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Teaching Hatha Yoga: Religion and Western Culture

Paul M. Jerard Jr.
Aug 17, 2007
When you teach Hatha Yoga, you are asked many questions. Although public awareness of Yoga, and its teachings, has increased, many people are just discovering some of the benefits within the many styles of Yoga. Therefore, you have to be prepared for the unexpected questions that arise about the mysteries of Yoga.

Once in a while, the question of religion does come up. Many times, Yoga teachers are asked if they are a Hindu, Sikh, or Buddhist. To the public's amazement, many Yoga teachers come from all of the major religions in the world. There is no single religion that all Yoga teachers participate in.

How can this be? Some Gurus preach that Yoga should be founded within a particular religion. Some Yoga teachers read the Rig Veda, Bhagavad Gita, and speak Sanskrit words, so they must be covertly teaching Hinduism, or some other religion, right? Wrong - some Yoga teachers do teach religion in their classes, and some do not.

If your Yoga teacher has the Vedas, Torah, New Testament, Holy Quran, and the Gnostic Gospels, in his or her library, what does that mean? It means that your Yoga teacher likes to read, study, and does not have a closed mind. That is all it means, unless your Yoga teacher preaches religion as part of his or her practice.

If a Yoga teacher does preach religion within Yoga classes, this should be easy enough to see and hear. In Yoga studios that reside in the Americas and Europe, this may not be what most Hatha Yoga students are seeking. Each student has the right to leave, but the public should be made aware that a Yoga studio is conducting religious classes.

Many of these potential Yoga students are not seeking religious conversion, religious instruction, and live in a culture with a strict separation of religion from government. This means that religion in the West is often compartmentalized.

For example: If a concerned doctor recommends Yoga to a patient with back problems - the patient is not being referred to a Yoga studio for religious instruction.

Therefore, if you teach a form of religious Yoga in the West, be honest about it. Most students, from western cultures, are in Hatha Yoga classes for the physical and mental aspects.

If you want to teach Yoga as spiritual health, get the proper training first, and give the public "fair warning." Teaching good virtues is one thing, but teaching religion to your Yoga students is quite another. This is the "line in the sand" that some Yoga teachers should never forget.

The answers to spiritual enlightenment are within all religions, but it is up to Yoga students to pursue their own religion and find the answers to their spiritual health. There is no single "man made path" to spiritual health, enlightenment, or union. This is a myth that, as a species, we never seem to learn.

Throughout our history, Holy wars are always justified by both sides. Of course, the other side is always less human, less understanding, evil, and ignorant of the true path. "The world would be a better pace without the unbelievers;" is always a good battle cry.

Religion is too volatile a subject to discuss within a multi-cultural Hatha Yoga class. Therefore, if you are going to mix any religion with Yoga practice, it should be taught within a sectarian atmosphere.

Copyright 2006 - Paul Jerard / Aura Publications
About the Author
Paul Jerard is director of Yoga teacher training at Aura in RI. He's a master instructor of martial arts and Yoga. He teaches that along with fitness. He wrote: Is Running a Yoga Business Right for You? For Yoga students who want to be a teacher.

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