Will yoga interfere with your religion?

By: proctor - April 16, 2007
This article was published on www.charleston.net on December 4, 2006 and was written by yoga instructor Suzanne Gannon. She is a yoga instructor in Charleston, South Carolina.

Believe it or not, I am from the North. I was raised in Maine. When my mom came down to visit me for the first time, she went looking for a sweetgrass basket to take back to her cat-sitter. She spotted a particularly promising-looking booth along U. S. Highway 17, but didn't stop and wasn't sure exactly where to find it again. I thought I knew which one she meant, so I asked: "Was it near a church?"

She laughed, and I realized: Most things around here are near a church. It would be more of a landmark not to be near a church. A Google search found 890 churches in Charleston.

So it is here that I am asked the question: Will yoga interfere with my religion? Don't you have to be a Buddhist or Hindu or something to practice yoga? In the largely Christian AmeriĀ­can South, this is a huge, totally valid question. It is an important question, in fact, regardless of religious affiliation.

Wouldn't it be great if the answer was simple? In fact, it is. Yoga is not a religion. You do not have to be of any particular religion to qualify to step onto a yoga mat. Once on that mat, however, depending on where you practice yoga, you might be given some rather considerable food for thought that you feel impinges on your religion. Feel free to ignore that. There are so many good things to a yoga practice.
Yoga is not a religion. You do not have to be of any particular religion to qualify to step onto a yoga mat.

Try not to let a little dogma get in the way of your experience. As I have previously written, most yoga studios incorporate chanting, to some degree, even if only a few "oms" at the beginning and end of the practice. There also are more elaborate chants that include invoking Hindu deities.

Though I, personally, choose not to participate in those chants, there is a perfect explanation that would enable you to chant without it making you less of a Christian/Muslim/ Jew/ Druid. There is a theory that all of the gods one chants to in some yoga classes are merely representations of different sides of whatever your divinity of choice is. So you would be chanting to your own God or Allah or Norfolk pine, but addressing different aspects of its personality.

Does that make sense? For most, it does. Still, I, personally, am not a big chanter. My God has heard me sing (Imagine "Brickhouse" at top volume in the shower) and would probably prefer if I kept my fat mouth shut. I will honor him in other ways. I think he's OK with that. Again, since we have free will and can choose to chant or not to chant, there is always the option to sit in quiet meditation or sing a little song to yourself or repeat a mantra that takes you to the happy place inside your head, at least until the stuff that gives you the heebie-jeebies is over.

Remember that yoga is supposed to relax you and make you feel good. If you feel all uptight and concerned that you are being forced to do something that doesn't feel right, then know that you have the option to simply say "no."

When I began going to yoga classes, I had a knee-jerk reaction to anyone who tried to talk to me about religion. I felt like I was being pushed into believing something that wasn't for me. As I continued, however, occasionally participating in chanting and listening to after- class conversations about church, I found that my reaction totally changed. First of all, the hair on the back of my neck no longer stood up when people began religious conversation.

Most importantly to me, I found that yoga was a portal through which I could easily access God and the religion I was born to. I am now more devout in and intrigued by my religion than I was before I got into yoga.

So you take it where you want to. You don't need a sermon to find your path. You can have yoga without religion or yoga with your particular religion and it's all totally fine.

About the Submitter


I have been an ACE certified personal trainer since 2000 who has trained over 3000 hours. I specialize in pre- and post-natal fitness, stretching, running, and weight loss. Yoga is also a passion for me and a way of life. I received my Yoga Alliance Teacher Certification in India and love to share the calmness, strength, and openness that yoga offers to people of all ages and abilities.

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