Is Yoga a Form of Worship?
If you are already practicing a faith or belong to a religion you might be wondering if doing yoga conflicts with your beliefs. In this article we will ask is yoga a form of worship?
The article covers what yoga is and the yoga paths. As well as the meaning of the postures and its connection with Hinduism and Christianity.
What Is Yoga?
Yoga is a spiritual practice that involves contemplation, breathing and postures. A popular example of a classic yoga practice is hatha yoga.
The most well known formalised version of yoga was written by Patanjali, called the yoga sutras.
You can trace yoga practice back to the Rigveda and the Upanishads.
Yoga means Yoke or Union.
Practicing yoga means “practicing union”.
People misunderstand this, as union of yourself (your mind and body) with god. .
What it actually means is that your consciousness, your “I am” is the same as the eternal “I am “. Or Gods I am.
Same. It’s not that you become god or you change you consciousness to become one with his, it means you are that. Already. So union means seeing what you already are.
It’s easy to misinterpret “union” and turn into something makes sense to you. But if you dig deeper in the sutras, you see that Patanjali is talking beyond religion and worship of something separate from yourself.
The sutras speak of seer and seen. This implies two things. However he also says these dissolve into one.
So if you look at it this way you see that yoga does not mean worship in the traditional sense. You are not worshiping a deity separate from yourself. You are working on seeing your true nature as the ultimate reality.
This does not mean yoga does not have an element of worship.
Often referred to as the “yoga of devotion,” is one of the primary paths of yoga described in ancient Hindu scriptures. It emphasizes self-surrender, love, and devotion to a personal deity or to the Divine as a whole.
This path teaches that by serving others and the world selflessly, one can achieve union with the Divine. The Bhagavad Gita, a revered Hindu scripture, places significant emphasis on Karma Yoga as a means to spiritual realization.
Often designated as the “royal path” or the “yoga of meditation,” is a systematic approach to spiritual realization that emphasizes mental and spiritual discipline.
These steps encompass..
- Ethical disciplines (yamas and niyamas).
- Physical postures (asanas). Breath control (pranayama).
- Withdrawal from the senses (pratyahara).
- Concentration (dharana).
- Meditation (dhyana), and ultimately, deep absorption or union with the object of meditation (samadhi).
Often referred to as the “yoga of knowledge” or “wisdom,” is one of the classical paths of yoga focused on the pursuit of truth and self-realization. Rooted in deep introspection and contemplative practices, Jnana Yoga directs seekers towards understanding the nature of reality through studying sacred texts, introspection, and discerning reflection.
As you can bhakti yoga, is the closest to worship among the four paths.
However, even with this path when it focuses on a deity it is focusing on a aspect of consciousness that you are. The worship and devotion is trying to take you beyond the idea of yourself to your true self.
Yoga Poses and Worship of Deities
There are yoga postures that are a devotion to certain Hindu gods. For example the dance pose is devotion to lord Shiva who danced the universe into existence.
Again, Lord Shiva represents an aspect of consciousness which you are.
Every religion or philosophical tradition struggles to explain or understand the beginning of creation. Lord Shiva represents a principle of creation. Similar to other religions having their own creation myths.
The pose can be seen as worship, devotion or connecting that part of yourself you have become disconnected from. You become disconnected by your mesmerisation with your ideas and feelings about yourself.
Yoga postures represent nature as well. For instance the tree pose. And they also represent animals that they look like, eg Cobra Pose. So to see a pose representing a deity and assume yoga is a religious and worshiping practice misses the bigger picture.
The yoga poses were originally used to find the link between body and breath. Then that was meant to show you the link between breath and mind, then mind and soul. They have health benefits but this was their real purpose.
I don’t think this sounds like worship of a deity or god.
Is Sun Salutation a Form of Worship?
People who see the sun salutation might ask is a yoga a form of worship?
It can look like a prayer and worship of deity or the sun. It is giving gratitude and deference for something bigger than ourselves.
When we see the underlying purpose of yoga is union of mind, body and soul (consciousness) then we can see the sun salutation in this light.
With the sun salutation we are trying to go beyond our everyday selves and in order to do so we are focusing on something bigger.
Yoga Practice and Worship in Hinduism
Yoga is mentioned in many of the Hindu texts. This does not make it a religious practice.
Many Hindus do not practice yoga as we know it in the west. Or at all.
