Who Can Practice Yoga?

ramaswami teaching yoga at loyola Marymount university

Can a Christian, Muslim or Jew practice yoga?  Many are interested in yoga, but fear Yoga contradicts their beliefs.

Yoga trains the mind for One-Pointed Focus.  When our mind is under our control, our possibilities are limitless.  One-Pointed Focus can be applied to any of our endeavors – studying, creativity in any field, maintaining wellness, creating health, reducing stress or practicing devotion whatever form that takes.

Repeatedly during my training, we tried to get our teacher, Ramaswami to tell us what he believed.  He hinted, but would not elaborate.  He said,

“First, I am not a yogi.  A yogi is an ascetic man who lives in the mountains and whose whole focus is freeing himself from future incarnations and uniting with God.  I had a family and an engineering career.  Second, it does not matter what I believe.  The question is ‘What do you want from your yoga?’”

Everyone must make their own decision in this regard.  But for those who are interested in exploring the possibility of incorporating yoga into their life, I offer the following thoughts.

YOGA is a very broad term referring to thousands of years of philosophic thought that led to thousands of different lineages or “schools”.  The practice of Yoga is as diverse as its practitioners.  Yogic practices of movement (asana), breathing (pranayama), sound (mantra) and meditation (dhyana) have been incorporated into the spiritual practices of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains.

Modern Yoga as taught by Sri T. Krishnamacharya, who reconstructed Hatha Yoga and taught for seventy years, is the foundation for most “yoga” practiced in yoga studios worldwide.  According to Krishnamacharya, anyone can practice Yoga.


This posting was inspired after listening to the Iranian writer and broadcaster Azadeh Moaveni examine the relationship between yoga and Islam in Iran.  Despite the poor view the USA has about Iran today, the reality is Iranian women are very educated, worldly and engaged in all levels of society.

In Part Two, Azadeh asked “Why has yoga been fully embraced in some Muslim countries but not in others? How do followers of yoga in the Muslim world view the relationship between their faith and their practice? What are the true spiritual origins of yoga and can the practice be adapted to suit different faiths and perspectives?”

I think for global, yoga practitioners, this is a relevant listen.

Azadeh interviews two Muslim women – one living in Malaysia and one in the USA.  Despite a fatwa (ruling) against yoga in Malaysia, the Muslim woman sees yoga’s tremendous benefits and does not believe it contradicts her faith.  Azadeh also interviews a Muslim yoga teacher in the United States whose recent blog detailing her anxieties about the relationship between yoga and Islam provoked worldwide attention.



My apologies to Sri Ramaswami for my paraphrased quotes.  All mistakes are mine.  Written with the highest intention, I ask his forgiveness if they offend.

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