"Shoot!" (Q & A)

The Ascent Question & Answer Forum

conducted by Yrachmiel Tilles, Editor of the Ascent Quarterly


"I am interested to hear what you have to say about Yoga as a physical exercise and mind-centering activity. Is it kosher for Jews? (I'm discussing the poses and movements, not the meditations.) Supposedly it has physical and mental benefits. Is the practice of the poses inextricably linked to Indian religious beliefs or are they harmless in and of themselves?"

A (by guest speaker GUTMAN LOCKS):

I am often asked this question, in various different forms. It seems that "religious" Jews who practice yoga want to continue practicing it, no matter what. Even if everyone agrees that yoga is not merely physical exercises, still, they insist that they are just exercising their body so it is alright. Here again we see that they are fooling themselves and are actually participating in the spiritual practice of Hinduism which is a main form of idolatry in the world today.

The physical techniques and postures are not the problem; it is their association with yoga that is the problem. "Yoga" is a treif (not kosher) word; it is a branch of religions that promote idolatry. As long as you are doing "yoga" you are involved with Hinduism. But just touching your toes and standing on your head is obviously not problematic.

As long as you are doing "yoga" you are involved with Hinduism. You cannot take yoga out of Hinduism. It is like trying to take the rosary out of catholicism.
But why take my word for it? I know that a lot of people feel that because of my background I've gone to the opposite extreme. Here is a governmental ruling in the USA, followed by a declaration from the Yoga masters themselves.

Last week the New York Tax authority announced (emphasis mine) that since yoga is primarily a spiritual practice and not just physical exercise they are no longer going to tax the yoga studios.

And this week the Yoga Journal Newsletter writes (emphasis mine):

"Today, many yoga practitioners assert that yoga is not a religion in their minds. This begs the question: If hatha (exercise) yoga is not a religion, what is it? Is it a hobby, a sport, a fitness regimen, a recreational activity? Or is it a discipline, such as the study of law or the practice of medicine? The odd truth is that there are ways in which the practice of yoga resembles all of those pursuits.

"Perhaps it would be helpful to consider the difference between the word "religion" and another word commonly associated with it, "spirituality." Spirituality, it could be said, has to do with one's interior life, the ever-evolving understanding of one's self and one's place in the cosmos-humankind's "search for meaning." Religion, on the other hand, can be seen as spirituality's external counterpart, the organizational structure we give to our individual and collective spiritual processes: the rituals, doctrines, prayers, chants, and ceremonies, and the congregations that come together to share them.

"The fact that so many yogis report spiritual experiences in their practices indicates how we might best view the ancient art. While many Westerners come to yoga primarily for its health benefits, it seems safe to say that most people who open to yoga will, in time, find its meditative qualities and more subtle effects on the mind and emotions equally (if not more) beneficial. They will, in other words, come to see yoga as a spiritual practice. But, without credos or congregations, it can't properly be regarded as a religion-unless we say that each yogi and yogini comprises a religion of one."

Do you agree that we have clarified the issue at the source?

Gutman Locks, an important presence for English-speakers at the Western Wall and in the Old City of Jerusalem, was once upon a time known as "Guru Gil." Based on his attainments after years in India, he had hundreds of followers who accompanied him on journeys throughout North, Central and South America. Read all about it in his autobiography, "Return to Earth." Available, along with some cool videos and other goodies, at //ThereIsOne.com

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