Karma yoga the way of action and service is mentioned in the Baghavad Gita. But it does not mention the downward dog pose!
We like things neat and tidy and want to fit something nicely into our ideas. With yoga it is not that easy. It has many paths that lead us to union with our true self, which is god.
It is not our body that becomes one with god, we see that are fundamental self is god and our ego and body are manifestations of that.
When you see this clearly you do not become arrogant, only an ego that thinks it’s god would become carried away with its importance.
This is why yoga has many aspects.
Devotion (Bhakti) to something bigger than yourself stops the ego taking ownership of the ultimate reality.
By serving others (Karma) selflessly it also reduces the ego’s involvement.
It Depends on Your Point Of View
Whether you answer yes or no the the question, is yoga a form of worship? it will depend on your point of view.
It comes down to a persons opinion and preferences on how they want to see yoga. If you want to see it as a Hindu faith thing, then you will. If you want to see it as a tool to help you connect with your true self then that is what you will do.
Yoga uses Sanskrit words as well as mantras and sounds such as “Om.” People can confuse this for a religious worship. Om is considered to be the primordial sound for the beginning of the universe,. it does not need religious conations or bringing god into it if you do not want. It is not needed.
Mantras are a way of quietening the mind. Again you can see them as chanting for a deity as well.
Using prayer hands is a way of pointing back at oneself higher self.
So you can see, there are different ways to look at the same thing.
Christianity and Yoga Idol Worship
Jesus said, I and the father are one. You can interpret this in many ways, however what ever you interpret it will be based on your own biases and what you want to believe.
Unless you have obtained union or oneness , you cannot speak with authority, you can only interpret what someone else says.
Some priests are fine with yoga, others say it is idolatry. Some say there is an equivalent of kundalini awakening in Christianity others say it invites demonic forces.
The second bunch, see yoga as worshiping deities like Shiva and see nothing else because it fits nicely into their idea of idol worship.
Many see it as just a physical exercise that helps you relax and get healthy. Those that see it as Idol worship and will find passages in the bible to confirm that.
Others see the similarities between the idea’s in Hinduism such as – Sat Chit Ananda to the Christian description of the godhead of father-son-holy spirit.
It depends on their up bringing and beliefs.
Is Yoga a Form of Worship? -Eastern and Western Thinking
When I first started writing this article, I looked at others articles. I saw the long articles were Christians trying to work out weather yoga is allowed or not. They see the poses and religious poses and wonder if yoga is a form of worship.
There is a fundamental difference in the western mind and eastern minds way of looking at god and our own consciousness.
Eastern thinking looks back inwards to find answers and the western mind looks outwards to a god to give them answers.
I suggest when you take each approach to it’s furthest aspect they end up in the same place.
Looking deeply with in you find an endless mystery and looking out you find the same.
Those Christian who are open to eastern way of thinking will see parallels with some of the sayings of the bibles and what Jesus Christ says and what he represents in us.
Those who only look at the bible from a western dualistic perspective will see no connection.
Some have suggested there should be Christian yoga. This is not only unnecessary but misses the meaning of yoga.
If you want to start yoga as Christian contact a certified yoga instructor and speak to them about any concerns you have. Modern yoga practice has many styles that have little to do with religious beliefs or spiritual practices.
The reverence a Hindu might give to a Shiva, is it really different to the reverence a catholic gives to Mary?
Is yoga form of worship?
Yoga means Union. It means going beyond the separate self and seeing the oneness of the universe.
It says, there is no inner or outer , all is one.
Yoga has different paths, one of the paths is bhakti yoga. This is the path of devotion. You surrender or devote your practice to a deity or something higher than yourself. The purpose of this is to take you beyond yourself and see that you are not the ego.
In the yoga sutras, it starts of by saying notice the difference between the seer and the seen. This brings your attention to the seer, i.e. it reverses our gaze from outwards to inwards. The purpose is for it to lead you to see that the seer and the seen are the same. And as is states in the sutras , they both dissolve into oneness.
Ultimately it will come down to how you see yoga. Your upbringing and your own ability to see deeper within yourself. For many they will not be able to go beyond what they see. They will see the world as a material thing only. In which they are born into and die.
That is all fine. But yoga is not the same as religious worship unless you want it to be.
It’s a personal journey and that is part of it’s beauty. If you want a formalised religious practices those are beautiful as well.