Is Yoga a Religion – The Case of the “Downward Dogma”
The question of whether yoga is a religion has recently become more than a topic for intellectual and spiritual debate. A California judge will actually have to make a ruling in the “Downward Dogma” lawsuit filed by parents Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock. The Sedlocks – insisting that yoga is a religion – filed the lawsuit after the school’s physical education program was replaced with Ashtanga yoga classes. The issue originated when the KP Jois Foundations gifted the Encinitas School District $500,000 to fund their health and wellness programs. The foundation says its curriculum “uses the techniques of yoga, meditation, and proper nutrition to create a positive lifestyle change” for students.
I don’t know about you but yoga, meditation, proper nutrition, and positive lifestyle change sounds like health and wellness to me. I’ve personally practiced yoga for over 25 years and the benefits of the practice have helped me maintain my ideal weight, reduced stress, sleep better, have more energy, and age more gracefully.
Because of all the positive benefits I gained from my practice, I decided to become a certified yoga teacher and a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapists. With my training I’ve been able to help transform other people’s lives with these incredible healing modalities. My only regret is that I didn’t start practicing yoga earlier in my life. Introducing yoga at an early age when children’s bodies are still so flexible could keep their joints and ligaments more supple. And even prevent a lot of health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis later in life.
Today more health-care professionals recommend a multidisciplinary, approach to the treatment of ADD and Autism which includes a combination of mind-body approaches, such as biofeedback, neurofeedback, and yoga.
Yoga Teachers Elizabeth Rowen and Rachel Greb, owner/founder of YogaSprouts in Athens, Georgia are successfully helping children with Autism and their families with yoga. Here’s their combined list of the 7 Benefits of yoga for kids with Autism:
- Yoga develops motor skills
- Yoga improves confidence and social skills
- Yoga provides sensory integration
- Yoga provides coping techniques to both kids and parents
- Yoga facilitates self-awareness
- Yoga engages the emotional brain
- Yoga is orderly and consistent
I know I’m biased because of all the health benefits I’ve derived from the physical aspects of yoga. I believe the confusion with yoga and religion is more about semantics. I don’t consider yoga a religion. However, for me it is a spiritual practice. Anyone can practice yoga and still maintain their own religious preferences.
One day during my yoga teacher training, I remember someone asking my yoga teacher Saradevi“ Will I have to stop smoking to practice yoga?” Saradevi replied “No, but when you start practicing yoga, you may decide to stop smoking.” That would be one of the positive lifestyle changes the KP Jois Foundations was offering the Encinitas School District. Maybe offering yoga to school children would create positive lifestyle choices and prevent a lot of young people from ever starting to smoke.
I’ll close this post with the words of Ganga White, Founder of the White Lotus Foundation. If yoga can create this kind of mindset, aren’t these the values we want to instill in our children?
“What if religion was each other?
If our practice was our life?
If prayer was our words?
What if the temple was the earth?
If forests were our church?
If holy water – the rivers, lakes, and oceans?
What if meditation was our relationships?
If the Teacher was life?
If wisdom was self-knowledge?
If love was the center of our being.”
-Ganga White | Founder of the White Lotus Foundation
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