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Is Yoga a Religion? by Tim Shannon

Many people have asked me the question “Is yoga a religion?” They usually preface this with “Would yoga conflict with my religious beliefs?” I believe yoga is a spiritual but not religious practice.

There are many types of yoga. Spiritual transformation is central of all of them. The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit meaning to yoke or to join. The goal of yoga is to find the union that exists between the practitioner and their divine. Yogic practices develop body, mind and spirit through various exercises and mental processes—this is something any religion can embrace.

The tradition of yoga began about 5,000 years ago. It is one of six systems of Indian philosophy. A variety of religions exist in India including Jainism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam and Christianity. In spite of their different philosophies, many individuals from all of these religions practice yoga.

There are many styles of yoga. Some emphasize physical development while others focus on mental exercises or devotional aspects. Some are very holistic in their approach. All styles emphasize the breath. The words “ruach” in Hebrew and “numa ” in Greek mean both spirit and breath. Many cultures believe breath and spirit are the same. Yoga is about learning how to receive the prana (healing energy, life force) and to expel the apana (used up energy) through proper breathing techniques. These methods lead to increased energy and spiritual awareness.

When we are guided by the moral code, get our physical bodies into shape and learn to breathe and meditate we can find samadhi (bliss). One does not have to belong to any religion in order to practice yoga and anyone from any religion can benefit.

Tim Shannon is a co-owner of Yoga on the Wallkill where they offer a variety of classes for all levels of experience. Yoga on the Wallkill, overlooking the Wallkill River, is located at 100 Ward Street in Montgomery. For further information call 457-1117 or visit YogaOnTheWallkill.com.

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