Yoga and Religion

Yoga and Religion-Is Yoga a religion? Yoga does appear to be used as a religious or spiritual practice and is often confused with Hinduism, the fact is Hinduism is a relatively young religion and has nothing to do with the origins of Yoga.


The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, meaning ocean or river, and it is where the river Indus gets its name. It is said the term Hindu was coined originally by the Persians, and It referred to the people who lived beyond the Indus river. The term Al-Hind was used by Arabs to describe the country of India, and means an area, or geographical location, not a religion.

Yoga and Religion
Yoga and Religion-Yoga Dharma

The term Hindu is also later used to describe non-Islamic people, including Buddhists. The British colonial period used the term Hinduism to describe non-Christians and included non-Indian religions. Even in the modern era the Indian high court has been called upon to define Hinduism.

The origin of Yoga is not clear with no recorded history and was perhaps muddied further by the British colonisation of India, with its very Eurocentric opinions.


Yoga was defined in two ways by Panini (the authority on classical Sanskrit and considered the father of linguistics) 1. Yujir Yoge and 2. Yujir Samadhua.  

Yujir Yoge means union. This is the Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita and is Vedantic philosophy with its roots in the Vedas and the Vedic culture.     

Yujir Samadhua means contemplation, and is the basis of Patanjalis system of Yoga, which has its roots in Samkhya philosophy.  

These may be two separate paths of Yoga, with Yujir Samadhua having its origins in the migrating or invading Aryans, and Yujir Yoge with the indigenous Vedic culture. It could also be that Yujir Samadhua was established by the Sramana movement, which could have been an off shoot of the early Vedic culture, or again come from the Aryans.   

The Sramana movement was an ascetic culture and the forerunner of the Samkhya philosophy which is the basis of Patanjalis Eight Limbs of Yoga. Samkhya is an atheistic philosophy requiring evidence and proof and does not require faith or belief. Samkhya explains the Universe in a pragmatic way and is not led by religious dogma.

There is a theory that the Sramana movement was a reaction to Vedic culture becoming too ritualised and systemised, with a controlling hierarchy. The Sramana movement took themselves away into the forest to practice and meditate. This eventually evolved into the Samkhya philosophy.   


For me Yoga is an empirical practice with systems established within it to be able to verify truthfulness and integrity. Pramana means right knowledge, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali sets this out in Sutra 1.7, as it defines three ways, in which we can verify the truth.

Sutra 1.7

A. Perception Inference and Testimony Constitute the Pramanas (right knowledge)

In Sutra 1.7 Patanjali determines three ways to obtain correct information. The list starts with most

reliable to the least.  

Three examples:

  1. Obtaining right knowledge by clear and visible experience
  2. Study, reflection and consideration to determine a conclusion
  3. Valid testimony, valid evidence or proof from another person, source or text.  Meaning through continuous practice, right knowledge and direct experience, “I have experienced insight”     


The Hatha Yoga Pradipika instructs the student in the science of Yoga, or Hatha Vidya. It is said that through practice results will happen. This as I understand it means it is not a faith backed system, or a religion.

Religion has a hierarchical system with a God head and requires the student to follow the rules (10 commandments) or the result is everlasting damnation.

Yoga has a system of ethical and moral considerations which the student works towards. If we practice Yoga with integrity while considering the Kleshas, progress is made.   

Yoga does not punish us if we get it wrong, it is through Karma we must face the consequences of our actions. Yoga prescribes personal responsibility; religion does appear to punish.


The Bhagavad Gita, I believe is regarded as a religious text by Hindus, but I don’t think it is. A religious scripture contains the rules and practices of the religion it is promoting, the Gita does not do this, it is conversation between Arjuna and Krishna about Yoga. Krishna is guiding Arjuna on how to face up to the results of his actions (Karma) Krishna is not threatening Arjuna with punishment, just reminding him he must act, otherwise he will create more Samskaras (Karmic imprints)


I believe Yoga and Religion are quite different, but ultimately, they come from the same source. Yoga as I see it promotes change through evolution and responsibility, not fear of punishment,  Religion does appear to use fear of being punished by exclusion from heaven.            

So, in conclusion I would say neither paths of Yoga are a religion, as they both are really giving the same message of personal responsibility.

Martin Thompson.