There is a school district in Encinitas, CA that received a grant from the Pattabhi Jois foundation to bring twice weekly yoga classes to the students. According to the superintendent, it was part of a mainstream physical education program to promote fitness and overall health to the students in the district.
Some parents were angry about it claiming that the school was pushing a religion on the kids.
Yoga is not a religion. It is actually a philosophy. A way to train the body and mind to become aware of the self. It is also a spiritual practice, if you choose to use it as such. The most common use for yoga in the United States, I would guess, would be as a physical practice. To get in better shape, build strength, tone, and flexibility.
What's great about yoga is that it allows YOU to decide what purpose it will serve. It is open to all, no matter what God you believe in or don't believe in.
So what is the difference between religion and spirituality?
Spirituality is a way of discovering our true nature and finding a connection between ourselves and all that surrounds us. This can help us to find a deeper meaning to life. Spirituality and Religion each promote qualities of kindness, compassion, community, and service.
To me, religion is spirituality in a structured setting. It has specific traditions and teachings that create rituals for people to follow. This can be good and help people to find connection, support and community, as well as an institution that they feel committed to and responsible for. If it becomes too rigid, however, religion can create division and separation between institutions and people.
The earliest spiritual teachers like Jesus and Buddha didn't attempt to create a religion. They didn't say , "do exactly as I say" or "my way is the only way!", instead they encouraged people to look within to find their own truth.
So if you feel a bit separated from your religion, or you are wondering how yoga fits in to your spiritual life, you can use yoga to enhance your personal beliefs and spiritual nature. Each time you come to your mat to practice, you are making a commitment to discover your perfect and Divine self.
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