“The practice of yoga is not opposed to any religion. It is not opposed to any sacred church. It is purely spiritual and universal in its teachings. It does not contradict anyone’s sincere faith. Yoga does not want you to turn away from life; it demands spiritualisation of life. Yoga brings about physical and spiritual development, side by side. And finally, yoga enables the aspirant to attain blissful union with the supreme being.” ~Swami Sivananda
Long quote from the Swami (most of his are) but succinctly puts why yoga itself – the eight limbs – is not a religion, but allows one to flourish and prosper in ones’ chosen religion or devotional practice. Yoga – again, the eight limbs – prepares a person’s body and mind to be open to the possibilities of the Universe. By practicing the eight limbs a person reduces conflict with the natural world (yamas); creates a relaxed, pure and open body (the asana practice, niyama); controls and, more basically, calms one’s thoughts and mind to reduce conflict between one’s mind and body (pranayama, pratyahara, dharana); and finally, prepares for unity with the spiritual, however one defines it (dhyana, samadhi).
What a person is doing by practicing the eight limbs is to calm, purify and empty their mind and body so that when they practice devotion in whatever devotional practice they choose, their body is an open container ready to receive divine wisdom. There is no muscular discomfort in sitting or kneeling while praying or meditating; hunger over long periods of time is controlled; and the mind has been retrained to be quiet and receptive.
My personal belief is that humans are somehow predisposed toward needing devotional and spiritual practices – how else to explain widespread religion and religious practices over thousands of years. We need things like chanting, rhythmic music; long periods of quiet repetitive thought such as using prayer beads; and a quiet place to sit and think like a church or home alter.
It’s in our genes. Doing some sort of devotional practice makes us calm and feel good with ourselves. Why not give it a try?