If you don't know much about yoga — because some of the things that happen in it are so different from the Western norm, and because yoga is commonly practiced among Buddhists and Hindus — you might think it conflicts with your religious views.
The first time I was asked to recite a mantra in a yoga class, I was uncomfortable. I won't go into too many deets here about my beliefs, but I do believe in God and I was uncomfortable chanting this Sanskrit phrase. (You can listen to it below.)
So I didn't participate. Even though my mind was getting deliciously intoxicated by the group's vibrations, I sat in silence and said a little prayer, feeling uncertain and guilty.
That was different ... but I really enjoyed it. Is it OK that I enjoyed it? Can I be a Christian yogi?
I needed answers. Immediately I started researching to figure out what this mantra business was all about, and whether or not it interfered with my beliefs.
It turns out, the "Om shanti" mantra is very common, and it's simply a prayer of peace.
Peace is cool, I like peace — I can get behind that.
Religion is a sensitive subject (no doi). I'm not going to get preachy and tell you what to believe, because religion is so personal and I wouldn't dare try to project my beliefs onto you.
The following aren't commandments; they're high-level distinctions I've realized since that uncomfortable yoga class. I want to share them in hopes that you won't pack your mat as soon as yoga gets "weird."
Chanting isn't dark magic
We fear what we don't know, and my first mantra experience exemplifies that. Once I did a little digging, I discovered that mantras are filled with so much goodness. In fact, many of them are similar to prayers I hear in church. (NOTE: SOME mantras invoke Hindu gods, but here in the U.S. of A. most yoga instructors are mindful of their class' varying beliefs and stick with the simple, beautiful proclamations we can all get behind. Like peace.)
Yoga encompasses all faiths
Yoga does have roots in Hinduism, but Hinduism does not "own" yoga; the two are independent things. Especially as Western culture adopts and modifies the ancient practice of yoga, it caters to a diverse audience. Whether you're just in it purely for the fitness or you practice Hinduism and yoga is a part of your religious journey, you can find a studio/class/teacher/your living room that caters to you.
Yoga can strengthen your faith
I respect yoga's ancient origins, and the more I learn about them the more I develop my own beliefs. Yoga is a practice, one that can benefit all faiths. There is so much crossover between various beliefs, which is comforting to me because it makes me feel like we aren't so different after all.
Spiritual is different from religious
For me, yoga and meditation are very spiritual experiences. In my world, there is a fine line between the two. A spiritual experience helps me look inside myself, as if my soul is looking in the mirror. A religious experience helps me look outside myself, learning to love and appreciate others and accepting/trusting a Master Plan. Yoga connects me to my inner self; Church helps me accept and appreciate things outside myself.
Grey is OK
Like I said earlier, religion is so personal. If you went to a church and asked questions about the members' beliefs, I am sure you would find pretty diverse answers. They might agree on some foundational elements, but religion is such a loaded word with so many nuances that can be influenced by your upbringing, experiences, culture and education.
I call myself a Christian but I am on board with some Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. I think that's OK. Most of us live in the grey area, and the ones who live in black and white are the extremists we see on TV because they sound so ignorant and foolish.
My beliefs five years ago are different from my beliefs now are different from my beliefs five years from now. We can, and should, grow.
Maybe yoga will help you grow. Or maybe it will just help you strengthen your abs. Either way, I don't think yoga has to interfere with your religion.