This position of skepticism did not instantly change after my first yoga class. Although I became hooked on yoga and genuinely enjoyed it from the first class, my skepticism was well intact. I don't think it is gone completely after years of practice and I wonder if it ever will go. I am researching yoga for this very reason: I want to understand what it is about the experience that helps people, how does yoga actually work? Is there a legitimate science to yoga?
The conversations I have about yoga tend to revolve around how helpful people find it. There are numerous ways in which yoga helps people mentally, physically and spiritually. There are numerous disciplines of yoga performed in varying styles for a diverse range of purposes. So, what is the discourse about yoga — the spiritual part. This becomes an especially hot topic when yoga is introduced to children or through public/state/provincial/municipal programs.
|Photo by T. Lynne from the Dec. 15, 2012 issue of The New York Times.|
New York Times writer Will Carless wrote a recent article, Yoga Class Draws Religious Protest in which parents of children aged six to seven years old are protesting the elementary school in which their children attend, as well as advocating with the district school board in Encinitas, California to remove a 30-minute yoga practice from the schools curriculum. Carless' article and academic research on yoga demonstrate the belief that yoga is a religious practice. There are numerous blogs, websites, magazine articles, and books which strongly contest this fact; they adamantly state that yoga is not religious however, this is not entirely true and people whom attempt to present it as such are misrepresenting yoga. Although yoga is not religious, it is spiritual and involves the use of sanskrit, an ancient language originating from India which is largely only used liturgically, in spiritual/religious practices today. Yoga is also utilized by the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. This of course does not mean all yoga practices are religious or spiritually based. However, as a yoga teacher, researcher, and social worker, I can not claim that yoga is completely non-religious. The way I present yoga to clients is non-religious but I can not speak about the ways in which others may teach it — I have been privy to a number of highly spiritual or religious yoga classes. I therefore agree that inquiry into what exactly the children of Encinitas, California are being taught as yoga is useful to their parents.
Carless' article explains that amongst the controversy over yoga is an issue with meditation. The act of meditation is a part of the yoga practice and again can be presented in a way which is free from religious connotations. In fact, meditation can be presented for any religious or spiritual orientation, lest we forget: Jesus meditated.
Want to know more? Check out my article on what yoga is.