Yoga and Religion

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mark Singleton, author of Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, and Stefanie Syman, author of The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America, talk about the origins and links between yoga and religion.


Mark Singleton and Stefanie Syman

Comments [35]

Donna from NYC

Alex makes an assumption in his comments that all people go to yoga for only exercise. I think none of us know, unless we ask the student, what they are searching from their yoga practice. And as Deepok says, the yoga goal is actually enlightenment, not exercise, so I can see that there is confusion over this and no absolutes. While one hungers for more than exercise the other is turned off by anything which is not asana.

Dec. 01 2010 03:39 PM
Shadeed Ahmad from New York, New York

The topic of "Yoga and Religion" that was investigated on "The Brian Lehrer Show" was an interesting leap into understanding an aspect of spirituality that has a tainted understanding in America.

There were conversations on "The Brian Lehrer Show" that exposed the fear some Americans have of accepting religions outside of the Christian realm as being more than nominally positive and congruent in relationship with the immaculately sovereign Spiritual Essence that pervades and feeds diverse tastes, needs and spiritual practices of many people globally.

Brian Lehrer's show dealing with "Yoga and Religion" has the potential to catalyze a more profound understanding of the similar relationships and positives that can be found in most of the world's religions and spiritual paths.

WNYC has an audience that has enough intellectual prowess to explore with civility the things spiritually that can make people grow immensely in the accepting and respecting the oneness of Spirit and how this is expressed in a myriad of ways globally.

I would love to hear more shows which go into deeper this subject on The Brian Lehrer show. New York City and the world would benefit from such undertakings because the proliferate fear people have of each other globally is more often than not based on supposed differences in perspectives we often erroneously have about the concept of The Divine and our various spiritual means used to connect to It.

I want to thank Brian Lehrer and WNYC for this bold attempt at opening eyes up about the prodigious topic of "Yoga and Religion."

Nov. 30 2010 02:35 PM
anitanyc from UWS

Missed beginning of show. Would like to know where/whom this apparently year long debate comes from? There was some reference to the New York Times but no success there with my search.

Nov. 30 2010 01:02 PM
lisa from park slope

"cult of body" of course coming from a religon that shames and condemns the body

Nov. 30 2010 12:13 PM
peggy from LI

How sad. I am Catholic and shocked that my church has problems with yoga, but whats new. There are many aspects of the major religions that help us get in touch with our inner voice to seek peace. Did not Father Thomas Merton study with Budda priests the yoga prayer method.

Nov. 30 2010 12:08 PM
Alex from New York City

As a longtime practicing Buddhist, psychotherapist, and yoga practitioner, I have long been concerned about the rampant lack of self-awareness or reflectiveness exhibited by many yoga teachers. Ironically, the younger, more secularly (athletically) oriented teachers, although they frequently display a disturbing degree of shallowness, are actually the least problematic in many ways. What I find most troubling is a tendency among those yoga teachers who are among the most experienced and indeed the most interested in what are termed the spiritual aspects of yoga. It is simply inappropriate to impose on yoga students any of the trappings of Buddhism, such as the "may all beings be well" prayer, the "om" closing, or associated features such as the sanskrit chants or other chants in any other language, not to mention any level of sanctimonious preaching (however couched in the mellow language of new-age-speak). It is simply not the role of any yoga teacher outside of a specifically and *overtly* spiritually-oriented yoga context, to impose the trappings of religiosity or spirituality on students who have signed up for a physical activity and may not even have the knowledge of Buddhism or of the history of yoga that would allow them to recognize the larger meaning of the trappings that are being ever so quietly (or sometimes not so subtly) shoved down their throats. Unfortunately, the problem is fairly complex and subtle and thus is not so simple as to be solved by students who leave the class because of this kind of santimonious, patronizing behavior. At the very least, the ethical and responsible stance when it comes to teaching the physical practice of yoga is absolute up-front clarity based on the minimum level of self-awareness required to treat other people with respect. Period.

Nov. 30 2010 12:00 PM
Mary from Long Island

If it weren't for my yoga practice I would not be a practicing Christian. I went to Kripalu Yoga Center at an emotional time in my life. I found yoga helpful in dealing with my problems, then wanted to continue the connection to spirit and chose to find a church in my area to get that same feeling. I returned my early roots in a Christian church. I now teach yoga and don't mention God, religion, but my students still tell me my teaching has a spiritual feeling to it.

Nov. 30 2010 11:59 AM

Em - I've found that going against the Vatican in every way possible has enriched my life for the better, yoga included!

