Why is yoga so controversial? A university in Canada cancelled classes because they believed the practice to be culturally appropriating; a school in Alabama stopped kids from doing yoga at school because parents thought it was a satanic practice. Where is all this fear coming from?
The cultural or spiritual roots of any practice certainly can inform its iteration in any setting, but centuries of modification proves that people have a tendency to get out of an act whatever they expect. What if we looked at the roots of Christmas or Easter, the holiest of times on the Christian calendar? Turns out those days were originally celebrations of an entirely different religion, and were turned into Christian celebrations much later. How has Halloween evolved into a sugar-fest for store-bought-costume-clad children when it was once a time to mourn the dead? Traditions evolve, and yoga is no different.
Many Westerners are discovering that the spiritual aspect of yoga complements every faith and culture. Mindfulness, compassion for self and others, respect for the Earth – these are tenets that make any faith or philosophy richer and their followers better human beings.
Aside from the spiritual aspect of yoga, which you can choose to observe or ignore, the physical and psychological benefits are undeniable. Strength, balance, flexibility, and focus result from an intentional practice. Yoga has been used to complement treatments for PTSD, mental health issues, grieving, general stress, and more. It’s like a vitamin to a healthy diet. When used correctly, it can’t hurt, and often increases the benefits of other types of therapy and exercise. And faith.
If you’re concerned about how yoga would impact your own spirituality, do some research. There are thousands of practitioners out there who will tell you it only serves to make them more committed to their own faiths, more mindful of their daily commitment, and better people. There is no place for fear in faith – take the leap onto the yoga mat with confidence and an open mind.