Reb Gutman to Shaliach:
What is going on with this love of yoga?
Here is a recent article of mine summing up why I say no to yoga and apparently so did the Rebbe and definitely so does Yitzchak Ginsberg from Kefar Chabad. He calls such things as “kosher yoga” shatnez.
One of your kids was by me for Shabbos a while back and told me that you practice yoga every morning!!! How is this allowed? Remember I am not talking about the physical movements. I am talking about ANY association with a practice designed to unite you with Hinduism
The situation here is that the Hindus are "reclaiming" yoga. As though it was something they've been doing for thousands of years (everything they do they claim they've been doing for eons) and Westerners have stolen it away from them.
The truth is that the whole thing developed in the last hundred years or so, as Hindus were trying to come up with a competitor for European gymnastics and Chinese martial arts. Very little of it has much to do with real yoga or Hinduism (???). But they ascribe all these meanings to it and try to make it into some sort of spiritual path. And now, they're pushing that side of it more than ever.
To say now that "yoga is forbidden" is extremely counter-productive. Who is going to listen? What we need today is a kosher alternative, so that people looking for the therapeutic benefits these stretching and breathing exercises provide can find it without getchkas (icons) and incense and chanting.
I can see your point about the name "yoga." Yes, that has a very unkosher association. Problem is, when we call it something else, people don't come. They want yoga. So they end up in the place with the getchkas, ch'v (G-d forbid), and the instructor sneaking in her line about "everything's transient and nothing has meaning."
So, yes, you've got a point. But we've got a reality. We’ve got to deal with it.
- The history of yoga coming to the West shows the opposite from what you describe. Yoga has a well described “mesorah” (l’havdil), meaning each path shows it’s connection through a series of teachers to a “source” teacher and philosophy. Most are showing connections 200-700 years old. When it was brought to the West, some of the more blatant Hindu religious practices were dropped to make it more appealing for Western consumers. But the philosophical basis and goals of the practices and model is Hindu. We fully support Hindus reclaiming the connection of yoga with Hinduism.
- If you examine any Hindu religious leader’s practices, or even just pictures of such, you’ll frequently find them in yoga poses (we don’t recommend you go looking for such). While yoga may be divorced into an exercise and meditation system in the West, in the East it’s clearly an integral part of Hinduism.
- We accept the point, and have made it in a few of our articles, that “yoga” as a marketing term to draw in unaffiliated Jews is what it is. As you said, if people are looking for yoga then it has to have the word yoga to get their attention.
But we’re finding it’s NOT just a marketing term. As a teacher of a yoga program in an ultra-orthodox Jewish community in New York wrote “we’re doing sun salutation, of course I can’t call it that but that’s what it is”. Sun salutation, a Westernized name for the position literally called “sun worship” in Hindi.
Stretching exercise, any exercises, are fine – no kosher or Jewish religious issues. But for a Jew, association with “sun worship” or meditating on nothingness, or focusing on bringing up “serpent energy” is not. And somehow, with yoga, no matter how “kosherized”, these elements always sneak in.
Like the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s unsuccessful search for a “neutral meditation” – to give Jewish practitioners of Trancendental Meditation an alternative to use as a path to exit that system, so far attempts at a “kosher yoga” have OBVIOUSLY been unsuccessful – no deep review or arguing over minor points required.