One of the local synagogues posted an announcement recently about Yoga classes in the memory of the deceased, as if Yoga has replaced Torah as a way to raise his soul (le’ilui nismat). Here again we have popular culture entering unseen and modifying our basic assumptions. It also shows openness to a foreign culture/ another religion that passes under the radar. That yoga is now a practice that one can dedicate the way one dedicates mishnayot is fascinating, syncretism found in the oddest places.
Shalom Yoga with BNOT – Tuesday nights at 8:00 PM sharp in the Bnai Yeshurun Social Hall (Rabbi Steven Pruzansky]. Classes are dedicated to the memory of ———-.
American Yoga of the 1950’s was a form of calisthenics desiccated of its Indian origins, the new age brought some of the religion back into it and now the training of Yoga teachers in ashrams in India-or even MA programs in India- restore yoga to its original context. Any given yoga class can fall anywhere on the spectrum
Recently, the San Diego County Superior Court said, on July, 1, 2013, that kids taught yoga in school would not be aware of the religious elements, so it does not violate religion in a Public School- see here and here. I assume the synagogue accepts the court’s reasoning. On the other hand, the Hindu American Foundation while applauding the decision for distinguishing between two types of yoga, as a physical exercise and as a holistic spiritual path. Nevertheless advocates for Hindus in America to “Take Back Yoga” and generally find these kitschy titles like “Shalom Yoga” to be offensive. As a side point, we are now watching how Hinduism, like Judaism, which declares itself an entire way of life fit itself into the American Protestant concepts of religion.
And here is the article by Tzvi Freidman that went missing from Chabad.org when the BT’s went after him.
Is Yoga kosher? By Tzvi Freeman
Is yoga considered an idolatrous practice because it started out as a Hindu practice? What if one meditates on words of Torah or Psalms while practicing yoga?
We’ve been getting this question quite a bit lately, most likely due to all the “Kosher Yoga” classes sprouting up.
The short answer is, no it is not prohibited. If it would be, the marathon, too, would be prohibited. So would wine and meat. In fact, so would any benefit from the sun, the moon, the ocean, the wind, fire and air, water and earth–all would have to be outlawed, since all of these have been either the object or device of pagan worship.
But they are all still kosher. Why? Because, as the Talmud rhetorically asks, “Because of fools, should we destroy G‑d’s world?”
Meaning that G‑d put all these things here with a function and a purpose. Unlike the idols and temples erected by idolaters, they were here before Adam was created. It was the mistake of Adam’s offspring to consider them autonomous beings—but that in no way changes the purpose for which G‑d made them.
The same with Yoga: When G‑d created the human being, He made innate to this creature’s nature that he would be able to stretch and relax in ways that would provide him greater resilience and mastery over his own body. While the Hellenists were running marathons and the Chinese were developing martial arts, the people in India developed this art of Yoga–each people according to their particular climate and social structure. It was inevitable that each culture associated these discoveries to their beliefs–just as they had associated wine and feasting. But because of this, should we outlaw a benefit G‑d placed purposely in His world for us?
Solomon the Wise wrote, “He made everything fit for its time.” Everything G‑d put in this world is necessary, nothing is extra. If the benefits of Yoga exist, it means that at some point in time people will need them—for good purposes, for the purposes for which we were created, to bring us and our world closer to our Creator and to an active connection with Him.
The same applies to those forms of meditation that can be useful in developing the mind and in relaxation. All of these must be used, stripped of their association with Hindu deities and the like, for the purpose for which they were originally placed in the world–to better serve its Creator and know Him in all our ways.
(It’s worthwhile to note that the true Hindu masters recognized that there is truly only a single oneness behind all of reality. Their mistake was principally in their presentation to the common people, allowing them to be misled into worship of literally hundreds of deities. Maimonides discusses this at length in the first chapter of his Laws of Idolatry.)
In Yoga, there are a few postures and sequences that are difficult to strip of their Hindu context. I’m thinking in particular of a sequence called the “sun salute.” None of these are indispensable.
In Transcendental Meditation, a commercialized hodge-podge of Hindu techniques and ideas, the initiated are assigned “secret” mantras. These are actually names of Hindu deities and are assigned according to age and gender. A Jew is prohibited from any mention of such names. But again, these can be replaced with kosher chants.
In general, any of these practices to the extreme will be detrimental. They have a place in healing, attuning and empowering the human being. But they must not be made an end in themselves. The Torah teaches us that a soul is sent into this world to act, to create change, to transform the physical reality–not to escape it. If any of these practices assists you to do so, good. But when they become a means of escape, disassociation or “transcendence” of this reality in which we have been placed, they become counter-productive–and often psychologically hazardous.
You suggested meditating on words of Torah while practicing Yoga. However, much of Yoga practice demands releasing the mind from attachment and focus, while at other times, the focus is directed toward the activity at hand. My suggestion is that you immerse your mind in Torah study before practicing Yoga, so that thoughts of Torah will be ringing around in your mind spontaneously as you practice. The Rebbe gave this advice to someone whose doctor advised him to exercise each day.
Since, as I wrote, many people are asking this question, I hope you don’t mind if we post this answer for all to read. Undoubtedly, we’ll get some more suggestions on kosherizing Yoga.