I just read this very interesting article titled "Is Yoga Kosher?" written by Taffy Brodesser-Akner in Tablet, an online magazine on Jewish life and culture. Her article speaks to me because as a religious person (I'm a Buddhist), I am also constantly questioning and trying to work out the relationship between yoga and the particular religious faith I adhere to. But perhaps more significantly, her article speaks to me because I sense a certain honesty there: She sees no easy answers to the question of how to reconcile the apparent tensions between the orthodox Judaism of which she is an adherent and the yoga practice which she clearly loves, and does not attempt to give any pat answers to her ongoing struggle at the time of writing the article.
There is a particular passage in the article which I personally find very illuminating. At one point in the article, Brodesser-Akner cites the views of Srinivasan, a senior Sivananda yoga teacher, on the relationship between yoga and religion:
“Yoga is not a religion, but a science of
religion,” he [Srinivasan] explained. “It applies to all religions. It’s not that
yoga comes from Hinduism. Hinduism originates in yoga. Buddhism comes
from yoga, too... There is yoga in every religion...
“Yoga means ‘union’ or ‘absolute consciousness’ with God... Yoga is beyond words or
institution... Don’t confuse the map for the actual place... God is everywhere. There is no conflict here. There is respect for that
diversity. To explain God is to limit God.”
Based on my personal experience, I wholeheartedly agree with Srinivasan's words here: A couple of years ago, I wrote about how my yoga practice helped me to not believe the negative voices in my head, and in this way, become a more effective Buddhist.
But here's a rather simplistic image that I use to conceptualize the relationship between yoga and religion: If we think of a religion as a vehicle that gets you to truth, yoga is the self-care/operation manual that tells you how best to operate the vehicle so as to get the most mileage out of it and at the same time keep the driver (that's you) in the best possible shape while enduring the rigors of this long journey (remember asana? :-)). So whether you are a Buddhist, Christian, Jew, Muslim, or an adherent of whatever other religion there is on this planet, you can use yoga. Give it a shot.