Tag Archives: Yoga

Discerning Yoga in Orthodoxy

by Kerry San Chirico | Ελληνικά | Српски

person doing yoga

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?

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Yoga and Orthodoxy

by Aristotle Papanikolaou | ελληνικά | Română | српски

Woman in yoga pose

In the wake of advice disseminated earlier this month across a variety of Greek media channels that the practice of yoga can be helpful to manage anxiety provoked by COVID-19, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece felt compelled to make an official declaration that the practice of yoga is “absolutely incompatible with the Orthodox Christian faith and has no place in the life of Christians” (emphasis mine).  This is not the first time the Synod decided to warn about the dangers of yoga, as it made a similar proclamation in 2016 on the heels of the World Health Organization proclaiming June 21st as World Yoga Day. 

Is it wise for the Church of Greece to issue such a statement about yoga?  And is yoga absolutely incompatible with the Orthodox Christian faith?

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