Is yoga fundamentally a religious activity? Whether that is compatible with Christianity, Islam, Sikh, and other religions is unsettled. Yoga can be thought of variously as a science, a philosophy, a spiritual and a physical practice.
Traditionally, yoga is the science of the Self. Yoga seeks to help us understand our inner world through various techniques that include med¬itation, asanas, breathing, focused awareness, and certain rules of behavior and conduct. Yoga is a system of practices for the development of human potential. It attempts to stimulate our nature’s optimal fulfillment.
Yoga is a practical aid. Yoga is an ancient art based on a harmonizing system of development for the body, mind, and spirit. The continued practice of yoga will lead to a sense of peace and well-being, and also a feeling of being at one with their environment. The practice of yoga makes the body strong and flexible, it also improves the functioning of the respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and hormonal systems. Yoga brings about emotional stability and clarity of mind.
What is Religion, Philosophy? The question is not easy to answer. Everybody knows what religion is before you ask them. But if you ask them what religion is, they will find it very hard to define. The English word “religion” is derived from the Middle English “religioun” which came from the Old French “religion.” It may have been originally derived from the Latin word “religo” which means “good faith,” “ritual,” and other similar meanings. Or it may have come from the Latin “religâre” which means “to tie fast,” or “bind together.” Thus religion is an organized system of faith or worship. It is a ritualized form of spirituality involving a specific set of beliefs, worship and conduct. Fortunately, the vast majority of people who explore yoga actually discover that it strengthens and deepens their own faith.
Philosophy too is an Organisation, this time, of mental activity and thoughts into systems or concepts. It is a philosophy that began in India an estimated 5,000 years ago. Yoga sometimes interweaves other philosophies such as Hinduism or Buddhism, but it is not necessary to study those paths in order to practice or study yoga.
There are still a lot of misconceptions about Yoga, for instance, Yoga being a religion. Yoga is more of a set of techniques for us to find spirituality. In fact, Yoga is being practiced by a lot of people from different religions like Christians, Jewish, Buddhists, and Muslims. As a spiritual and physical practice, yoga is a positive and comprehensive approach to holistic health through the integration of body, mind, and spirit; as such, it is a valuable instrument to promote one’s spiritual well-being.
There is a myth that one must be Hindu or Buddhist to practice yoga. It is quite true, Yoga has historically been associated with India’s three great religious-cultural traditions—Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. But one must understand that Yoga aids all who practice religion, regardless of their persuasion, by balancing the nervous system and stilling the mind through its various exercises. Many modern-day Christians hang out with Jesus on Sunday and then go about their lives for the rest of the week, leaving Jesus back at church. Yoga proposes that Christians keep Christ in the center of every part of our lives by practicing yoga. The goal is wholeness: mind, body, spirit and soul.
Let us be realistic. One do not have to be Brazilian to do Zumba, one do not have to be Buddhist to practice Japanese martial arts of karate and aikido and one do not have to be a Hindu to practice yoga. So, practitioners of any other religious tradition should take from yoga what makes sense to them and deepens their own faith and spiritual commitment.
Yoga is fabulous for physical health. A regular regimen will strengthen our muscles, increase our flexibility and improve our balance. In Western cultures, many people pursue the practice strictly for these benefits. However, most long-term yoga participants discover that the ultimate goal of yoga is to strengthen our connection with the source of all creation. In many cultures, this source is called God. In other cultures, the source has different names. Regardless of our religious beliefs, the practice of yoga enhances our physical and mental well-being and can strengthen our relationship to the Divine God.