Yoga and Religion

I’m in India, home of yoga, and I live in a Christian and Muslim dominant area, not to mention a (so-called) hi-tech haven, where young people flock to for jobs in the IT sector.

How can yoga help pave the path for interreligious dialogue and thus promote peace?

I found out when I held my first class, in which one young woman attended. She was of islamic background, and came to yoga not for the spiritual or religious aspects, but rather the health aspects–including exercise and relaxation.

Starting out with OM, I realized that teaching to peoples of diverse religious backgrounds might have a problem with this word, because of its Hindu connotations.

Yet OM is actually a representation of the sound of the universe, a hum that is always existent. It was just adapted by Hindus as their “slogan” or symbol.

Although I generally teach a non-denominational form of yoga in international and US settings, I began to wonder how to devise classes for the staunchly religious populations in a place like India. At some point in life, I’d also like to teach in strict Christian and Muslim countries, like Nigeria, or to jihadis who have been arrested and imprisoned (in places like Guantanamo Bay, which, sadly, is still yet to be closed).

In order to create ways to get into those spheres, it’s important to delve into the “scriptures” of Yoga.

The books of yoga are quite recent, because until the 20th century, yoga was purely passed down from guru to sishya. It was with the advent of innovative minds such as Iyengar and Desichakar that books of yoga started solidifying.

How do these “scriptures” view “outsiders”? I will be presenting on this topic at a conference of United Religions Intitiative in Karickam this August. I’ll be consulting books and articles by BKS Iyengar, Desikachar, and Judith Lasater, and interviewing others in the field such as Rod Stryker and John Friend. I’ll also talk to students and teachers at SVYASA here in Bangalore and read up on the new International Journal of Yoga Therapy edition.

In addition, I’d like to know your thoughts. Do you know people of different faiths who practice or teach yoga? Let me know too!


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nancy Mercurio
    Jun 05, 2011 @ 06:56:47

    How exciting, Sowmya, that you will be presenting on this topic. When I go to yoga (Anusara) it think of it as my religion. I think of my yoga practice as a religion. It doesn’t matter what “other” religions I practice or anyone else practices, I feel we are all one while we are on our mats and in the same room together. The spirit and energy during that time is peaceful, warm, bonding. It’s beautiful to be able to connect with each other in that respect regardless of what is done outside of yoga. I may not get to really know each and every one of my “friends” while doing yoga, but there is always a connection and respect as a yogi.


  2. Nicole
    Jun 05, 2011 @ 21:48:15

    Congrats on your upcoming presentation, and the great full-face photo of you on the right-hand side of your blog page:) Interesting that there are always new ways to view our projects and different things to consider. I personally like the religious aspect of yoga, so I wouldn’t want to make it a non-denominational practice. But I can see how that could be an issue in the places you are working. However I agree with Nancy that yoga to many IS the religion itself. I hope that you can make YOUR class YOUR practice and teach that to your students, and that can see it from that perspective? Does that make sense?


  3. Preethi Sukumaran
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 03:12:30

    I used to learn Yoga with Jawahar Bangera (who is a senior Yoga teacher at the BKS Iyengar Institute at Mumbai). One of the teachers who teaches in his classes , Najeeb, would be able to shed some light on this. Do get in touch with Jawahar / Najeeb – their contact numbers are listed on the BKS Iyengar website.


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