Religious pundits bash Yoga, confusing it with Hinduism

Pat v

I always find it amusing when other religions’ pundits bash Yoga. This week we are hearing from a televangelist who says Yoga “tricks” people into praying to Hindu deities, and a Catholic priest who says practicing Yoga is “Satanic.”

Pat Robertson said this week on The 700 Club said “stretching exercise is cool, praying to a Hindu deity is not too cool.” He was answering a woman’s questions who had concerns about her daughter’s interest in new ageism.

Meanwhile in Derry Ireland, Catholic Priest Father Roland Colhoun said while people may decide to take up yoga with good intentions, they could set themselves on a path towards “the bad spiritual domain” and even “Satan and The Fallen Angels”. This is stemming from statements from the Vatican’s chief exorcist that Yoga leads to a belief in Hinduism, and that “all eastern religions are based on false belief in reincarnation”.

Before offering a rebuttal to these statements, the larger picture is that many who are practicing “yoga” in the West are not doing so because they are seeking spirituality. Most are doing it because it is a trendy fitness regimen. Yoga in the West has become so far removed from the original purpose of the practice, that it should not be called yoga anymore, but more accurately crossfitized asana-like selfie posturing.

How many people who pack the yoga class at 24 Hour Fitness whose teacher has the “killer playlist” are there to dial down their mind chatter? Furthermore, how many people at the Wanderlust Festival are there to merge Purusha with Ishavara? Many will actually say they are, but they are really just trying to be part of the yoga rock star “in crowd.”

Yoga  in the true sense is beyond religion. It has many “religious” elements, but it is a practice whose purpose is to sublimate the mind chatter until the practitioner, undisturbed by viewing his/herself in the context of the revolving universe, starts to see the true self and grow from the fruits of that experience.

Now back to Pat and Father Roland. Viewing Yoga from an orthodox Christian lens it is easy to unleash the dogma that says you shall have no other gods before Me and you shall not make idols onto Hinduism. How come in the same vein an orthodox Hindu can’t say, “you can’t worship The idol of the Virgin Mary” or in Robertson’s case “you can’t worship the idol of power and political influence?” I am not saying this to offend those of Christian faith. But practicing Yoga is not practicing Hinduism as these two commenters are led to believe.

We are more alike than we are different. I wrote a blog post that displays the Ten Commandments next to Yamas and Niyamas. They are shockingly similar. So rather than fearfully criticizing other people’s faith from around the world, first seek to understand the commonalities and then work from that place.

On a side note, Pat Robertson would benefit from Setu Bandha to address his slouch.



11 thoughts on “Religious pundits bash Yoga, confusing it with Hinduism

  1. 1979darryl

    Same thing happened here in Ireland (again) a few weeks back. Local priest told everyone about the evil risks of yoga; how it opens you to evil spirits and is linked to satanism, paganism and any other ism he could think of. It made the papers and I even had calls from journalists. Still amazes me how extreme some religious individuals can be. They all interpret their own beliefs in so many different ways that it leads to confusion and contradiction; eventually fuelling hatred towards others – is that religion?


  2. k8macdo

    I think that these negative reactions to yoga from Christians stem from a lack of understanding. And, please note that most of the Christians whom I know are not at all like that. My Roman Catholic Parish let me offer a yoga class in the Parish Hall for parishioners, and I met one of our priests who is a certified yoga instructor : ) Hey! There’s room for all of us, I figure. Our current RC pastor is a longtime practitioner of vipassana meditation who has recently borrowed some yoga dvds from me to help him in his asana practice.


    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks K8! That is great news that you are allowed to teach Yoga in the Parish Hall. I teach my Saturday class at a church as well. I think a church is a much more appropriate setting for Yoga than a gym given the two extremes.


  3. Scott@SkepticMeditations

    Is Yoga religious? Is it Hindu? Yes and no.

    Yes, yoga is religion and the Hindu rishis claim yoga is “union” or “yoking” to Brahma or as a sacrifice to some kind of “deity” within human beings. It is not religious if the yogic practitioner has no religious or supernatural aims from the practice. There’s many types of yoga practice (postural, meditational, and ritual) as there are practitioners. I don’t have data to back this up, but anecdote, but I’d venture that most are motivated to practice yoga for spiritual or religious purposes.

    No, yoga is not religion if practice is limited to stretches or watching the breath with no religious motives.

    Like the Mindfulness movement, which gets accused of being Buddhist religion, yoga–a Hindu originated practice–has been appropriated by Westerners, secularized, and reinterpreted to de-emphasize its Eastern-religion–nirvana and mystical powers. Eastern religion, yoga and mindfulness, has been appropriated by Americans. But there’s still plenty of nuances for those practitioners who want to make it religion and a few who may be able to practice it entirely secular–without supernatural beliefs in attaining nirvana, prayers to divine beings, and eliminating karma and freedom from rebirth.

    Pat Robertson is right, yoga is Hindu, and yoga apologists like yourself are right, yoga is secular. Yoga is both religious and secular. The interpretation really depends on how the Yoga (as defined in the discussion) by the individuals making attacks against or for yoga. I bet Evangelist Pat Robertson would not object if it were Hindus kneeling or stretching in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary or muttering the Our Father from the New Testament. But his version of religion is threatened when Christians chant in Sanskrit in gym class.


    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks for your insights Scott! There is indeed a continuum of the practice from Lululemon gym-fitness to full blown bathe-in-the-Ganges and cover yourself in ashes. I actually find myself going more toward the “religious” end, but perhaps that the inevitable side effect of daily practice. Pat Robertson may be right..I’m doomed.



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