Sunday, November 20, 2011


The Exact Problem with “Kosher” Yoga

by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths


     Someone sent my recent article on yoga to a Jew who operates a “kosher” yoga center. Here is his reply:

"On our teacher training we warn our students very strongly against kundalini yoga and a few other styles of yoga that we consider to be pure avoda zara [idolatry]. 

I’ve read Gutman Lock's books and know his take on it. In my opinion he is biased based on his personal experiences before he was religious and lived in India and was immersed in the avoda zara aspect of yoga etc... He cannot comprehend that there can be a pareve [non-spiritual] approach to it. 

In a letter, the [Lubavitcher] Rebbe talks about the obligation of people who are "experts" in the field of yoga and meditation to extract the pareve/healing parts from these systems.

Also, there is a lot of new research that is coming out that the vast majority of yoga as it is practiced today in the western world (not kundalini etc.. but more vinyasa/power/hatha) is based for the most part on Swedish and British gymnastics and was only developed at the turn of the century and not based on "ancient Hindu scriptures" and most hardcore religious yogis (like Locks used to be) like to believe.  There is no written evidence in any of the ancient yoga texts that the vast, vast majority of poses taught today were taught back then.  The original texts on the subject focus mainly on the meditation and there were only about 10 or so (maybe even less - can't remember exactly) poses back in the day."

Gutman’s reply:

     This is an ongoing battle. We have some 30 articles pointing out the idolatry associated with yoga. The one from this week is an answer to a Jewish woman who objected to her young child being taught yoga in public school. The teacher told the little boy to imagine that he was a red doll while he was doing the exercises!

     Just look at this yoga teacher’s answer and see the exact problem in his own words! He wrote that his yoga was pure, and that it is like “vinyasa yoga”.

This is what the first site I went to had to say about this type of yoga;

     “The term vinyasa also refers to a specific series of movements that are frequently done between each pose in a series. This viṅyāsa 'flow' is a variant of Sūrya namaskāra, the Sun Salutation, and is used in other styles of yoga beside Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.  The opening sequence begins with 10 Sun Salutations and then several standing postures.”

Gutman continues:

     Listen well; the “sun salutation” is an old exercise still practiced in India today, and it is called “Worshipping Surya.” They changed the name to “salutation” to hide this fact in the West (and make it more palatable).Surya” is the “chief solar deity” in Hinduism, and is called “the god who sustains the heavens and knows all who lives”.

    Is this what you want your children to be doing? And when those Jews move away from your Jewish friend’s center and want to continue yoga, what books are they going to buy? What teachers are they going to have? No one, not even a non-Jew, should worship a sun deity!

    The Rebbe’s letter clearly said, (yet these Jewish fans of yoga distort this over and over again): “…utterly devoid of any ritual implications.”

     “Salutation to the sun god” is not devoid of ritual implications. The word yoga itself is a ritual word that refers to Hinduism, not Judaism.

      Do you want your young children imagining that they are red dolls? And what will their teacher tell them to imagine themselves to be next?

Reb Akiva adds:

On our article on a Little Red Doll, one commentor added…

"The conclusion of an Indian historian regarding Hinduism and yoga, Hinduism whether ancient, medieval or modern, has no special claims on yoga. To pretend otherwise is not only churlish, but also simply untrue."

That may be the conclusion of one Indian historian.  But the Hindu American Foundation disagrees (it is part of Hinduism).  Here's what they say, and it’s WELL WORTH reading…

...there is the concerning trend of disassociating Yoga from its Hindu roots. Both Yoga magazines and studios assiduously present Yoga as an ancient practice independent and disembodied from the Hinduism that gave forth this immense contribution to humanity. With the intense focus on asana (the exercises and positions), magazines and studios have seemingly "gotten away" with this mischaracterization.

Yet, even when Yoga is practiced solely in the form of an exercise, it cannot be completely delinked from its Hindu roots. As the legendary Yoga guru B.K.S Iyengar aptly points out in his famous Light on Yoga, "Some asanas are also called after Gods of the Hindu pantheon and some recall the Avataras, or incarnations of Divine Power."

It is disappointing to know that many of the yogis regularly practicing Hanumanasana or Natarajasana continue to deny the Hindu roots of their Yoga practice.

...Yoga is inextricable from Hindu traditions, and a better awareness of this fact is reached only if one understands that “Yoga” and “Asana” are not interchangeable terms.

...the Western Yoga community fully acknowledges Yoga’s Indian roots, and even requires study of Hindu philosophy and scripture in most of its teacher certification programs, much of it openly disassociates Yoga’s Hindu roots.

While the Hindu American Foundation affirms that one does not have to profess faith in Hinduism in order to practice Yoga or asana, it firmly holds that Yoga is an essential part of Hindu philosophy and the two cannot be delinked, despite efforts to do so.