Nov. 30 2010 11:58 AM

I don't think you can accidentally worship Hindu gods by doing yoga any more than you can accidentally take communion by having some wine and crackers!

Nov. 30 2010 11:58 AM
Swami Pajamananda from NY, Long Island, the Ashram

My name is Swami Pajamandanda, aka the great "Sleeping Swami" of Bangalore (and Miami Beach)... ultimately all roads lead back to the Beatles and My Sweet Lord, chanting Hare Krishna and touring around the world... God is like the Sun-- it must always be shining or all life would vanish! Religions may elucidate and illuminate, but even without the outward trapping, the Sun must always shine! I teach that God created atheists, but the reverse is not possible. I chant Shalom Namah Shivayah, to all God's children, and I encourage all to Lighten Up! (while you still can!) Hari Om, Peace,,,, I Am Swami Pajamananda

Nov. 30 2010 11:58 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

Isn't this a personal thing?

Yoga is religious if you want it to be, if you find no religious meaning in it, then it's not. What's the big debate?

Nov. 30 2010 11:57 AM
lisa from park slope

Yoga "union")is a spiritual mind/body practice
NOT a religon...

Classes gear more or less to the just the physical/stress relief aspect than to the essence which is to integrate mind/body/spirit.

In 25 years of taking an assortment of yoga classes have never been instructed to or had the feeling that I was "worshipping" any Hindu deities!

Nov. 30 2010 11:57 AM

What is wrong with giving credit to Hunduism for Yoga? Why is this sectarian? Christians, Jews and Muslims take credit for their stuff. Why is the white man taking away something from Hindus hat everyone around the world is engaging?

Nov. 30 2010 11:57 AM
Laura Williams

It's not just Hinduism -- Kundalini Yoga includes lots of chants from the SIKH religion. I teach Kundalini Yoga in a secular setting, but many of the exercises do include this non-secular chanting.

Nov. 30 2010 11:56 AM

The Pope calls Yoga a "cult of the body"? Interesting coming from a religion where you eat the body and drink the blood of god. Would that be a cannibalistic cult then?

Nov. 30 2010 11:56 AM
Mary from nyc

Who cares? Weren't asanas created by monks who wanted to sit in meditation prayer for hours? It means physical workout to some, a spiritual practice to others, and a combo of both to some. Does it really need to be defined?

Nov. 30 2010 11:55 AM
Mary from Clinton Hill

Raised Catholic, atheist for decades, fan of Hitchens et al, and I love the Iyengar invocation to Patanjali! I can't live without my daily yoga practice. It's not just about the body, but the mind and attaining peace. I am not religious. Peace-

Nov. 30 2010 11:55 AM

So since Hinduism is the oldest living religion in the world and happened to lay claim to certain stretching positions, a Christian shouldn't perform these poses?

Really, the last thing the US needs is another restriction to exercise.

Nov. 30 2010 11:55 AM
Vasu Murti from New Jersey

Yoga is a 24x7 way of life. It is not a religion.

It is one of the most misunderstood subjects and subject to local interpretation to suit ones convenience.

It needs openness and unless one is open one cannot benefit.

Nov. 30 2010 11:55 AM

So what the male guest is saying that Hinduism is more adaptable and universal than the Judo-Chirstian faiths including Islam?

Nov. 30 2010 11:55 AM
The Truth from Becky

Yes, It is most certainly based in religion but in typical American style we have taken it over ignored the religious aspect (b/c we don't respect anything but Christianity in this Country) and made it just another exercise program.

Nov. 30 2010 11:55 AM
Maya from Brooklyn, NY

I attribute the fine quality of my life to two things: I don't watch TV and I practice no religion.

Nov. 30 2010 11:53 AM
Iris from Astoria

I practice Bikram Yoga, and there are some references to Hindu tradition by specific teachers. However, it has less to do with religion than it does by the actual exercise. I believe this differs depending on what type of yoga, the school, and the teacher. I am not affiliated with any religion, but do consider myself spiritual.

Nov. 30 2010 11:53 AM
Sue from North Salem, NY

Ah, the tenuous tenets of Christianity, so easily threatened, so susceptible to the slightest doubt or uncertainty. I love watching the Vatican rush around sticking their fingers in the dyke they call 'faith', instructing the faithful in what they can think, do and believe.....and watching the poor sheep just blindly follow.

Nov. 30 2010 11:53 AM

our numbers also come from india, so let's stop spending money

Nov. 30 2010 11:53 AM

But, the Bhagavad Gita discusses yoga.

Yoga is a form of worship. Your devotion to god includes a sound body as well as mind.

