Thursday, October 30, 2008

Is Yoga a religion?

Referring to the article placed on Borneo Bulletin front page on the 30th October 2008, I felt compelled to clear the misunderstandings of what people actually think what yoga is all about. As a yoga teacher, I am always asked if yoga is a religion in its own. My answer is ‘no’. It is seen as a religion or cult by some due to it’s origin from India within the Hindu culture in 8500 BC to 5500BC. Or for some, as early as Indian civilization in 3000 BC. Yoga in old Indian Sanskrit language means the union of the body and mind. It helps you become more aware of your body’s posture, alignment and patterns of movement. I practice hatha yoga which is a compilation of different postures that stretches, strengthens and tones the body. It makes the body more flexible and helps you relax even in the midst of a stress stricken environment. This is one of the foremost reasons why people want to start practicing yoga- to feel fitter, be more energetic, be happier and peaceful.

Yoga is a science that has been practiced for thousands of years. It is consists of ancient theories, observations and principles about the mind and body connection which is now being proven by modern medicine. Substantial research has been conducted to look at the Health Benefits of Yoga - from the yoga postures , yoga breathing , and meditation. Yoga has been beneficial in three parts-physiological, psychological, biochemical effects. Furthermore, scientists have laid these results against the benefits of regular exercise.

In the last two or three decades, when yoga was introduced to the modern world, it was received with some scepticism. At first people thought that it was another religion. But in spite of this, young people took up yoga and soon others began to notice its amazing effects. Then the psychologists, medical doctors, criminologists, and philosophers started making investigations and they were surprised to find that yoga is not a religion but a science

Yoga is not a religion
—remember that. Yoga is not Hindu, it is not Mohammedan. Yoga is a pure science just like mathematics, physics or chemistry. Physics is not Christian, physics is not Buddhist. If Christians have discovered the laws of physics, then too physics is not Christian. It is just accidental that Christians have come to discover the laws of physics. But physics remains just a science. Yoga is a science—it is just an accident that Hindus discovered it. It is not Hindu. It is a pure mathematics of the inner being.

I personally practice it as keeping fit and healthy is important to me. I do not chant mantras with my students as I am only interested in sharing the beneficial physical and psychological aspects of yoga. There are choices, just as you would do if you were practicing karate or kung fu. Just because you are interested in the benefits of the physical aspects of it doesn’t mean you have switch over to another religion due to its origin. Did you know kung fu was created by an Indian monk named Bodhidharma?. Bodhidharma invented a self-defense art called Eighteen Lohan Hands based on the movements of animals he saw in the mountains. This he taught the Shaolin monks so they could protect themselves from wild animals and bandits.

He also created Yijinjing or Muscle-Tendon Change Classic, a series of yoga-like movements to develop qi flow so the monks had more energy to practice Zen.

If you like to more about Bodhidharma, click

So really, if yoga is discriminated as a religion because of it’s affiliation with its origin, wouldn’t the rest of other yoga originated forms of exercise such as pilates, kung fu and tai chi be seen as a religion too? Just like martial arts in its different forms, yoga comes in different practices too. As far as I know, most of the yoga teachers in the south east practices Hatha yoga, which most of the time doesn’t include chanting mantras.

Here are some physiological benefits of yoga exercises
Posture improves
Strength and resiliency increase
Endurance increases
Energy level increases
Weight normalizes
Sleep improves
Immunity increases
Pain decreases
Steadiness improves
Depth perception improves
Balance improves
Integrated functioning of body parts improves

I hope this helps clears out the misconception people have about yoga.


neo boon cheng said...

Thanks for your effort to clear the air on this. Malaysia side also ban all Muslims to attend Yoga classes, lessing an avenue for them to seek an inner peace.

Jac said...

Thanks Neo. Hopefully people will stand up for what's right. I think it's a shame if they have based their judgement purely out of discrimination rather than looking at the matter as a whole. I hope they'll relook into the matter and base it facts instead.