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Reconcilable Differences

The question on everyone's mind: Does yoga conflict with my religion?

By Alan Reder

Kripalu's Jonathan Foust is less concerned about yoga's integrity in the current climate. "On one level," he says, "people are attracted to yoga for physical health, which is totally fine. But my feeling is that as we practice, something awakens inside us. Each one of us in our own way is seeking our own path. And I agree that there's a difference between digging one well and digging deep and digging many wells and perhaps not reaching water. But there's that great saying that seeking your path is the path, and I think that yoga can be a tremendous tool for finding one's own path."

The New Universalism

Despite the fears of many religious authorities, yoga is rarely taught in America in such a way that would seduce students away from their religious faith. Not only would that be disrespectful, it would be bad marketing. It is both kinder and smarter to meet people where they are spiritually, as Kripalu and other major yoga centers figured out long ago.

Still, yoga is affecting how religion is practiced in America—for the better, in the minds of many progressive religious leaders. Where once yoga was an add-on for spiritually adventurous worshippers of Western faiths, true cross-fertilization is now taking place between yoga and other traditions. Myriam Klotz and M'eshyah Albert teach yoga within a Jewish context at retreat centers such as Elat Chayyim in the Catskills. Matthew Fox draws freely from yoga and the whole array of worldwide mystical teachings in his work at the Oakland, California-based University of Creation Spirituality, which he founded and heads.

Yoga is even becoming entwined with another Eastern practice popular in the West, Buddhist mindfulness meditation. Major players such as Kripalu and the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California, are now dialoguing about possible collaborations. Anna Douglas has pioneered the use of yoga to complement mindfulness meditation at Spirit Rock. From the yoga side, Kripalu's Stephen Cope, author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self (Bantam, 1999), has proclaimed the benefits of mindfulness techniques for yoga students.

The message, observes Sheila Weinberg, is that each tradition has something to teach the other. Religion has done damage as well as good, she says, "so we have to find the life-giving aspects of all the traditions." Yoga is one of those aspects. "The major goal for everybody," she adds, "is to move into a spirituality that is grounded, that's embodied, that is practiced, that works."

Contributing Editor Alan Reder is the author or coauthor of five books. His article on meditation appeared in YJ's January/February 01 issue.

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Reader Comments


And what if you're a nontheist? How do we reconcile our knowledge and spirituality with all of the references to a "deity" that always seem to appear in my yoga reading? There is always a reference to "god" in relation to the spirituality found in yoga. Am I missing something?

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