Is yoga a religion?

I wanted to title this post, “I used hate all religion and now I only dislike some.” Catchy, huh?

Day Three

The Dharma talk. Uh oh.  The Dharma talk is the part where the yoga is going to recruit me into the cult. It will invade my brain and change how I view the world, God and myself.

God, I hope so.

Let me start at the beginning. I was raised to be a good Lutheran. Or at least that was the intention. My peeps are originally from Minnesota and as Garrison Keillor can attest, the place overrun with Lutherans. My father moved to California when he was three; however he brought those good Lutheran values with him on the ride.

Here’s the truth though. I went to the weekly classes and was confirmed a Lutheran when I was in eighth grade.   As it turns out, I was that kid. I was the questioner. I was the doubter. I was the pain in the ass with all the philosophical questions and then with the follow up questions which always ended with the pastor sighing audibly and replying, “You just need to have faith.”

Since being confirmed as a real life Lutheran, I have been to church exactly three times. When I go to church wedding, I worry that my lack of faith will somehow cause the architectural destruction of the church. Seriously, I worry that I’m going to ruin the wedding because the church falls down around us. I’m pretty sure the pastor at my church is still clapping gleefully every week when I am absent from his congregation. The dude looked a little panicked when he spotted me in the pews at my Grandma’s funeral. “Oh no, not that kid.”

“You just need to have faith.”

How could I have faith in something I saw as punitive and hypocritical? How could I have faith when there is so much suffering and injustice in the world? How could I have faith when I don’t see myself like these people?

“You just need to have faith.”

But it didn’t. In fact, for a very long time, I had the opposite of faith. I had scorn for those that blindly followed the flock and didn’t question. I looked down on them for their ignorance of what was real – evolution, science, fun. Needless to say, my spiritual life suffered greatly because of my rebellious attitude toward my family’s chosen religion.

“You just need to have faith.”

Then it happened. I started to question my questioning. I started to feel like something was missing in my life. I had a new very fulfilling job I was passionate about, a very supportive partner, amazing friends and yet something was missing. Did those JC lovers know something I didn’t know?  Damn them. Were they right?!? Did I just need to have faith?

So I went on a journey to find my spiritual self. Of course I mocked the hell out of the wonderful person that suggested I do that. Poor thing, just a sweet Buddhist shrink looking to help me find my way. I think I owe her an apology…

I didn’t go to yoga to find my spiritual self or any new ideas about the world. I was looking for a good workout and that post class feeling. That peaceful feeling. That feeling that was absent except right after class. So more yoga = more good feelings, right?

As it turns out, the real yoga comes after you leave your mat, your head and find your own inner goodness and peace. As it turns out, it’s the turning inward and looking for the divinity in yourself when all the goodness happens. It’s the Dharma that brings out the faith. The faith in the inner goodness in all people, the faith in the impermanence of all – good, bad, indifferent, the faith in the present moment.

Through the regular practice of asana and listening to the very wise IAY teachers, I have finally found my faith.

17 thoughts on “Is yoga a religion?

  1. Pingback: Inspiration for Self Acceptance Self-Study « Teacher Goes Back to School

  2. Pingback: In Case You Missed It Edition! Volume 35 – Magic, Faith and Pants That Fit, Damnit « Teacher Goes Back to School

  3. Applause! I am going to read this one again and probably comment again. This read is so timely for me right now on all levels. Thanks for sharing your honesty and experience.

  4. I understand that dogmatism is offensive, and that drives us away from established religious traditions, as represented by fundamentalist.
    As you know, religious traditions are various responses to penultimate questions: Why am I here, what am I supposed to do, where am I headed, and how can I best get there?
    We explore religious traditions in search of time-tested answers to these questions. The answers are quite varied, and not arbitrary. It makes all the difference in the world which traditions we choose to live.

    The Great Mandela by Peter, Paul, and Mary: “Win or lose now, you must choose now, and if you lose, your only losing your life.”

  5. As you can see, I’m reading this some time after you wrote it, but that’s ok. I was always a questioner, still am. I’ve always been told “faith is a gift”. I’m waiting to receive it, and not going to fake having it.

  6. Tami-so you were always you-the questioner, trusting your gut that they didn’t have all the answers. Now that’s faith-Sweet Divine self guiding faith

  7. Is yoga a religion? Forget the philosophy for a moment, whatever that may be.
    There are religions of works, and religions of grace. If yoga is seen as a means by which one can achieve a form of absolution/salvation by their own efforts, and they feel no need for contrition, nor for atonement, then the Christian message of “falling short of the glory of God” and being in need of a Divine scapegoat falls flat. Many religious communities value yoga and as way of spiritual enlightenment, not necessarily a means of salvation (temporal and eternal).

  8. When your dad came to NYC a few years ago for Grace’s baptism he encountered my pastor and my buddy. Pastor Penny is a liberation theology Methodist, and Vaughn got along with her wonderfully! Same for Ravi Chawla, my Hindu buddy. Vaughn engaged them, listened, laughed, and we all had a great time. Vaughn did not much enjoy discussing theology with me into the wee hours, but he did it for his brother, and I pray he opens up to your voyage of discovery.

  9. I had the opposite journey with non-believers as parents; I joined up to be like my friends. As a thirty-something, I went through the rejection of religion. Now I have something that seems to fit. I found the Episcopal church with a wonderful community of really good people. The dogmatic belief system is optional. I just revel in the friendships,support and inclusiveness of all and leave the unknown as my personal quest.

    FYI, our priest keeps bringing Buddhists in to guide us in meditation.

    • Thanks for the perspective Donna. I think I am finally coming out of my rebellion and looking for connection. I’m glad we’re in this together.

  10. as always, your rawness and honesty sink right into the heart and make your experience almost touchable. oh, and with a dash of humor? wow. thank you…

    • honesty also a top value… humor? #1 value.

      I’m batting a 1000 – whoohoo!!!

      Thanks for the kind words.

  11. I was raised a presbyterian, in Michigan. We must be cousins. It certainly feels like we are cousins, as I had exactly the same experience (perhaps our respective ministers were cousins). And, like you, for the first time in my life, I think I understand what it means to “have faith”.

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