It was with academic and existential interest that I read two summer yoga essays by Aristotle Papanikolaou and Metropolitan Konstantinos. As a scholar of South Asian religions engaged in interreligious work, and as a proponent of the comparative theological project among Orthodox, I found much that resonated, not only in terms of accurately reflecting the benefits of yoga practice, but the constructive Orthodox hermeneutic by which we should encounter the religious Other.
The reader should know that much ink has been spilt on the origins of yoga, its development into the modern period, and even what is meant by the word “yoga.” The Sanskrit root yuj means “to unite, join, or connect.” (The word yoke is an Indo-European cognate.) Generically, then, yoga simply means “union”—and it is possible to unite the mind/body organism, or oneself to Śiva or to non-dual Hindu understandings of the divine Self or to the Trinitarian God. Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain schools and lineages use the term yoga differently, tracing practices to different ancient texts and teachers. Practices will vary. The encounter of East and West in the colonial period has had as much to do with what yoga is today than many would care to admit. By the way, not every Hindu does yoga. Hindus might be surprised to hear that yoga is “integral” to Hinduism, the word used by the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece—at least if that means everyone practices yoga or is an absolutely necessary soteriological practice, though Hindus would almost universally agree that it is beneficial and salutary in the pursuit of liberation (mokṣa), variously conceived. While we are at it, most English-speaking Hindus don’t refer to their tradition as a religion at all. Rather, “Hinduism is a way of life.” Sound familiar?Continue reading