by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
A friend wrote, continuing our ongoing conversations about yoga: “I don't think it directly addresses the teshuvos (rabbinic responses) I sent you. Even if the actions were designed with a religious purpose in mind, the intentions of the pop yoga practitioners at clubs have none of those intentions with their actions and that it what gives it the tzad heter (a side allowance) in the teshuvos (rabbinic responses) quoted.”
This is a little tricky. I agree with you that the physical actions taken at such clubs indeed have none of the intentions by most of the attendees. BUT, the teacher is almost always trained by a guru in a program that DOES include the intentions. And the teachers of such classes frequently add in tidbits of the religious philosophy, in a seemingly integrated palatable form, even at the basic level.
Example. I just googled "basic yoga class". The first site on "basic yoga class" includes this...
* Take the wide range of Yoga Poses that can help an individual attain a high level of self-awareness, balance, and strength.
High level of self-awareness??? What’s that got to do with exercise? That’s a Hindu religious approach.
* Basic pose #5 - Sun Salutation.
An actual sun god worship position!
* You will see at the end of the Yoga Session that the forward bends, Backbends, Twist Poses, Standing Poses, Inverted Postures, as well as Meditation Exercises are not that hard as you might have imagined. You just need to properly execute these Yoga Poses and Exercises to achieve the full potential of your body - may it be physical, mental, or spiritual.
Meditation exercises, spiritual potential…need more be said?
Ok, maybe I hit an unusual site. The second on google "basic yoga class" comes back from About.com, a good general source for basic information About lots of things.
* Basic item #4 - The teacher may start class by leading the class in chanting "om" three times. Om is a very simple chant with a complex meaning. Often chanted three times at the start and finish of a yoga session, om is the whole universe coalesed into a single sound and represents the union of mind, body, and spirit that is at the heart of yoga. When chanted, the sound of om is actually three syllables - a, u, and m.
That's pretty clear. Basic yoga includes "spiritual", coalescing the whole universe in a single sound, the union of mind body and spirit, positional worship to physical parts of the universe, self awareness and meditation.
Those intentions are part of basic classes. You can certainly argue it's not the main focus of basic classes, and I agree. It's simply woven in as part of the experience. And as people reach levels of proficiency, those goals are brought deeper into the experience.
Hindu religious goals, Hindu spiritual philosophy. And they may be fine goals, but they are at odds with Judaism.
And that's what makes it assur.