Shyam Ranganathan's analysis gets to the crux of the issue when he writes, “Though some modern atheistic minds and aspiring yogis may disagree, textually there is no getting around the fact that Patanjali uses words, that in the context of Hindu culture, have obvious theological implications”. Patanjali describes the goal of Yoga as chitta-vritti-nirodha or “the cessation of mental fluctuations”, a core concept also expounded in Hinduism’s Bhagavad Gita: “Thus always absorbing one’s self in yoga, the yogi, whose mind is subdued, achieves peace that culminates in the highest state of Nirvana, which rests in me [(names of Hindu gods removed)/Supreme Reality]”

Similarly, Swami Svatmarama’s opening line in the Pradipika is in honor of the Hindu God (name removed):“Reverence to (Hindu god name removed) the Lord of Yoga, who taught Parvati hatha wisdom as the first step to the pinnacle of raja yoga.”

In the same 2005 interview cited previously, Prashant Iyengar expounds upon Yoga with references to both Hindu epics and Hindu philosophy: “Mahabharat has so many aspects of yoga like yama (restraint), niyama (observance), sama (calmness)…Ramayana gives us so many beautiful aspects of bhakti yoga and karma yoga. Essential yoga starts with karma yoga…Without karma-consciousness, there will be no progress in yoga.”

We would be wise to let Hindu’s speak for themselves on the matter, as they have above.


  1. I was the commentor. The point of the article I quoted and linked, was that the Hindu American Foundation is biased, as it has a vested interest in claiming yoga as its own. So quoting the HAF to prove your point does nothing of theo sort.

    Rav Tsvi Freeman has said that it is permitted to use yoga exercises for health benefits. I am mentioning his name as he posted online. Another well known hareidi rabbi told me personally that it is permitted.

    I originally learned yoga from a genuine Indian guru. He would tell the class that he is not here to teach us anything, but to serve us. And that his job is to help each person dust off the conditioning and discover who they are. This was the start of my path to tshuva. I never engaged in idolatry nor imagined that I was a little red doll. (What has that got to do with yoga anyway? It's just weird)

    On a different note, my comment regarding the problem of obesity in the frum community was brushed aside as a cultural issue. However, this is not the case. We are commanded to take care of our health. Thus Jews who overeat, fail to exercise or smoke are committing an aveira. (I'm not referring to people who have medical conditions which account for their overweight). There is no machloket here. Yet why is this not addressed in the frum community? Instead of flogging this anti-yoga horse to death, the rav could well use his platform to encourage frum Jews to take care of their health and to be a kiddush hashem in public.

  2. your both right ! aelu veilu divrei elohim chaim . for a jew on a low level its permisable befotre hashem for a jew who follows the writings of the arizal unkosher . rav gutman your barking up the wrong tree id worry about the amalakite erev rav rabbis whove delayed geulah and destroyed millions of souls thousands times more then yoga . And the prophet says ill take the sheppards of israel into the dessert ie the rabbis and show them my wrath . Rav gutman you and your fellow rabbis should be more concerned with that quote from the navi .

  3. rav gutman your a very good man and a very elecher yid i retract my last statement . i just feel basicaly many oorthodox rabbis are guilty of the middot of amalak and edom so jews turn to buddhism and ketura because theyre not amalak or edom !

  4. Reb Locks and Reb Akiva, thank you so much for all your work on this issue. I'm convinced about yoga. But what about qigong and tai chi? The type of qigong I used to practice, 18 forms (or shibashi), was invented in 1982 in Communist China by a man named He Wei Chi. I read a little biography of him and there is no religious content at all, though there is a little reference to ethics (involving things like diligence, perseverance, etc.). The shabashi exercise is very widespread, and according to one website is even considered a national exercise of Indonesia and Malaysia. Even if it was invented in 1982, some of the forms may have been taken from historical qigong exercises which (like everything in traditional Chinese culture) is associated with taoism. But if the practitioner has no knowledge of these taoist roots and meanings, and says a little prayer to Hashem that the exercise increase one's health so that one can serve Hashem better, then is there any problem with doing this technique? Just wondering if you had thoughts. Thanks!

  5. Why do Jews need to copy anything goyish? Yoga, Thanksgiving, goyishe music and dance, goyishe dress, etc. I salute the steadfast Jews who stick to the Yiddishe ways.

  6. Anonymous 7:21 AM, What kind of insulting comment is that? Maybe you should stop speaking Yiddish, isn't german "goyishe"? Maybe you should get rid of eastern european influences as well and all black and white outfits and stop speaking Eastern Europeanized Hebrew. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with doing any of these above things, but under your logic, there certainly would be. Unless there are isuues with idolatry or Torah Observance or immorality in general which of course is bad for everyone, there should be no issue whatsoever. You do not have to speak yiddish and wear black and white and follow all kinds of non-required added stringencies to observe Torah. you don't have to avoid things like thansgiving. Please don't be a snob.

  7. To the first Anonymous - Yoga is the only way to fight obesity in the frum community? We couldn't encourage kids and adults to pursue other less contreversial activities like basketball, soccer or dance? I'm not sure how Rabbi Locks feels about Zumba but it is definately a great way to burn calories and there's plenty of classes offered. There's also Abir which is a Jewish martial art. There's plenty of ways to have fun and get fit.