How come you don't have an Indian as a guest to discuss the other side.

Nov. 30 2010 11:52 AM
Pankaj Mehta from Scarsdale, Neew York

First, as a Hindu American I want to thank my Jewish American colleague who worked with me over 20 years ago and taught me then yoga during one of my stressful periods of my life. I am also thankful for having an opportunity during my graduate studies to live with Indian students from different regions as well as Muslim students from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Similarly, I got a wonderful opportunity to work with my colleagues of different faiths and ethnicities for over 30 years. I have greatly benefitted from this rich experience. I'm glad that so many people are enjoying Yoga. I guess the audience can take what they may from this Did I mention that I have relatives from Christian and Muslim faiths?

Second, let me ask how we would feel if Christianity is only associated with the horrible the practice of slavery and Holocaust. It is not difficult to understand the frustration of Dr. Shukla of Hindu American Foundation and other Hindus, including myself, about the institutional (textbooks and media) stereo typing about Hindu faith by associating only with the negative practices while not equally focusing the positive aspects of the Hindu culture. Let me ask where else have we found that an immigrant Italian Christian stepping aside for a Sikh to be a Prime Minister to be sworn by a Muslim President to rule a very large nation. That is of course you have heard about this very important milestone in the humanity. Why can't we expect this in other nations? I will leave it your audience to ponder on this.

Nov. 30 2010 11:51 AM
Colette Duerre from Manhattan

my yoga: totally physical maintenance and well-being - ZERO religion

Nov. 30 2010 11:51 AM
RLewis from the Bowery

I don't care what the religion, I'm going with this girl.....

Nov. 30 2010 11:48 AM
Lili khosrowshahi

I have been practicing yoga for years. Yoga is not a religion. But it does increase one,s interest in "spirituality".

Nov. 30 2010 11:48 AM
sarah from nj

I consider myself a Jewish Buddhist.

Nov. 30 2010 11:47 AM
jps from NYC

Ah .." I am not religious but spiritual ehe?" ;)

I've been thinking about this general issue for a long time, since some of my work has to do with belief, religion and how they affect society. I was a monastic, so I realise what is going on in our society pretty well, at least as it centers on this topic

.Money and commercialism is at the center of our meme set. After all, Bikram yoga attempted to patent well known vedic postures. Morality and religious beliefs upset this view of "commercial democracy." Having said that, the Hindu community has felt offended by at least not being at least considered the vehicle for transmission from the vedic masters.
I am witnessing the same dilution of spirituality in the Buddhist tradition where the disassociation of the tradition from spiritual lifestyle ( a path ) to non spiritual pseudo scientific babble largely promoted by some academics has become very "fashionable."

I think the goal here is to do yoga with an understanding of the traditions whence it comes. and have an open heart to those traditions although they may not be the ones we ultimately chose.

Nov. 30 2010 11:12 AM
Hal from Brooklyn

Yoga in America has as much to do with Hinduism as Christmas in America has to do with Christianity. More or less, depending on the individual.

We gut the traditions and remodel them for our culture and economy.

I don't believe this is a negative judgment. Just the facts of cultural and religious evolution.

Nov. 30 2010 10:43 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I've been doing some yoga exercises since the mid-1970s, and consider it invaluable in keeping me going. I have no interest in meditation or any of the allegedly spiritual or "religious" aspects, and know nothing about them, and have no interest in any of that. Along with some use of weights, some aerobics and other exercises, yoga is an extremely important in maintaining flexibility, releasing energy, proper breathing, and other stuff that is extremely useful for many of us, particularly as we age. To me, all of the "spiritual" or "religious" connotations are silly, and get in the way of people knowing some basic exercises that can improve their physical lives immensely if done correctly. There are some decent videos available, and one should choose a simple style most applicable to their temperament and needs.

Nov. 30 2010 10:35 AM
Christina from Rockland County

I've been following this yoga debate for almost a year, and I don't understand it, exactly.We westerners are expected to respect and understand at a deep level that yoga is a gift to humanity from Hinduism. Ok. I understand. Then what?

Westerners, according to some Hindus, are not allowed to convert to Hinduism, so where does that leave us? Are we in the west offending someone with our non-denominational yoga practice? Should we not be allowed to practice yoga since we can't be Hindu? Is this about the almighty buck in that yoga may now be patented and instructors will have to pay licensing fees? I'm going overboard here, but I don't get it.

What is the motive behind this debate? Money? Identity? Why not worry about feeding the hungry instead?

Nov. 30 2010 10:20 AM

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