This is a weekly post from Bodhisattva Yoga’s founder/co-director offering weekly bits of research findings, suggestions, and musings on all things directly & indirectly related to the broad Path of Yoga.
The recent fear-mongering argument that yoga is religious indoctrination is absurd and has no basis in reality. Yoga can be as secular, religious or spiritual (spirituality is not the same as religiosity) as you’d like it to be. (Off the top of my head: 90% or more of the “yoga” found today in the US is completely secular; about 7% present a “spiritual” theme (e.g., Bodhisattva Yoga); and, maybe 3% at most have a religious tone to them – commonly an off-shoot of Hinduism or Sikhism. See my point on this below.)
This discussion merits a bigger forum, but I’ll try to be succinct. Strictly, yoga is a series of systematized physical, respiratory &/or mental practices geared to calm and concentrate the mind while benefiting the body. What you do with that concentrated mind is up to you.
Historically, orthodox Hinduism frowned upon the system of practices known today as classical yoga, which was chiefly practiced by those who questioned the mores of a stratified society and its religious exclusivity. Hinduism, despite being one of world’s great religions, rich with tradition, with many pearls of wisdom to offer (drawn from the Vedas) had (has) a caste system based on birth. It had a segment of society worthy of being intermediaries bridging aspects of the Divine with ordinary beings through rites, observances, prayers, etc. – these being Brahmins, the priestly and highest caste. Conversely, at the extreme other end of Hindu society there were those regarded as being so low that they did not even merit hearing of the spiritual teachings, they were the untouchables.
Fortunately, a period came (at least, +/- 700 years B.C.E.) whereby keen thinkers, of all castes, sought the Divine experience for themselves without the need of intermediaries – and what were often perceived as their hollow rituals. (See Karen Armstrong’s book, “Buddha”.) It is in this period that free-thinking, radical, norm-breaking mavericks began questioning Hindu orthodoxy and its social stratification, and began systematizing yogic practices enabling the sincere adept with the ability to experience the Divine directly (inspiring the Upanishads, etc.). No matter what caste one was born into!
These yogic disciplines and the adepts capable of instructing them were all but lost from India until the mid-19th through early-20th centuries, when yoga began to enjoy a renewed interest in the Asian sub-continent. (Many Hindus were ready to embrace a source of its nation’s pride that England didn’t produce.) Coincidentally, this renaissance of yoga was being led and transmitted by charismatic individuals that happened to be Hindu (e.g., Krishnamacarya and his disciples, Pattabhi Jois, Iyengar, etc.)
It is via this connection that yoga today has been misconstrued as being Hindu in origin. (As many Evangelicals are attempting to claim in order to scare Americans from yoga. This belief is further fueled by a contingent of contemporary Hindus asserting that yoga is the exclusive domain of and originated strictly from Hinduism.)
So, it’s up to you. Do you want strictly secular yoga; or, do you want yoga that inspires the spirit; or, do you want to use yoga as part of your religion? My development of Bodhisattva Yoga is geared to not only benefit the body but to also enrich the spirit. Join me…