Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Does Yoga Violate the Separation of Church and State?

Fascinating piece at about whether offering Yoga in public schools violate the separation of church and state. There’s a strong case that it does.

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posted October 9, 2008 at 12:08 pm

“We are not opposed to the benefits. We can understand the benefits. We are opposed to the philosophy behind it and that has its ties in Hinduism and the way they were presenting it,” said the Rev. Colin Lucid of Calvary Baptist Church in Massena.”
Does teaching Milton and Dante violate this rule as well? Can one be opposed to the philosophy behind them?

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posted October 9, 2008 at 2:45 pm

Yoga is not a religion – though it is an aspect of Hindu. However, as it is experienced in this country at this time, it is simply focused breathing and body awareness. No words or thoughts directed to a divine Other, no prayer or ceremony are included. There are all sorts of other groups adapting yoga techniques to their prayer and meditation regime. But yoga as yoga is no more religious than tai chi, greco-roman wrestling, or soccer (a major religon in many countries and communities in our country)

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posted October 9, 2008 at 4:24 pm

Yoga is a religious exercise. It involves self-hypnosis and chanting as well as soul searching and meditation that is a vital part of Hinduism.
You can teach yoga-like exercises and even use some of the same techniques as Hindu but you must change essential parts of it to keep it separate from Hinduism. I worked with a church that tried to introduce such a method of Meditation but it was almost impossible to do so without incorporating Eastern Religious Philosophy and Pagan worship with it, so we dropped it. Yoga should not be taught in public schools.
There are other ways to teach children to relax, cope and focus that do not use religious practices, If you allow Yoga, then you must allow prayer and fasting as practiced by Christian, Jewish and Islamic Faiths.

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posted October 9, 2008 at 5:51 pm

“There are other ways to teach children to relax, cope and focus that do not use religious practices, If you allow Yoga, then you must allow prayer and fasting as practiced by Christian, Jewish and Islamic Faiths.”
“Yoga is not a religion – though it is an aspect of Hindu(ism).”
“We are not opposed to the benefits. We can understand the benefits. We are opposed to the philosophy behind it and that has its ties in Hinduism and the way they were presenting it,” said the Rev. Colin Lucid of Calvary Baptist Church in Massena.”
As a Christian that does Yoga, I struggled with this for a while. Until I stumbled onto (of all people) Diamond Dallas Page’s Yoga For Regular Guys. He thought that the spiritual stuff was for sissies, so he turned around and got rid of the meditation and changed the names of all of the poses.
What he came up with was essentially ashtanga yoga for an American audience. And it’s a great method. You still get the intentional breathing, you still get the stretching, and you could still feasibly meditate, but there’s not a church anywhere on the planet (save for possibly a Hindi one) that could complain about it.
The book is fairly easily available. The DVD’s are a little tougher to come by. But a whole lot of schools could skirt the issue very simply by doing yoga this way instead of in a way that practically begs for a lawsuit from some parent with too much time on their hands.

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Susan Foster

posted October 9, 2008 at 6:09 pm

Yoga is Hindu worship. There are over 300 million Hindu gods in the pantheon. Each yoga movement is a worship position to a god in the pantheon. Yes, some yoga (not most) in U.S. has been secularized much like many religions in the U.S., such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. but this does not change what it really is. In fact, to say that it is a form of exercise only is a form of insult against Hinduism. Ask a Hindu whether they approve of (non-Hindu) Americans doing yoga, and they will tell you that it is insulting to their faith. Imagine Buddhists observing Yom Kippur as a way of reaching Nirvana?

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posted October 9, 2008 at 6:39 pm

“Yoga is Hindu worship.”
No, it is one part of Hindu worship that is also a viable exercise and stretching regimen that requires intentional breathing.
“There are over 300 million Hindu gods in the pantheon. Each yoga movement is a worship position to a god in the pantheon.”
there are 300 million yoga poses? Crazy! I only know 100 million or so. I need to catch up. Which god does downward facing dog correspond to? I haven’t seen a picture of god bent like a triangle with a red face yet.
“Yes, some yoga (not most) in U.S. has been secularized much like many religions in the U.S., such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc.”
Secularized Christianity? Secularized Judaism? Secularized Islam? The closest that you can come to this idea without sounding completely irrational is the idea of “cultural jews”, “cultural muslims”, “cultural catholics”, etc. At which point, you don’t have a problem with America, you’ve got a problem with the entire world. There are muslims who buy their kids toys for Christmas. Should we as Christians then be offended as well?
“In fact, to say that it is a form of exercise only is a form of insult against Hinduism. Ask a Hindu whether they approve of (non-Hindu) Americans doing yoga, and they will tell you that it is insulting to their faith.”
Not really. I am sure that most Hindus simply don’t care. And remember, it was a Hindu, from India even, that brought Yoga to America during a turn of the century World’s Fair. He didn’t bring it as a religious format, he brought it as a form of exercise that can increase flexibility in ways that no western form of exercise had yet done.
“Imagine Buddhists observing Yom Kippur as a way of reaching Nirvana?”
Should we be upset if a Buddhist spent 24 hours atoning for their sins?
Should we be upset if a Buddhist fasted for a 24 hour period?
And if that did get them to Nirvana, where’s the harm?
Some people need to lighten up a little bit. I’m probably one of them.

