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  • Halacha
  • Idols and Idolatry

Kosher yoga


Rabbi David Sperling

Av 12, 5776
Hello, I’ve been doing yoga for a couple years and find it highly healing for my body and mind. I’m aware of the avoda zara part of it but I only practice the movements and breath devoid of any mantras intentions or deity names as many of the postures are called after. Although it has it’s roots in Hinduism , today yoga has become a widely universal practice solely for it’s exercise devoid of most religious rituals and has scientifically proven it’s medical healing benefits for body pains, depression and illnesses. There are many types of yoga, it’s connection with idolatry today is minimal to some of it’s posture names , mantras and intentions but has lost it’s worship aspect , the most neutral one widely practiced is hatha yoga which focuses on the exercise more than the spiritual aspect. I know moving my body and breathing is ok, my question is, am I allowed to practice the physical yoga that’s devoid of rituals and beliefs and remove them using it only for my health, and call it kosher yoga, being that yoga is in Sanskrit but doesn’t refer to any deity but means to bond/unite(to be in a state of oneness with all ), am I allowed to use this word and other posture names that aren’t names of deities both in Sanskrit and English.
Shalom, Thank you for your question. You are of course correct in your underlining assumption which is that one needs to be very careful to distance themselves from all forms of idol worship. For this reason many great Rabbis warned against using any form of Eastern meditations or yoga – for example I saw quoted in the name of the previous Lubuvitcher Rebbe zt"l that “In as much as these movements involve certain rites and rituals, they have been rightly regarded by Rabbinic authorities as cults bordering on, and in some respects actual, avodah zarah, (idol worship). Accordingly Rabbinic authorities everywhere…ruled that these cults come under all the strictures associated with avodah zarah, so that also their appurtenances come under strict prohibition.” Because of this one should make sure that they do not take part in any classes, retreats, or courses that involve forms of worship of other religions. All that being said though, you are also correct that many of the basic techniques of yoga, as well as meditation, are in and of themselves worthwhile and do not involve any religious service. Just as eastern religions used meditation, so to we find meditation in our own heritage. For example, Rabbi Areyeh Kaplan has two wonderful books that talk about Jewish meditation. Also the physical exercise and mind body connections built through the movements of yoga are healthy and productive – and as you write, quite mainstream in normative medical practice today. Once a practice is divorced from it's idolatrous roots, the prohibitions surrounding it also fall away. For example, the names of the week in English come from pagan sources – but are allowed today. So it would seem that the practice of yoga, without any connection to idol worship would be permitted. So too, the word yoga and the names of certain positions are also acceptable when used as mere labels. May you be blessed with good health in min and body with which to serve Hashem with.
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