA QUESTIONS in her columns; send questions to [email protected]. Find more info at www.cincyoga.com.

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