Is yoga the new religion?

In truth David, my man, is much more familiar with Our Lady of Perpetual Succour than I. His ancestors come from Portugese Goa, where Catholicism still thrives. I on the other hand, went to a Quaker School that taught Human Studies in place of Religious Education, and have the religious liberalism of my generation, pluralist and tolerant, believing in the idea of many paths leading to one place, the idea of something bigger than oneself, something better than oneself, but not necessarily one benevolent God looking down on our endeavours. I am definitely not used to there being One Way – but I find myself liking the service enough to get out of bed, one Sunday in three, at 7.30am.

I like the way that our fellow worshippers respond to David – he might be the first Paki in the village but they welcome him with open arms, or at least with friendly nods in his direction. My favourite part of the service is giving each other the sign of peace – ‘peace be with you’ we say as we smile and shake hands with our pew neighbours, ‘and also with you’ comes the reply; it makes me feel as if I’ve been a member of the village in which we live for much longer than a year. The service is reassuringly timeless, and it feels good to take the time to stop and think about what we are doing on this earth; the big and the small, the near and the far – the children’s pilgrimage to Walsingham, the arrival of a parish computer ‘ten years younger than the old one’, prayers for the parishioners in Great Yarmouth’s James Paget hospital and for the starving in Africa, all of this reminds me that life might just be about more than whether our new bath should be finished with burnished copper or Farrow and Ball’s Saxon Green.

On the two Sundays in three that I am not at Church I was generally practicing yoga at home. Dom Anthony Sutch, our priest, pretends (I think) to be horrified. The Reverend Richard Farr, of St Mary’s in Henham, on the Essex-Hertfordshire border, had been highly bothered by what he saw as a New Age teaching and a threat to the Christian establishment, claiming that “…yoga… is a gateway into other spiritualities, including Eastern mysticism.’

I am wondering if yoga has become the new religion? Think about it – yoga centres as churches, teachers as priests ministering to their student congregation, asana as the liturgy. There is fierce loyalty to the different yogic methodologies – Ashtanga with its strict disciplines and emphasis on regular practice seems closest to Catholicism, Iyengar’s evangelical and puritanical approach might be considered Protestant, the individualist yoga of Desikachar might be seen as Quaker liberalism.

I’ve told the Dom that I see yoga as a compliment to religion, not a threat. Although yoga is historically infused with Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, it seeks to put us in touch with who we are, our innermost nature, and as such actually benefits the practice of any religion – helping us to deepen our faith, not lose it. But maybe he should be worried, the point for most regular practitioners of yoga is not just that it puts us in touch with our true selves but that it rewards us with the same sense of community and belonging, and in that sense it had become a rival to the church, especially in urban areas where there are so many young single people and the church has fewer roots.

What do you think? Is yoga the new religion?

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4 Responses to “Is yoga the new religion?”

  1. abbychaya Says:

    I think that Yoga, as practised in the West is very interesting. Russel Case, a long time Astanga practitioner writes very eloquently about it here http://livingmysorejournal.blogspot.com/2008/05/june-08-ashtanga-artists.
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    I think that in these times we are all searching for deeper meaning, connecting with our true purposes in life feeling a sense of community. Yoga does provide a gateway, or a link, to other realms and of course because of its roots and associations, we are put in mind of certain aspects of religion or rather some aspects perhaps of religious dogma (cue the Karma running over Downward Dogma joke!)

    As I understand it, the church in this country has had problems with ‘yoga’ being taught in church halls and the fear (as I have interpreted it) connects to once you still the mind emptying it, you allow all sorts of ‘other influences’ to prevail. Which is clearly nonsense..!

    However, as the move toward yoga being more and more a physical ‘keep fit’ endeavour, church’s and vicars etc probably look more favourably upon it..

    Which does bring me to this. Rather than yoga being the new religion, I think its that the body, keeping fit and healthy is more the new religion. Not that there is anything wrong with that – but Western yoga, or Modern Yoga as Elizabeth De Michaelis has identified it as – seeks to deal primarily with the body.

    So, is Yoga the new Religion? I think Religion is the wrong term. Yoga is both the Old and the New Way.. It’s been there since probably the earliest times.. It’s a tool for self development growth change and urges us to open our eyes not only to ourselves but to the world about us.

    How about yoga is the new Freedom?

  2. globie Says:

    For me yoga has filled a void, which maybe once should have been filled by religion. I have no religious beliefs, I ignore Christmas and Easter for the most part (OK I admit to the odd caramel egg!), yoga for me was a therapy to begin with, after injury. 10 years later it brings a joy and solace to my lifethat nothing else comes close to doing, leading me to think more deeply that yoga is no longer just an exercise, it is no longer about cracking the next pose, though its nice when that happens, but it is about the way it takes my mind and body to a better place. Without my practice I seriously doubt whether I would still be on this planet.

    • Lucy Edge Says:

      I agree – I have thought alot about this in relation to my new book – which is mainly about yoga and friendship. The practice doesnt always take me to a better place but the people that I practice with do!

  3. praveen Says:

    It was truly interesting to read your blog on yoga. As an indian ,it amuses me to read western thinking on yoga and the opinions and judgements thereafter. Strictly speaking yoga itself does not qualify for a religion. It was….It is (Atleast In india) is part of a religion…..the oldest religion in the world…that is hinduism. Buddhism and jainism which are the offshoots of hinduism adopted some of the practices of yoga. Now a days some people talk about christian yoga. It is meaningless to catogorise yoga as puritanical , modern, etc. yoga is yoga. Traditionally yoga is part of one of the philosophical systems in india. Yoga is a soteriological system.It not a religion, not a science , not really a philosophy…..but one put yoga into all these, and say yoga is this and that. Its a path which is said to lead us to complete happiness ,fullfilment and peace.Does it sound lofty? It Is.
    But how can we deny the thought that if some of them achieved it. will Few hours ,days, weeks and months of reading, streching the body help us experience that.If we dont experience it , does it not exist?
    Since when and who reduced yoga as mere asanas and few breathing tecniques. How can we take the words of sellers and shop keepers of yoga as authentic and true. Why must some people get hiccups to understand and admit that yoga is part of hinduism. does it really matter whether yoga is a religion or not as long as it helps an individual to find peace and harmony within himself. If yoga is not practised in the way it was practised for thousands of years in india………will it become yoga? To make cake one must follow the methods of how it is made……if one adds ingredients as he pleases and some new dish comes up…will it be still cake.
    It seems perfectly alright to borrow some methods of yoga to keep physical fitness,and mental fitness. but defining it on those lines seems outrageous.
    different styles of yoga today is just different marketing strategies, different styles of yoga today is mere convenience and excuses to do it the way one wants it to do.
    Yoga is a kind of knowledge which must be approached in silence, it has to be followed in silence, it has to practised in silence without judgement , without opinions….then one may……………(i leave it blank)
    The question is……… Is that possible in these times when yoga is marketed in corpoarate style, when yoga gurus lead lives of billianairs while recomending simple life, when people fight each other claiming their style is the better one, when gurus(indian) decend upon western countries to spread the message of yoga to the west when fellow indians find their traditional knowledge not accessible to them easily, when traditional texts are learned merely to talk about and philosophise rather than to be followed , when anyone who can write a cheque and put themselves in ashram or a yoga institute for a month to become a certified yoga instructor…………. , when a tradition of a civilisation is hijacked, distorted, perverted, and recylcled back to the same soil .

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