A Universal University: Is Yoga a Religion?

Kaitlyn Szilagyi, Columnist

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Just over a year ago, Huffington Post writer, Philip Goldberg, published an article regarding a lawsuit filed in San Diego, California, which “…was filed by parents, backed by a conservative Christian organization, who claim that yoga instruction in public schools violates California law because it is a form of religious indoctrination.” This is not the first article, nor the first lawsuit, to address the question: is yoga a religion, or is it religious in nature?

Goldberg’s article works to represent those who believe yoga is religious in nature, and those who disagree.

“The classic texts that define the principles of yoga—the Bhaghavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Yoga Sutras—are  typically considered Hindu scriptures, and for millions of Hindus, yogic ideals and practices are central to their religious lives,” Goldberg explained.

However, Goldberg also stresses the point that, in contemporary society, yoga and meditation are utilized as an alternative medicine without any association with religion. Perhaps yoga began as a religious practice, but it is not necessarily religious in nature anymore.

“So, if yoga is interpreted as religious, it must be the most non-secretarial, nondenominational, trans-traditional, inter-spiritual, universal expression of religion imaginable. It would also be the least religious of religions, since it demands neither allegiance to a specific tradition, nor faith, nor the acceptance of any doctrine.” Furthermore, the argument can be made thatyoga is an action, not a belief.

Yoga Journal writer, Andrea Feretti, examines the specific question as to whether or not yoga is a religion in her article “Beyond Belief.”

She acknowledges almost right away, “As practitioners, we aren’t required to adhere to a particular faith or obliged to observe religious rituals such as baptisms or bar mitzvahs.”

According to junior philosophy and religious studies major, John Wrench, yoga is not religious.

“[It is] incredibly spiritual,” Wrench said. “It’s meditative so I think it’s helpful in that way.”

While it is true that yoga’s history is rooted in religion, specifically in Buddhist tradition, there is no stipulation that it still is today. These days, physicians, therapists, and psychologists encourage yoga in an effort to promote healthy living, improved coordination, improved emotional and physical stability, and increased focus and concentration. Yoga is beneficial for everyone, regardless of whether or not you choose to connect to the activity spiritually.

Pace University offers yoga classes in Goldstein Fitness Center’s aerobics room every semester. I encourage you to take advantage of them, whether to relax, to get healthy, or to focus on connecting with a higher being, whichever suits your needs best.

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