The mistake in considering yoga as a religion has another factor besides the mantras. The images and symbols should be observed carefully, otherwise they can lead to misunderstandings.
It is known that yoga has a wide range of techniques, for lack of a better word, I say, “neurolinguistics”. The yogis of the past studied in depth the human psyche and mapped, in a sophisticated way, the human mind. To have a brief idea: Ahamkara is the Sanskrit word for ego, Buddhi, the intellectual capacity of the mind, Manas, the part of the mind that wishes and Citta (pronounced: Tchita) the mind as a whole.
We could, to facilitate the reader’s understanding, say that the sages of ancient India have created a “yogi psychology”. The “neurolinguistic” techniques I am referring, together with the physical postures and other techniques, results in something that some prefer to call “Yoga Therapy” and serve to purify the psyche, dissolving trauma, fear, guilt, grief and allow maturity and emotional balance, facilitating the establishment of happiness.
One of the purifications is in relation to self-destructive behaviors. Negative emotions alter the chemistry of the body and attack cells and can cause aging and disease. The yogis realized that they needed to develop ways to maintain positive emotions.
Many images, with the passage of time, have been understood as representations of Gods and divinities, but its main function is to cause a positive influence on the emotions of the viewer. Look closely at the image below and think about which feelings it favors:
The image above is a representation of Rama and Hanuman, great friends. The Ramayana tells the story of the abduction of Sita, wife of Rama. Hanuman, a devotee friend, help Rama find his wife, literally crossing oceans and moving mountains in this quest. If you thought the above image as a representation of brotherhood, you are right!
Those images work with archetypal symbols that influence auspicious values. I could say they are beneficial “food” to the mind. Images of Shiva, for example, has many interesting details. One of them is the black snake that is going twice around his neck. The expression of calm and tranquility, easily seen in his face, indicates that Shiva has no fear of approaching death. An interesting allegory to represent the Indian proverb: “Whoever is not prepared for death is not prepared for life.”
We cannot deny that some lines of Sanatana Dharma, more appropriate name for Hinduism, are religious. We cannot deny either, that there are many who consider the image of Shiva and Hanuman deities. However, it must be clear that the original function of the images is much more “neurolinguistics” and archetypal.
Do you remember an anecdote about the end of times? If humanity suddenly disappeared and cities stay unchanged, extra-terrestrials who came to investigate the planet, would think we humans were too religious when they observe all households with a television in the living room. So, before we prejudge images like religious symbols, we need more study.
Another well-known image of the yogi tradition, sometimes mistakenly called mandala (Tibetan name), is yantra. See and think what kind of influence the figure below brings:
Many of the problems we have in life are caused by our own lack of attention. Without attention, we can act without thinking and we can make bad choices. One of the goals of yoga practice is to increase the concentration power of the practitioner, so he can remain conscious, make good choices and avoid unnecessary problems. If the picture above caught your attention for a while and you thought that it helps you develop the ability to concentrate, you are right!
Dear readers, if you want, by free will, consider yoga as religion you can, but yoga is not a religion.
Yoga is a whole set of techniques, values, attitudes, an entire lifestyle, a culture that seeks to lead the practitioner to a state of health and plenitude.
I was born in São Paulo, Brazil and I teach since 2001. I studied in India with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Living in Europe these last 10 years, I teach regularly in Croatia, France, Portugal and in Denmark, where I am currently living. Besides Yoga, I am Bachelor in International Relations with specialization in Political Science at Sciences Po – Bordeaux. I think my diverse education helps me to see yoga as lifestyle that can balance the individual and result in a healthy society.