Yoga as Secular
Yoga is a philosophy about how to slow down the racings of the mind. While it is not religious on its own, it is a part of Hindu religious practices. As well, it was traditionally taught by the Brahmin or Priestly caste. It was their responsibility to study and pass down the cultural, philosophical, and religious traditions. As such, there may be concern as to whether yoga is religious or not. Another area of confusion is that, in the West, many Eastern religious and spiritual symbols have been incorporated into the culture of Yoga.
This blurring of lines may concern many practitioners – those who practice the Eastern traditions and those who do not.
Be clear, in clinic I focus on a secular practice to help clear the mind, and reconnect with the body. So here is some info to help you know where to draw the line in your personal practice.
The OM Symbol
For Hindus and Buddhists, the OM symbol is sacred religious symbol, much like the Cross for Christians, the Star of David for Jews, and the Star and Crescent for Islam.
The sound of OM (AUM) is chanted before and during the recitation of of spiritual texts and prayers.
It is also used in a non-religious way in Yoga as a focus of meditation.
For more information on the chanting of OM - check out this episode from CBC tapestry:
As in many spiritual traditions, chanting often used to help focus the mind. It is in essence the yoga of sound. Again, one should understand the meaning and be comfortable with what one is chanting.
Mantras are spiritual chants based on vedic philosophy. Recited in the Sanskrit language, they have a strong vibrational component which positively effects the body, mind and spirit. Sanskrit chants are often also recited by practicing Hindus. As such, there maybe some concern over whether chants are religious or just spiritual. For example, one may say “Namaha” for letting things go, or “Shanti” for establishing peace. When one chants “ Om Shanti Shanti Shantih” one in saying “Om, Peace, Peace, Peace.” It is a Sanskrit chant often recited at the end of recitation of Vedic Passages. It may also be used at the end of a prayer to extend wishes of peace. To be clear, in prayer, Hindus would say “Jai!” in the same context as Christians use “Amen.”
Scientific studies are showing that chanting helps calm the Vagus nerve and our emotional "limbic" brain. If you are at all concerned about chanting as a form of meditation, inform your instructor, and do what is most comfortable for you. Yoga is an individual spiritual practice, which does not require you to focus on God or religion. Again, the focus should be on what is spiritually uplifting for you.
Kirtan is the singing of religious and spiritual hymns in a "sing and call back" manner. A major part of most Hindu worship ceremonies, Kirtan is now becoming popular in the Yoga Community.
We all know the power of music and listenig to spiritual music. Many of us enjoy Gospel Music, and we are aware that these songs are related to the Christian faith. Please note that if you are singing Kirtan, that you are singing religious songs of praise, and that they deserve respect as such.