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posted October 10, 2008 at 10:02 am

I am a hindu by religion but a human first.
It is very sad people fighting on issue of Yoga or “Yog” which means a thing that connects you to higher consiousness or God and believe it or not, God has no religion. He has created hindu, christains, muslims, sikhs, buddhist, jews alike. If He is a God, he has a power to create everyone of us and we like small kids create boundaries in name of religion.
A healthy body has a healthy mind. And a healthy mind preaches God in a better way. Some complain that there is manipulation of energy when you do yoga. Why do not they understand that whatever exercise they do, manipulates your enegry. SO will that mean you will stop exercising ? Oxygen is important for everyone and Yoga helps your body to retain oxygen in a better way.
Now, some complain about hindu philosophies attach to yoga. Yoga says about non-violence, truth, non-stealing,etc. I belive that all major religion of the world teaches the same thing.
They said do not practice yoga in school. But do they know, even when they sit or lay on bed, its a yoga posture. Learning the right pose helps your body movement better. An therefore why yoga cures so many deseases. There will always be people around that will say things against good things. Now, its upto you to decide.
May God keep you calm and happy!!

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posted October 10, 2008 at 10:10 am

Ohhhh ya, if you all agree Yoga is hindu nonsense, then you should also believe this,
The law of Gravity is found by Newton, some say Newton was a jew, so Law of Gravity is Jewish, so lets not follow it and try to walk upside down, because its some religious jewish stuff….

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posted October 10, 2008 at 11:12 am

Oh, gee, I wonder what that means for my DVD series Yoga for Surfers!!
Trust me, yoga is not a religion. It’s a way of being, a state of mind, one that is calm, open — and tolerant! Something the world could use a lot more of, eh?

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posted October 10, 2008 at 3:12 pm

As a Catholic who has also practiced yoga and Buddhist meditation, I’d like to give my take.
The Indic religions are absract and impersonal in a way that most Westerners don’t quite grasp. Abrahamic religions are always addressing someone in their religious practices: God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the saints. This is not necessarily true of Indic religions. Buddhism, in fact, is non-theistic: God or gods play no ultimate role (although there is a plethora of bodhisattvas and other god-like beings in some schools of Buddhism; but that’s a complex issue). Because of all this, Indic religious practices are much more easily separable from their native context than are the practices of Western faiths.
For example: One simply can’t do a rosary without saying Our Fathers (addressing God) and Hail Marys (addressing Mary). Obviously, this would conflict with the beliefs of, say, a Jew, a Muslim, or of many Protestants. However, meditation in which one follows one’s breath or one’s thoughts, though Buddhist in origin, doesn’t in content conflict with any other religion on a doctrinal level. Likewise, yogic asanas do not intrinsically conflict with anything.
Now I would point out that there are devotional strains in Hinduism and (to a lesser degree) in Buddhism, and that this is often obscured. For example, a mantra such as Om namah shivaya is often portrayed as a meditative direction of masculine energy, or some such, when it quite simply is a prayer to a Hindu god, translatable as “Honor to Shiva, hail!” Such practices as these are patently imcompatible with Christian or other monotheistic faiths, and I do not follow them, and I think it disingenuous to intepret them as anything other than they are.
On the other hand, I think that practices such as certain types of meditation and certain types of yoga, with the Hindu or Buddhist- specific material removed, are not a threat to the faith of anyone. This, of course, assumes that the practitioner has firm grounding in and understanding of his own faith, and a good understanding of the practices and the appropriate boundaries. For children this could obviously be more of an issue.
In fairness, some Hindus and Buddists decry the taking of such practices out of context; and some Christians, while admitting there to be no explicitly religious content in such practices argue that there are philosophical presuppositions behind them that are problematic and thus incompatible with the Christian faith.
I think that this document from the Catholic Church several years ago, the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation strikes a pretty good balance on this issue.

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posted October 13, 2008 at 8:58 am

are we ever going to stop debating long enough to just, be?

