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Is Yoga a Religion?

As the courts debate yoga in schools, Deepak Chopra, Cyndi Lee, and more weigh in on this ongoing dispute.

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Luminaries from the yoga community weigh in on whether yoga is a religion, secular, spiritual—or all of the above.

“To answer this question, I look to the roots of yoga. Traditionally, yoga is the science of the Self. Yoga seeks to help us understand our inner world through various techniques that include med­itation, asanas, breathing, focused awareness, and certain rules of behavior and conduct. If by religion we mean the religious experience of transcendence, the loss of fear of death, and the emergence of platonic qualities such as truth, beauty, goodness, harmony, and evolution, then yes, yoga can give us a religious experience. It is not religion in the form of ideology, dogma, belief systems, or compliance; it’s a spiritual experience that gives us access to a universal domain of reality.”

Deepak Chopra, MD, Founder of The Chopra Foundation, author, public speaker, physician, La Jolla, California

“Yoga, though not a religion in the traditional sense, was adopted and utilized by every religious tradition that emerged from Vedic India, including Buddhism and Hinduism. Yoga lays out the means to overcome suffering and achieve self-realization. For those with a theological orientation, that could be rephrased as, ‘To overcome suffering and achieve God-realization.'”

—Gary Kraftsow, Founder and director of the American Viniyoga Institute in Oakland, California

“We have been born. We will die. In the meantime, what do we do with this life? Yoga offers us a darshana: a view or approach to engaging this question with our whole self, body, breath, and mind. Yoga teaches us that we can live in intimate relationship with all that is, and it provides practices to help us recognize and eliminate the obstacles to doing that. Religion? Maybe. For sure, yoga is goodness and beauty.”

Cyndi LeeAuthor of Yoga Body, Buddha Mind, Lynchburg, Virginia

“My practice doesn’t frame yoga as a religion, as I think that invites a bias that belies the great possibilities of yoga: liberation from dogma and from entrenched ideas about the Self and the world. But is the practice of yoga spiritual? For me, absolutely—it’s the ground from which I cultivate wonder and generosity. And the ritualistic aspect can guide us into intimacy with ourselves and others that we might not otherwise find.”

—Sarah Trelease, Yoga Journal reader and co-director of Practice and Presence: Integrated Yoga Teacher Trainings in Portland, Oregon

“There is something irreplaceable about the group dynamic with yoga, something I think organized religion provides at its very best. It is this sense of community that gives yoga a religious element, but one that is not bogged down in the rules of how you must follow it.”

—Doug Schnitzspahn, Yoga Journal reader and editor of Elevation Outdoors, Boulder, Colorado

For more on the debate, read Yoga Journal’s 2012 story, Yoga As a Religion?

Something on your mind? Send us your questions to start the discussion at