A discourse about yoga in the context of religion and philosophy

“For good health and happiness, there are many recommendations for starting a good day, but you may not have the time to do any of them. Still, there are many benefits if you do what you can.” 

Nene Z: 良い一日のスタート③ ヨガ. Happy Body Happy Mind, 12 January 2022.

As such, Nene Z has three suggestions which one can do for a good start. The first is walking, the second is meditation and the third is yoga. “Yoga. Yes! That’s what I do almost every morning.” [Ibid.] She points out that yoga has an important impact on wellness and well-being. And she is not the only one who thinks so. The NCCIH in the U.S. explains that research suggests that yoga might help among others in improving wellness by relieving stress, as well as improving mental and emotional health, and help people manage anxiety symptoms. [NCCIH: Yoga: What You Need To Know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2021. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/yoga-what-you-need-to-know, retrieved on 26 July 2022.] As someone without medical knowledge, I can only rely on the correctness of this information and cannot guarantee their actual effectiveness or risks. And though there seems to be evidence in studies, even the NCCIH is careful to give a certain answer:

“Although there’s been a lot of research on the health effects of yoga, many studies have included only small numbers of people and haven’t been of high quality. Therefore, in most instances, we can only say that yoga has shown promise for particular health uses, not that it’s been proven to help.”

NCCIH: Yoga: What You Need To Know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2021.

So to start in a good day, yoga might be an option, though one should prepare well. One should contact a professional instructor as assistance to avoid risks. If one has health issues or might be affected by other risks, one should consult a medical doctor. Keeping this in mind, the benefits of yoga might (hopefully) brighten one’s day!

For especially religious people, there still might be some concerns, however. Alexandra Davis writes:

“Can we participate in a practice that has roots in Hinduism and asks yogis to clear their mind? In our recent survey into health and wellbeing, 50 per cent of evangelicals said Christians should never do yoga.”

Alexandra Davis: Should Christians do yoga?. Evangelical Alliance, 1 January 2016.

In my point of view, yoga is no sin against God or religious duties of the Bible, though yoga has a religious component, since it is part of the religious practice of Hinduism. But we can learn from all religions! Some might say that he or she does not want to practice something from a different religion, but then we might ask ourselves that if other religions do something and we rule it out since they do it, then we cannot do anything anymore at all, because every religion has something in common with another religion. Instead, one should embrace the benefits. As Davis mentioned correctly:

“We just need to be aware of what’s happening around us, discerning of what is good and right, and courageous to remove ourselves if we know what we’re doing is putting distance between us and God.”

Ibid.

In the same way, I want to point to Patterson’s argument:

“So I’d say the answer to ‘can Christians practice yoga?’ is ….Yes, But. Only if you’ve actually thought about what you’re doing. […] I believe yoga is an issue where we are free to reach different decisions alongside others who are following Jesus.

Alli Patterson: Can Christians do Yoga?. Crossroads, no date.

As someone who proposes a Judeo-Buddhist philosophy which incorporates the Platonic teaching, it is no surprise that I suggest a philosophical yoga in a Grimesian way. Pierre Grimes pointed out that in whatever we do, we have to go step-by-step through the virtues starting with courage. [Pierre Grimes: Wisdom Literature in the Platonic Tradition – Lecture 61: Plato’s Republic (Part 1). Opening Mind Academy, 1997.] The Platonic virtues form a unity in Plato’s Republic, where he finally speaks of the good of the idea, which is more or less equal to that. [Timo Schmitz: Eine kurze Zusammenfassung von Platons Laches (23 April 2021). In: Timo Schmitz: Politische und Philosophische Analysen. Trier & Vachendorf: Graf Berthold Verlag, 2021; cp. also Platon: Staat. Bearbeitet von Armin Müller. Münster: Aschendorff Verlag, 2014, p. 77] So the idea is the perfect form, but that which is beyond all form, which is perfection itself is the Good, which is wholly good and which is the source of everything. The Idea of the Good is the Perfection of Beauty. [Pierre Grimes: Wisdom Literature in the Platonic Tradition. Lecture 62: Plato’s Republic (Part 2). Opening Mind Academy, 1997; see also Timo Schmitz: How the Ancients perceived the world and why we should renew our understanding of science. In: Timo Schmitz: A Divinely Way to Philosophy, Vol. 2. Trier & Vachendorf: Graf Berthold Verlag, 2022.] To understand this, we have to take a look into Plato’s Symposium, where he talks of beauty. Beauty, for Plato, is a perfect unity, but not the source itself, because otherwise God would be pantheistic. To avoid this, there must be a transcendental principle beyond beauty which Plato realized in The Republic, in accordance with the teaching of the two realms as given in his Phaedo. [Ibid.] Thus,

“[E]verything can be traced back to the one (the good) which is the cause of everything, but it is beyond being, while the beauty is being itself. However, unity also creates a many, which manifests itself in the world (through “the light” – the idea of the good) and which we, the subjects (who can perceive something), perceive as objects (which can be perceived).”

Timo Schmitz: Plato’s Analogy of the Sun (507d-509c) and Analogy of the Divided Line (509d-511e) briefly explained (18 March 2020). In: Timo Schmitz: A Divinely Way to Philosophy, Vol. 2. Trier & Vachendorf: Graf Berthold Verlag, 2022.

However, this form of yoga is not a morning exercise, but the practice of philosophy to attain the virtues, which are the path to enlightenment.

We can approach God in Buddhist yoga, but Buddhist yoga mostly equals to what is commonly known as meditation, and therefore it has a separate point in Nene Z’s summary. Yoga, in Hinduism, is the preparation to conduct meditation. I proposed meditation to clean one’s mind and as a means to communicate with God. The communication with God actually leads to a cleansing, because God reveals what the world is like and only God is able to reveal truth, because truth is attained through the soul. Perception just helps us as an orientation, but the perceptions only produce assumptions, not truths. [Timo Schmitz: The abyss between Prior and Posterior knowledge – Not really an abyss but two important factors which work together (15 December 2020). In: Timo Schmitz: A Divinely Way to Philosophy, Vol. 2. Trier & Vachendorf: Graf Berthold Verlag, 2022.] Since God is love, and love is the absence of violence and anger, any act of violence cannot be justified with God. No one can legitimate a violent action by stating that it would be God’s will. Because violence is not good, and God is only good!

So we see that there are different forms of yoga. Yoga can be practiced through physical exercises and there are plenty of forms and teachings surrounding it, but also through philosophizing, if one sees a yogic path in Plato’s philosophy. Anyways, it is a path to wisdom which is hard work! Yoga, in general, is a spiritual teaching, it is about spiritual cleansing. However, recently, there are researches on whether yoga as a physical exercise could have certain health benefits, but it seems that besides some slight evidences, there are no results yet which allow a generalization.

Timo Schmitz, 13 August 2022

Photo Credit: Yannic Läderach – Unsplash

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