  8. Basketball, soccer and dance are not goyishe? And... Zumba???
    I wonder what would happen if my brahmin friend would start accusing jews of proselytizing hindus by feeding them bagels with cream cheese.
    As for the "Abir" thing and the people popularizing it, check it very carefully before you spend time and money.

  9. We've reviewed Zumba before here. No problem when it's done right for the frum community.

  10. Everyone does whatever they want, and everyone should ask someone they trust. It's not for me to lecture anybody. But I believe I recall the Zumba creator himself saying he wanted to mimick sex and its benefits for fitness, cardiovascular training, and weight reduction.

  11. "Basketball, soccer and dance are not goyishe? And... Zumba???"

    No one said they Jewish in origin. The intent was to offer other alternatives that had no religious affiliations or associations with cults/idoltry.

    Most the Zumba classes I've seen were just basically re-branded Latin dance classes.

    As for Abir, I don't know much about it, I'd just heard it was a Jewish martial art. If you have any insight on it, please share.

  12. Is freemassonery kosher?

  13. Basketball and soccer cannot be played because its "goyishe"? The Yiddish language is more goyishe than soccer and basketball. Now I know that some of you have a superiority complex. This kind of snobbery is antithetical to what the Torah stands for. Avoiding yoga because of questionable issues with idolatry makes sense. But not playing basketball because it's "goyishe" attitude has gotta change. This is racism, and that is something I don't say lightly.

  14. advice for every jewish person:

    "their sorrows will multiply those who rush after other gods; i shall not pour their blood libations nor carry their names upon my lips"

    and then "Hashem is my alloted portion and my share. You guide my destiny. Portions have fallen to me in pleasant places, even the inheritance is beautiful to me"

    david hamelech, tehillim 16.

    to all jewish people, dai, already about this "yoga" stuff!!! just find some good healthy stretches. talk to a responsible physical therapist; they have loads of excercises that strengthen the body in healthy ways without any of this avoda zara attached to it in hidden ways.

    NO MORE YOGA !!!!


    you are so careful with what you careful with what you "do" with your body.

    enough already with the excuses and rationalizations blah blah blah.

    who wouldn't want be a tzadik like reb gutman all day by the kotel putting tefillin on 98 year old men and young men who have never put before?!!!

  15. Anonymous, you really feel like wasting your valuable time and precious health with basketball, soccer and dance, unless you are making a living with these sports and skills? As for yoga, I have not recommended it. It is, however, a fact that basketball routinely causes injuries and this is objectionable in itself, isn't it? Sorry you consider me racist because I fail to laud the favourite sport of African-Americans and their best chance to enter ivy-league colleges. There are countless contributions of non-jewish cultures to human civilization and to the advance of mankind, and basketball, sorry, is not one of them. I am purposely not mentioning the origins of the game, that are rooted not only in idolatry, but in human sacrifices.
    As far as my personal opinion goes, I advise everyone to be careful with how much they eat, and for adults and children I recommend playing chess and swimming (teaching to swim to our children is in fact an obligation according to the Talmud). If that's not enough, one may take up running, short-distance or endurance or both. If that still is not enough, let me suggest a heavier activity: housework.

  16. Yeah b/c no one ever gets injured running and chess is gonna burn some serious calories. Eye roll. The point was to recommend something that "contributed to human civilization" but rather that helps people get much needed exercise. I agree that swimming is an excellent idea, and I actually love swimming. However, I didn't recommend it as in Israel it is difficult to find nearby pools and fairly cost prohibitive even if there is one near.

    You can find people to play basketball, soccer and other sports for free.

  17. Also, the Mayan ball game was not a pre-cursor for basketball. There's no evolution of the sport that links the two games and FYI it has more in common with lacrosse and field hockey than with basketball.

  18. Here is a letter of the Rebbe about Yoga:

    In a letter dated May 27, 1979 sent to someone in South Africa the Rebbe states:
    Inasmuch as the Torah and mitzvot were given to all the Jews, and to each one individually, for all times and in all places, and “these are our lives and the length of our days,” it is clear that every moment of a Jew's life should be consecrated to Torah and mitzvot. Hence it is both surprising and painful to see a Jew spending precious time in search of “greener pastures” elsewhere, even if his intentions are good, for, as above, the important thing is the actual deed.
    Needless to say, the above includes Yoga and similar cults even if it is not connected with anything pertaining to avoda zarah – if there is such cult that is completely free from avoda zarah, and in this only a competent Torah authority who is permeated with halacha is qualified to rule.
    I am not seeking opportunities to admonish anyone, but since you mention certain oriental cults, it is my duty to call your attention to the fact that every spare moment that a Jew can use to deepen his knowledge of Torah he dissipates it on other things is deplorable enough, not to mention cults that in their overwhelming majority are certainly connected with avodo zoro in one way or another, and if there are exceptions, one must make doubly sure through an expert Torah authority, as mentioned above.


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