Lately been pondering this question which I've been asked many times over by friends, relatives, acquaintances, close family and all since I wear a Cross pendant on my necklace at all times before, during and after my practice! :)
So thought of sharing a bit of my own personal thought and feelings along with a very interesting article that I came across while reading online...do read with an open mind as there's no specific right or wrong in it other than how one truly feels for him/herself <3 ... end of day it is an individual personal choice.
Is yoga a religion? As Swami J Bharati put it simply and beautifully:
"Yoga is in religion. Religion is not in yoga. Yoga is contained within religions but religion is not contained within yoga"
From the first day my dad, who is a God loving Catholic first introduced and encouraged me to take up yoga as a means to de-stress and tame my hot temper; we've always saw yoga as one of the stress-relieving exercise (the asana), something that helps give some peace for that 1 special hour to my busy mind that can't seem to rest at all times! I never questioned about how it would affect my faith or religion nor if it's a cult that I'm practicing as all I saw (believed my dad too) was just another form of relaxation exercise much like a spa massage...mmm ;) Perhaps it was also because I was never such a strong religious person to start with and having diverse family background with different faiths from Buddhism, Taoism to Muslim...
Anyway, it's only very much later after having practiced yoga for close to a decade and gone through 500 hours of teacher's training that I realized there is more to yoga than just the physical asana practice. And the more I practice, meditate and learn about yoga, the more I find my own Catholic faith growing stronger, more connected and closer to Him than ever felt before; where once I questioned the legitimacy of my own faith. How is that possible some of my Christian friends asked?! And to be honest I started questioning myself too...Have I been voodooed?!
Until I found this well articulated article by Swami J. ... click on to the link to read the full article if you have time :)
-- <excerpt> --
- Yoga and Silence
- Keeping the context of your own religion: Yoga systematically deals with alllevels of your being, leading you to a place of deep stillness and silence. From within this stillness and silence, you can more fully experience spirituality in the context of your own religion and personal beliefs.
- It's about removing obstacles: When we are not experiencing such a deep stillness and silence, it is because our world, senses, body, breath and mind have become obstacles to inner peace and spiritual awareness. (See Yoga Sutra 1.4)
- Then comes spiritual insight: It is in the spirit of observing, accepting, understanding, and training ourselves in Yoga Meditation that these obstacles are gently, systematically removed. It is somewhat like gradually thinning out a cloud bank that is veiling the spiritual serenity that is naturally there. In this way, our world and the aspects of our own being can become tools rather than obstacles. This spiritual focus is the entire purpose of Yoga. (See the article, Modern Yoga versus Traditional Yoga.)
- Feeling closer to your own religion: Through this spiritual focus of Yoga, one may come closer to their own religious roots, although the practices themselves are not necessarily religious.
-- <end excerpt> --
Ok, now this explains why I find my own Catholic faith growing stronger!
And if anyone still has doubt or conflicting thoughts, perhaps this little advice from Swami J article would help too...
-- <excert> --
Make a personal choice:
The Yoga practices of self-awareness, self-training, and self-discovery are non-sectarian, and are compatible with all religions. If you are familiar with the differences between Yoga and religion, it is easy to keep them separate, or if you prefer, to integrate them. The choice rests with each person as an individual.
- Choices about Yoga and religion
1. Keep them separate.
If you wish to keep Yoga, religion, and spiritual matters completely separate, this is easy to do. It simply means practicing and studying your Yoga at places, and with people who share those same values and orientations of Yoga not being part of religion. Each person is free to follow their own religion in their own way.
- 2. Retain and blend your religion.
If you wish to practice Yoga, including its deeper, more authentic, so-called spiritual aspects, retaining and blending the religion of your youth, family, and culture, that too can be done quite easily (keeping in mind, however, that authentic Yoga will lead one towards the esoteric or mystic and of the spectrum of religion, as noted above).
- 3. Choose a new religion.
If you wish to integrate Yoga with a religion new to you, and you are with a teacher or organization whose values and orientations match yours, this too may be done.
Have clarity about your religion, and choose:
It seems most useful to have inner clarity about one's own religious preferences. Then it is easier to choose whether to practice Yoga separately from religion, in the context of religion, or with no religion at all. Then, the aspirant can attain all of the benefits of both their religion and of Yoga. The benefits of Yoga are for everyone.
- Yoga is for everybody:
All of these options are available to each of us in our practice of Yoga. There is a simple reason that these options are available. That is, Yoga truly is not a religion, and thus, Yoga can serve all people of all faiths or beliefs.
"Only when you commingle Yoga and Religion does Yoga appear to be Religion" - Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati
-- <end excerpt> --
So, yes I am a Catholic and I practice yoga. It has not affected or interfered with my faith in any ways but instead has brought me ever closer to it and to Him than before. :D Hope this article helps to clear some doubts for some of you!
Namaste all with love <3