by Reb Gutman Locks on Mystical Paths
A Reader Asked:
I am interested to hear what you have to say about Yoga as a physical exercise and mind-centering activity (I'm discussing the poses and movements, not pranayama or seated meditation). Supposedly it has physical and mental benefits. Is the practice of the poses inextricably linked to Indian religious beliefs or are they harmless in and of themselves?
It seems that “religious” Jews who practice yoga want to continue practicing it, no matter what. Even if everyone agrees that yoga is not merely physical exercises, still, they insist that they are just exercising their body so it is alright. Here again we see that they are fooling themselves and are actually participating in the spiritual practice of Hinduism which is the main form of idolatry (actual idolatry and associated practices as identified by the Gemora) in the world today.
As long as you are doing “yoga” you are involved with Hinduism.
Last week the New York Tax authority announced that since yoga is primarily a spiritual practice and not just physical exercise they are no longer going to tax the yoga studios.
And this week the Yoga Journal Newsletter writes:
“Today, many yoga practitioners assert that yoga is not a religion in their minds. This begs the question: If hatha (exercise) yoga is not a religion, what is it? Is it a hobby, a sport, a fitness regimen, a recreational activity? Or is it a discipline, such as the study of law or the practice of medicine? The odd truth is that there are ways in which the practice of yoga resembles all of those pursuits.
Perhaps it would be helpful to consider the difference between the word "religion" and another word commonly associated with it, "spirituality." Spirituality, it could be said, has to do with one's interior life, the ever-evolving understanding of one's self and one's place in the cosmos—humankind's "search for meaning." Religion, on the other hand, can be seen as spirituality's external counterpart, the organizational structure we give to our individual and collective spiritual processes: the rituals, doctrines, prayers, chants, and ceremonies, and the congregations that come together to share them.
The fact that so many yogis report spiritual experiences in their practices indicates how we might best view the ancient art. While many Westerners come to yoga primarily for its health benefits, it seems safe to say that most people who open to yoga will, in time, find its meditative qualities and more subtle effects on the mind and emotions equally (if not more) beneficial. They will, in other words, come to see yoga as a spiritual practice. But, without credos or congregations, it can't properly be regarded as a religion—unless we say that each yogi and yogini comprises a religion of one.”
Reb Akiva adds: if the teachers and specialists of yoga specifically state that yoga has spiritual religious-like experiences as well as effects on the mind and emotions, we must take note.