One time, at the end of a class I had just finished teaching, a student came up to me and said, "I'm so glad you don't chant in your classes. I'm not open to summoning the devil." I stood there with my mouth open completely unaware of how to respond.
It is my intention in this blog post to dispel some mythology around yoga and religion. Many readers will not agree with what I believe. Please understand that this is okay and that we are both perfectly entitled to our own opinions. Nevertheless, I think it is important to note that if you don't understand, please don't misunderstand.
On another note, I've just returned from a vacation in Europe which ended with Sunday Mass at the Vatican. I was blessed by Pope Francis (along with about 2000 other people) and deeply appreciated all the time he spent driving around in his Popemobile acknowledging everyone who attended the service (I'm not being sarcastic here; he drives around in a car after the service waving at everyone for a VERY long time considering his age and the very hot temperature of the day). It was this experience that inspired me to write this post as I believe in a world connected by love, not fear.
None of the yoga postures, Sanskrit words, or yogic stories will make you less of a Christian/Catholic/Protestant/etc. The practice of yoga comes from ancient India. The names of postures are often animals or legendary Indian heroes that may also be featured in Hindu and Buddhist religious practices due to the geographic nature of India. However, the connection between the two ends there.
Yoga does not encourage the practitioner to prescribe to a specific God or gods. Instead, it applauds self-exploration and a belief in interconnectedness. Much like the Ten Commandments, yoga practitioners are encouraged to practice a set of moral observances like non-violence and non-stealing, as well as truthfulness and cleanliness.
So here's the clincher: if you already have a spiritual or religious practice, yoga will actually help to deepen this practice through the teachings of simple awareness. The cool thing about yoga is that nothing in the modern literature goes against any religious practices (so anyone can do it without fear!). Instead, it encourages spiritual development in any capacity and due to this, many yoga practitioners have actually come to adopt a religion like Christianity. I have an experienced yoga teacher who, having never prescribed to any church, has recently started attending a local church simply because he feels the teachings make his yoga practice richer. That being said, to practice yoga you do not need to prescribe to a specific spiritual belief or take on a religious doctrine. Yoga is about having the heart of an explorer; it is about getting present to the nature of the mind and being open to wherever the mind goes.
I truly hope this helps to dispel any myths that my (and your) community may have. Remember, love before fear. And if you don't understand, please don't misunderstand.