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Spirituality vs. Religion

Spirituality vs. Religion

Often times a yoga instructor will be told someone cannot participate in yoga because of their religion. It is important to offer a class that is free of religion so that it is inclusive of all that may want to come. Assure the student that in yoga we connect to our higher selves – whatever that means to each of us. It is between the student and their mat.

How do we leave religion out of it?

While yoga finds its roots in the Vedas, the fundamental scriptures of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, it is, put simply, a practice. All religious connotations can be avoided by focusing on the physical practice.

Using western terminology, e.g. English names of postures – “downward dog” vs. “adho mukha svanasana", western music – instrumental tracks vs. chanting, “positive affirmations” vs “mantras.” This can create a more comfortable environment for highly religious individuals.

When to incorporate spirituality into it?

Yoga can be viewed as many things: a science, a philosophy, and a spiritual and physical practice. Everyone comes to yoga with their own belief system, whether it is an organized religion or their own personal code. While it can be asserted that an asana practice will inevitably lead you to the deeper spiritual foundations of yoga, not everyone that comes to a yoga class will be at the same point on that path.

Opening and closing your class with breathwork and a short meditation can both plant a seed in those early on in their journey, and focus a seasoned yogi, tuning them into their own spiritual frequency.

Of course, if you advertise your class as one including deeper spiritual practices, have at it! Chose a topic or series of topics – e.g. Yamas & Niyamas work on one each week, create sequences and medications accordingly.

When is it okay to include religion?

Practicing yoga can enhance your own personal religious ideas – all you need to do is to choose to bring your higher power to the mat with you. You can encourage students to find correlations between the 8 limbs and their personal spiritual path. If tempted to highlight any religious idea, I find it best to find correlated ideas across many different religions.

Ahimsa – Non-violence = Christian – Love your neighbor as yourself = Jewish – mitzvot

What is the difference between religion and spirituality?

Oxford Definitions

Religion: The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. A particular system of faith and worship. A pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.

Spirituality: The quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.


Individual vs. Group: Spirituality is an individual and unique experience – it is developed over time based on a person’s own experiences and beliefs. Religion is an organized group, members within that group all ascribe to the same basic beliefs and rituals.

Private vs. Public: Due to its inherent individualism, spirituality is a private matter. Religions have set creeds and dogmas that are publicly known and advertised.

Fluid vs. Static: Spirituality is ever-changing based on a persons’ own life experience. Religions are based on written scriptures, held as truth.


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