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  • YAM Patel

Yoga: A religion? A cult?

Updated: Aug 23, 2018

When I was in India there were 50 of us in a large building at the base of a mountain, most of us were women. We ate there, followed a strict schedule of classes, and sat avidly absorbing everything our teachers taught us. As if the commandments were being delivered to us by intelligent charismatic Indian men with tilika’s on their forehead. We slept in that building, had a curfew, and on our days off, many remained in the compound studying for exams.

As we studied the history of yoga, many of the players that featured in Yoga, were also key players in Hinduism. All our breathing, mediation, and theory classes taught us not only about our body, but about our minds, as well as guidelines on how to live our lives.

So it should come as no surprise that there were moments when I laughed as I thought. ‘Am I being brain washed? Am I blindly following my teachers? What am I really saying when I chant away before a yoga class, after a yoga class, and in the evening before bedtime. How have they got me chanting mantras as I walk around town?

Two weeks into the course, and no offer of arranged marriages to the owners or teachers, no subtle hints of repeated procreation to populate the ashram, no demands to clean the floors or work the field and I knew, I could cross cult of my list. That left religion.

RELIGION, the word so many of us fear being associated with. When the word religion is let lose, the connotations that often arise are: fanatic, terrorist, extreme, weak, etc. Now I am no expert, but as far as I know, every religious book espouses the same principles as yogic principals: be honest, don’t judge, don’t steal, don’t lie, be kind, have faith. Where religion has prayers, yoga has mantras. Similar to religion, if you practice yoga, stay disciplined and focus, then you too can connect to the universal soul, energy. What some religions call god, we call universe.

In some religions, we are told that god is within all of us. Having now studied yoga, I understand that, as the answer to everything is within us. Our ability to connect to everything around us is within us. I recently read about a herd of elephants that traveled 12 hours through the bush to the home of the conservationists who had saved them, when he died. Upon reaching his home, they remained for 2 days morning his loss. How they knew he had died, or every time he had returned to the lodge from an out of country trip, or when he was near, is magical. Yoga believes that we all have that power within us to connect and sense people and events beyond our physical parameters. That power, like those of animals in the wild, has been buried by layers and layers of thoughts within us.

It really is hard to believe that only animals are completely connected to the elements that define us, earth, water, air, space, fire. We humans claim to be the smartest species on the planet, and we may well be, if we could just reconnect to those instincts within us that animals have remained connected to.

So where is the line that separate’s yoga from religion? Is it that yoga encompasses the physical component of asanas. Though in Islam the ritual for prayer, is very similar to a sun salutation.

Unsullied by media and extremists, religion at its core is about reconnecting to ourselves and to our earth and on a large scale our universe. Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Dalaia Lama, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, were/are religious people, who have fought to bring peace and humanity back in our world. Why are we so afraid of the word religion, because it is not religion that is scary, it is those that use it, to behave badly, that is scary.

I don’t know the answers to my questions, but I do know that Yoga is a great thing and that it has changed the way I see everything, for the better. It has made me physically and mentally stronger. It has helped me navigate through this insane world of ours, where at every turn there is some form of media marketing me. When a bacteria took residence in my stomach, the asana and breathing practices helped heal my insides. My meditation practices have calmed me down, so my emotions no longer bounce around on a pogo stick. And as a work in progress it is slowly peeling my attachment to the material, the largest one being money. That piece of coloured paper with pictures on it that deeply influences us and is the cause of much suffering and fear.

I don’t think it matters if yoga’s roots share the same tree as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Nothing about the journey of yoga is harmful or can be used to mobilize hundreds of people to behave badly. There is only good in yoga, and contrary to our strange love affair with things that affect us negatively, like bad boys, naughty girls, sugar, soft drink, dead food and white flour, YOGA is GOOD. GOOD is groovy YOGA is Fabulous, GOOD is downright fantastic.

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