by Ali Valdez
Yoga is a science, not a religion. At first ask, this is my reply. I see the practice of yoga something to be experienced, but also science, an analytical pursuit or technique for making spiritual inquiry.
Derived thousands of years ago from Shamanic traditions and birthed through more bodily means by Hinduism, we have seen yoga evolve and become a convergence point for many Asian religions, also being inclusive of Jain and Buddhist principles with a host of lineages to follow. Yoga as most of us practice it doesn’t require indoctrination into any of these particular cultural, religious or ideological systems but when reading Book I of the Sutras (a critical pivot on the science of yoga and by no means a definitive one), yoga does facilitate teachings for getting closer to God, or divine essence.
It seems all world religions, for the most part have two main tenants: a) a collection of codified social and communal ethics that tend to be consistent across religious systems and maintain order across societies: concepts like do not kill, do not lie are universal truths; b) a hierarchical pathway to communion with God, or the Supreme, which entails some level of mysticism or esotericism that requires explanation to the average layperson and therefore a degree of authority and power of those in charge. Each tradition tends to hold up an example of attainment of perfection in the forms of Jesus Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, Mahavira, Rama, etc.
Dust off the cover of that Easwaran translation of the Upanishads that you know you never read during your 200 hour teacher training, and learn about a group of guys, some Brahminical, with a thirst for authentic connection and a desire for deeper knowledge of themselves applying their bodies, minds and spirits to the pursuit of understanding the how. They were test rats in the science lab of humanity with a hunger for God. In some respects, they were willing to break or defy those communal and societal structures to gain access to what was kept profanely objectified from afar. The early yogis as any seeker, bless them all, attempted many times, many ways testing limits of the body, the tenacity of spirit and recalibrating the threshold of the mind.
Each Springtime, my daughter is invited to participate in her school’s Science Fair. This is almost a step by step format for the yogis of old and why I see yoga as science and not religion because the true yogi is about universal truth with a capacity for expressing it in divine love and not about being arbiters of the hidden truth.
There is no moksha, or liberation with the iron fist of control.
Most sacred traditions are now being more broadly shared and not kept up at altitude in the monastery. It is important not to confuse maintaining integrity of the teachings until the student is ready to receive and some of the abuse of power we have seen when religions shut down, mutating into stagnant dogma, instead of continually evolving like yoga, a keen attribute of the advancement of science. This is not about a critique of contemporary religious thought, but a reflection on how yoga feels, acts, moves and breathes like a science.
This glimmering fluid entity is for those ready to make inquiry and use the engagement of yogic principles to connect to the precious tangible outputs of body and breath as a springboard into the unknown and unseen. Have you taken the jump yet? If not, no worries; in yoga, there is no splat.