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Swami Param

posted October 13, 2008 at 9:55 am

It is a fact that Real Yoga is Hinduism. “Yoga” is a Sanskrit/Hindu word. “Sanskrit:” “The ancienct Aryan [noble] language of the Hindus.” “Yoga:” “To yoke Atmana (individual Soul) and Brahamana (Soul Source).” The various Hindu/(Real)Yogas are the practices of Hinduism. So, the Facts are that all of Yoga is Hinduism. This modern “yoga stuff” is simply another example of theft, distortion and prejudice against Hindus/Hinduism: The Religion of Yoga.

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posted October 13, 2008 at 12:14 pm

Yoga is not Hinduism. Both Yoga and Sanskrta predate Hinduism. Yoga and Hinduism are near neighbors, and like many long-term neighbors, their lives have been intertwined. However many Hindus do not practice Yoga, more still only practice one form of Yoga, and many practictioners of some forms of Yoga are ignorant of Hinduism.
By the way, other scholars say that “Union” is a better translation of Yoga than “yoke”, despite the alliteration.

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posted October 14, 2008 at 3:18 pm

Yoga belongs to Hinduism of more abstract nature. To talk of Hindu gods and the pantheon in relation to the yogic postures is not at all relevant or correct. The spiritual ultimate state of a practitioner of Yoga unites the atman-individual soul with the Brahman- the ultimate soul.In that sense it is a union that leads to salvation which is a stage beyond attaining heaven.It is liberation in the true sense.I salute Patanjali who revealed that a human body and spirit are unto themselves One has to seek salvation within You are the godhead, the devotee and the ultimate supreme spirit.You can achieve the blissful state of salvation .You seek within you and an external messiah is not needed.In that sense it does not encourage the separation of the church and the state.It does not necessitate faith in an external agency.

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posted October 16, 2008 at 9:17 pm

Swami Param hit the nail on the head. The word “yoga” means to yoke with God. And the God of yoga is typically Shiva or some other Hindu incarnation. If you know consciously that you are yoking with Christ consciousness, then you may be doing a form of Christian yoga. To understand what yoga is one might try the self-enquiry practices of philosophy called in Samskrit vichara. One tries to reconcile the phenomenon with the noumenon and realize that there is only one God, there is nothing but God, and it is our job to see the presence of God in everything. Does this sound like Christianity to you? Furthermore, the difference between jiva (the self, the atman), the jagan (that which moves, or the world) and Ishwara (God) and how they are separate, the same, and the way in these interact with each other. And if you are practicing yoga to gain strength and power, you are concerned with Iccha (will) Jnana (wisdom) and Shakti (power of manifestation. Furthermore, the understanding that Shiva (consciousness) and Shakti (manifestation of phenomena) are one thing and never separate, and in this, no one person is separate from any other person or physical manifestation of the earth. Does this sound like Christianity? Is christianity something that breaks the separation between church and state? Yes. If you are practicing yoga and your body is your temple because you are realizing God and your Self, are you violating the separation of church and state? Well, since it is completely inward and philosophical in nature, then no. But if you are Christian and you don’t like this and call it religion, then you will say that it violates that separation because it completely negates all separation!!! Western minds don’t like such thoughts. They get bent out of shape. So if you practice yoga, please realize that the purpose of every thought and breath and deed is to TOUCH and SEE GOD. So. Is it religion? I practice it and I am very serious with my faith. Faith and spirituality are typically linked with religion, which is the political manifestation of sects and worldly nomenclature that seeks to divide and conquer. If you would like to do Yoga Booty Ballet, so be it. But the purpose of yoga is to realize GOD, not to get abs from Navasana and Virasana and flexibility from Hanumanasana and Paschimottanasana. These words are Sanskrit and they belong to an ancient faith called Sanatana Dharma which has erroneously become known as “Hinduism.” Do know what you do and why you do it. And check out Ramana Maharshi’s method of self-enquiry. You can skip the political manuscripts masquerading as the word of God and touch living faith that does not rely on martyrdom and hierarchies.

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posted December 5, 2008 at 12:09 am

Practicing the asanas- the physical postures of yoga does not make you a hindu any more than swimming in the pool at the YMCA makes you a christian.

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posted January 21, 2009 at 11:03 am

The Dharmic/Indian “religions” don’t require you to believe in God or anything specific so technically everyone is a Hindu/Buddhist/Jain and anybody can practice yoga. It’s only a problem for true Christians and Muslims who believe the Dharmic faiths are “pagan” practices here
@Kevin: Technically you’re a “Hindu” no matter what you do. “Hinduism” and the other Dharmic faiths are inclusive. And comparing yoga to a swimming pool lol?

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