My name is Michal Russo, and I'm a former yoga teacher who has since renounced the practice. Through my journey, I've gained profound insights into the spiritual underpinnings of yoga from a Christian perspective. In a world where yoga is often seen as a pillar of wellness and spirituality, I believe it's crucial to understand its deeper spiritual implications.

Yoga, is a term that originated roughly 5,000 years ago from the Sanskrit word "yuj," meaning "to yoke" or "to unite. Its first mention comes from the Rig Veda, an ancient and sacred text used by the Brahmans, or Vedic Priests. The Veda used the word “Yoga” with the meaning of yoking, joining, coming together, and/or connection to Brahman and other spirits of creation. These priests were considered mystic seers, and they documented their beliefs into a collection of hundreds of scriptures called The Upanishads. These ultimately culminated into the Bhagavad-Gita around 500 BCE. The same texts that first mention the word “Yoga” went on to become the very foundations for Hinduism. Clearly, yoga’s essence lies in connecting the individual spirit with a higher cosmic and absolute consciousness, known as Brahman. Brahamn is said to be omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, singular, and transcending any type of image, characteristic, or quality. This is no “little god” to be contending with. According to Hindu tradition, it is the utmost high eternal force.

Despite attempts to secularize yoga in the modern world, I believe its core remains deeply spiritual. Central to my understanding are the foundational texts of yoga, such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which emphasize the union of mind, body, and spirit as essential for spiritual well-being. I draw attention to the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar, a renowned yoga teacher, who acknowledged the spiritual dimensions of yoga and cautioned against its superficial portrayal in the West. Now, many will argue that over time, and most especially in the Western World, Yoga has lost this yoke, or connection, to religion, or spirituality. However, Iyengar would beg to differ. In fact, he wrote about it quite succinctly in the preface to his book, “The Illustrated Light on Yoga” by stating:

Yoga is a timeless pragmatic science evolved over thousands of years dealing with the physical, moral, mental and spiritual well-being of a man as a whole.

The first book to systematize this practice was the classic treatise, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, dating from 200 BC. Unfortunately most of the books published on yoga have been unworthy of both the subject and its first great exponent, as they are superficial, popular and at times misleading…

The Western reader may be surprised at the recurring reference to the Universal Spirit, to mythology and even some philosophical and moral principles. He must not forget that in ancient times all the higher achievements of man, and knowledge, art and power, were part of religion and were seen to belong to God into his Priestly servants on Earth. The Catholic Pope is the last such an embodiment of divine knowledge and Power in the West. But formerly, even in the Western World, music, painting, architecture, philosophy and medicine, as well as wars, were always in the service of God. It is only very recently in India that these Arts and Sciences have begun to shake off the Divine - but with due respect, for the emancipation of man's will, as this thing from the Divine will, we in India continue to value the purity of purpose, the humility of discipline and the selflessness that are the legacy of our long bondage to God. I consider it important as well as interesting that the reader should know the origin of asanas, and I have, therefore, included legends handed down by practicing Yogi's and Sages. All the ancient commentaries on yoga have stressed that it is essential to work under the direction of a guru (Master) , and although my experience proves the wisdom of this rule, I have endeavored with all humility in this book to guide the reader - both to teacher and student - to a correct and safe method of mastering these asanas and pranayamas. 

So, I ask you, is it still possible to practice yoga but not submit to this “yoke” or “connection”, which is the very name and essence of this ancient “science, art, ritual, practice” or whatever other misleading name chosen to describe it. 

Does it not beg the very question as to what you are yoking to at the very least? 

If the answer is ambiguous, does that not alone bother your very soul? 

The answers seen most often when a yoga teacher is confronted with this question here in the West is; “You are connecting to whatever belief, power, or God you have”… Rather than give an honest and concise answer, we simply say, “Insert whatever higher power you desire”, and this is a deceitful lie in order to keep yoga students coming back. Clearly, the Vedic priests that invented the practice —and modern teachers such as Iyengar and myself — have different feelings. 

Further, the very nature of a practice is to make it a ritual, to make it so routine that it becomes automatic. Once it is established and practiced, one does not even need to “think” about what they’re doing. This is how the deception is reiterated to each practitioner, you’re no longer just practicing yoga, you are becoming yoga. Many who love and teach the practice will begin to take yoga on as their identity, referring to themselves as yogis or yoginis. My former yoga website and clothing line was called “Miki Yogini”, so I too can relate. It becomes a yoke that far extends beyond a fitness studio, and creeps into every aspect of one’s being, uniting them and connecting them through “yoga”, just as the Vedic priests had intended it to. 

I argue that practicing yoga entails more than physical exercise—it involves a profound spiritual commitment. I challenge the notion that one can practice yoga without subscribing to its spiritual underpinnings, asserting that yoga is inherently a form of spiritual devotion that will yoke to one’s entire being: body, soul, and spirit. I invite readers to reflect on the implications of engaging in a practice deeply rooted in spiritual tradition while attempting to divorce it from its spiritual essence.

I encourage readers to reconsider their engagement with yoga in light of their spiritual beliefs. I contend that practicing yoga without acknowledging its spiritual dimensions risks compromising one's spiritual integrity and inadvertently submitting to ideologies based on ancient Vedic teachings.

My exploration serves as a compelling call to discernment for anyone navigating the complex landscape of spiritual practices. By delving into the spiritual roots of yoga, I urge readers to critically evaluate their engagement with practices that may conflict with their faith.

In conclusion, my journey from yoga teacher to repentance offers valuable insights into the spiritual dimensions of yoga. I hope my reflections will inspire readers to reconsider the inherent spiritual implications of engaging in practices that may compromise their faith, urging a discerning approach to holistic wellness.

 

Written by Michal Russo
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