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Yoga and religions PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Massimo   
Saturday, 26 November 2011

Is Yoga a religion? Can an atheist practice Yoga? Is it dangerous or evil to cultivate a spiritual side or to search for a better awerness?

The other day, at the end of my yoga class there was a guy waiting to ask me a question. I had just finished to answer a question from a girl that asked me about some tip to avoid problems to the neck during Sarvangasana (shoulder-stand), and I was expecting a similar question from him too.
The most common questions at the end of one yoga class nowadays are: how can I become flexible like you? How long it will take before I can reach my toes with my hands, standing? To practice yoga once at month is enough? How can I become a yoga teacher? Stuff like that usually.
But this time the super-trained-muscled-lowcarb guy with a vague tensed/angry expression was going to ask me the question that (almost) everybody has in his mind, actually, but never dares to ask.

So the guy, a little bit spaced-out after the nidra yoga/relaxation moment, asked me: "I was wondering if Yoga is something... uhm.. religious, is it that by any chance?"
Before to continue with the description of the episode I have to add an information that can help to understand better the contest. I live in Norway, a country where the majority of the people carefully avoid to talk about things related to religion or spirituality and where a very high percentage of them is presenting as Atheists.

So, the guy was basically just testing me. He was not interested in learning anything really, he just wanted to see if I was a trustable person or not. If I was answering yes, then it was suddenly not important anymore the fact that he enjoyed the class and that he was feeling very good after. An affirmative answer to his question in this case was just meaning "DANGER!!!", inside his scared mind.
So, I decided to give him the answer that was more exiting and attracting for his mind: "Yes, Yoga is a religion, and in fact I AM Jesus himself (I mean, look at my long hair and beard if you have any doubt...). And you should actually start worshiping me very soon!"

The moment of staring silence that was following my answer, was just priceless. Not really for mystical reasons... but for the fact that it was just purely hilarious! He and the two girls waiting to ask their question too were looking at me like if I was a sort of ghost, for a few seconds. Just fantastic.
At that point I decided to stop the sadistic pleasure of the joke, and laughing out loud I admitted that I was obviously just kidding him.
Then, a vague smile returned on his face, "ah.. ok, of course, so it is not a religion! Good, because, you know, I am an atheist and so I am not interested in anything that is religious", he said.

So, trying to win my anger, I started to explain patiently what actually yoga was: Yoga = Union. Union between your body and your mind. The awareness of your potentialities. The Union between Energy and Consciousness. The Union between your real self and the life around you. Between Microcosm and Macrocosm... and so on...
I told him that Yoga is for Hinduism a little bit like Platonism is for Christianity: it is much more ancient, it is a philosophy and not a religion, it is based on rational discrimination and empirical experiences, rather than on beliefs and rituals. And nevertheless, just like many Christians integrate Platonic concepts inside their Christian irrational beliefs, so also many Indians (and New Agers) integrate Yogic ideas in their Hindu (or New Age) beliefs and rituals.

The guy, staring at me more and more tensed, ended saying: "Well, you know, I was just expecting a yes or no answer, but anyway, thanks for the information". And he left, happy that   joining a yoga class, he had not done anything religious...

Yes, fortunately yoga and meditation are very practical disciplines, they help you to control the desire to strangle people like this guy! :-D

Just a further comment to this episode now. If somebody is an atheist, why he should actually bother if somebody else is not an atheist too? Or, to put it down more clearly: are atheists fanatic, dogmatic, illiberal people just like extremist Christians or extremist Muslims are? Do they respect people with different visions or they believe to have the final truth in their pocket just like an extreme religious puritan does when is killing in the name of God? Are atheist representing just a modern evolution of the religious fanatics of the past? Personally, I see very few differences. In the past fanatics were claiming that God is a spiritual being high in the sky and everything else is evil and dangerous, nowadays fanatics claim that only the material world is important, and everything else is evil and dangerous. Where is the difference really?

A better balance and a deeper respect would probably make more people happy.
Last Updated ( Saturday, 26 November 2011 )
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