We write off and on about “kosher” yoga, and with Reb Gutman Locks as a true expert on Hinduism have insights others lack. Having put out about 30 articles about yoga, occasionally we get a little frustrated. Please forgive us if this response is a little rougher than usual.
A friend wrote: I have been advocating your position on Yoga in a discussion with (authority). But he brought up an interesting way to be matir it for people when done in a way completely divorced from any religious intent:
"Rishonim explicitly discuss chuqas hagoyim and darkhei haEmori in the context of medicine. The Ran (Chullin 77b) allows. The Rambam allows in the Yad (Shabbos 19:13) but in the Moreh mentions that it's assur. The Rashba has a teshuvah noting this setirah (1:413). Rashi (Shabbos 67b) only permits if the refu'ah makes medical sense (as opposed to the gemara's case of wearing a fox tooth).
So it would seem that a practice that comes from Avoda Zara but was divorced from its roots and has logical medical reasons to work is permissible lekhol hadei'os."
Have you looked into this?
We've frequently been asked about stretching exercises and so forth. To this I have three answers:
1. Indeed an exercise is just an exercise. So if one wants to stretch, go ahead and stretch. Similarly bowing is just bowing and can even be an exercise and therapeutic. But it indeed has many negative associations and a high likelihood that anything involving it has a problem.
2. If one is going to attempt to take a practice of mamash avodah zarah (a true practice of a religion of idolatry) and extract the pure physical aspects from the avodah zarah (idolatry) aspects, one better be a true expert in both avodah zarah/tahara (idolatry and purity) and in the practice. For it takes an expert to separate what's permitted from what's not and what can be a problem...and all of those involved in taking yoga practices and declaring them kashered (made kosher) have been practitioners of yoga, not rabbonim, dayonim (judges), or poskim (halachic decisions for the generation). While we can reasonably trust a baal teshuvah who was previously non-kosher chef or baal teshuvah who was previously a non-kosher musician to adjust their old practices to a kosher scenario...a baal teshuvah practitioner of mamash avodah zarah (literally a true practitioner of idol worship)???
3. Yoga, the word itself has immediate associations and provides a reference point to research the traditional practice which involves avoda zarah. Why don't people selling it say "Kosher Health Stretch"? No, it's Kabbalah Yoga, Kosher Yoga, Yoga for Kids taught by people trained by yogis, gurus, and (literally) cult leaders. Example "it was publicized that a U.S. Chabad house had a session of women’s "YogaDance" with a "yoga teacher, personal trainer, lifeforce yoga practitioner for anxiety and depression and Kripalu Certified YogaDance instructor"."
Want to scare yourself? Go Google "Kripalu Yoga". Letting this person teach yoga in a Chabad house is equivalent to letting a Southern Baptist Christian Minister come in an lecture on Brotherly Love. Yeah, he might not be teaching his religion but it would be pretty hard for such influences not to seep in.
Now go Google "kosher yoga" and then google the teachers of whichever program and the system they've announced they are trained on. How could any kosher institution let these people in the door???
NOTE these people generally believe in complete honesty that they have separated out the permitted from the prohibited and believe they are teaching only what’s ok. They are operating with honestly held belief that what they are doing is fine and they’ve made it kosher. I am NOT insinuating that they are out to fool the religious Jewish community. Rather I’m saying that if I expect the guy supervising the slaughter and salting of my kosher chicken to be an expert rabbi who’s studied for years and apprenticed for practical experience in making halachic judgments on kosher slaughter, then I certainly expect someone who’s extracting a physical practice out of idolatry to be an expert rabbi, judge and halachic decisor who has years of study and years of experience in idolatrous practices and exactly what is or is not permitted.
Net net, Hindus say this is a Hindu practice. The positions have names of their gods and involve worship of their gods. The breathing patterns and focus patterns are hindu meditation techniques with hindu goals. Those who have ruled that these practices are kosher are not expert rabbis or halachic decisors.
And even if all the above are true, we generally don’t eat parve kosher artificial bacon bits because we neither want to accustom ourselves to treif flavors or practices even if they’re presented in a permitted kosher model.
There are some who argue based on a letter and a sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the topic of meditation for medicinal purposes. Those who would use this source usually convienently omit it’s use as a “medicine” for those with specific medical problems that doctors have specifically stated can be helped with such a technique. The Rebbe added that it SHOULD NOT be considered for someone who is healthy. And I’ll add while, as you quoted above, treif medicines are permitted for treatment they’re not permitted for annoyances. (You wouldn’t eat bacon for a minor headache but certainly could and should if it cured cancer and a person had cancer, G-d forbid.)
I’ll finish with what a commentor added on the previous Yoga article…
Is there even any need to debate this?
Of course, Yoga is very much a part of Hinduism. Yoga is born of Hinduism. Who did you think Patanjali was? Patanjali was an ancient HINDU sage, who compiled the science of Yoga in a systematic manner.
Asking if Yoga has to do with Hinduism is like asking if I can receive a Baptism and Holy-Communion, but still avoid getting involved with Catholicism. Do you understand?
The physical Yoga-Asanas are but a first step in the Vedic Hindu tradition of disciplining the body, and thence, the mind, as a pre-cursor to the attainment of Enlightenment by the Yoga-practitioner.
So, all practitioners of Yoga are getting initiated into Hinduism, like it or not. If your Evangelical Church has a problem with your getting involved with the Heathen religion of Hinduism, drop out of the Yoga class.
Also, Yoga requires its practitioners to be VEGETARIAN. So, if you are practicing Yoga-asanas, but are still eating animal-flesh, you are already in violation of the Yogic principles. Does that make you a bad person ? Well, it definitely makes you an incomplete Yogi or Yogini.
You Americans can call it Power-Yoga, and any other kind of name, but bear in mind, that you owe it all to Hinduism…
I am perfectly happy to be thanking those great Americans, the Wright Brothers Orville and Wilbur, every time that I step onto an aircraft to take a flight. So, why can't Americans similarly be gracious enough to give credit where credit is due, and thank Hinduism every time that they step onto their Yoga-mats?