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What does Halacha and Halachic Authorities have to say about the permissibility of a Jew practicing Yoga? Is it Avodah Zarah?

If it is problematic, are there methods of doing it where it would be permissible?

If it is permitted, are there restrictions? For example, what about going to a Yoga class? What about having a Yoga instructor who does follow the meditations and beliefs?

Are there some Yoga styles that are less problematic than others?

Here is an answer that differentiates between the meditations of Yoga (problematic) and the exercise aspect (not a problem).

On the other hand, this answer says that any Jew aware of the "philosophy" on which Yoga is based should be wary of getting involved in the exercises, even when they appear to be isolated..

Authoritative sources would be great.

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As for that last part, is that to say that those ignorant of the philosophy should not be wary of the exercises? –  WAF Jul 6 '11 at 21:50
    
@WAF: It seems to say that if you've never studied the philosophy and you're only interested in the exercise it's OK, but once you've been tainted by the knowledge of the philosophy you shouldn't do the exercises. I could be wrong, I'd like to see some sources. –  Menachem Jul 6 '11 at 21:59
    
Shalom Seth and Friends.With regards to Jews and Christians practising yoga.With respect I believe people can do yoga type stretches without being in front of any idol.It's interesting a lot of chiropratic stretches for one's back are synonimous with yoga back bends.I learn't the headstand from yoga.Yet have seen the same headstand being performed in a photograph of gymnasts.How do you differentiate between yoga and gymnastics?There is a philosophy behind yoga that is Hindu,yet I still think to worship any deity the worship has to be a conscious act of the mind. Blessings and Shalom! Andrew –  Andrew Knight Apr 1 '12 at 16:55
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interesting article that discusses the issues: tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/23099/is-yoga-kosher –  Menachem May 29 '13 at 22:02
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4 Answers

I wouldn't be answering this question, except I just met a religious woman here in Israel who is studying to be a yoga instructor.

I asked her about the connection between yoga and avodah zarah.

She said that, when an instructor receives certification to teach yoga in the Diaspora, s/he must learn all of the "hashkafa" (l'havdil) behind the various stretches and poses.

The Israel Yoga Association, on the other hand, teaches only the physical exercise, and omits all of the "kavannah" (again, l'havdil) that originally accompanied yoga.

http://www.isyoga.co.il/

I don't know which rav she asked, but at least this provides evidence that there are poskim who know about this topic, and have made arrangements in Israel to provide for the practice of yoga without the avodah zara aspects of it.

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I'm not authoritative on this, but my understanding is that ALL the traditional positions are forbidden. They are all essentially prayers to Surya (and others). See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surya_Namaskara for example.

One would have to be an expert in the many many (and there are a lot of them) yoga based/containing religions to know which positions are considered prayers and which are not. But my understanding is that most of them are indeed prayers, and therefor idol worship.

If someone wants to practice yoga they need to make up their own brand new positions, and not learn from someone who has ever learned the traditional ones.

http://www.kabalahyoga.com/ seems to try to do this, but I can't say for sure if they succeed.

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I believe that link to kabalahyoga.com should be removed because of "Lifnei Iver" but that's just my opinion. I think it is quite ridiculous. –  Hacham Gabriel Jan 8 '12 at 2:10
    
@HachamGabriel The entire point of my answer is to make the person not be an Iver. –  Ariel Jan 8 '12 at 3:29
    
Huh? I don't understand –  Hacham Gabriel Jan 8 '12 at 4:04
    
@HachamGabriel Lifnei Iver would mean someone unaware of the issues with yoga might click that link. But the entire point of my comment is to make the person aware that there are issues with yoga. I don't know if kabalahyoga has those issues or not, but at least the person clicking the link will know there is a possible issue to investigate, and will not click it unaware. –  Ariel Jan 8 '12 at 6:20
    
My mistake. Your first sentence takes away all doubts. –  Hacham Gabriel Jan 8 '12 at 6:24
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I disagree with the claim that practicing yoga "asanas" postures is tantamount to idol worship for the simple reason that to worship God or any deity, the "worship" has to be conscious, such as reading a passage of scripture, or praying in a church or synagogue. I am a Christian with Jewish relatives by marriage and wonderful Jewish friends, thank the Lord, yet I can't equate conscious worship with physical stretching exercises. Yoga has cured me of two years of chronic back pain. During my time of suffering I could scarcely move due to the severity of the pain.

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Re worship must be conscious: I am not with my books at the moment, but the g'mara states explicitly in Sanhedrin (in the 60s) that accidental prostration before an idol is forbidden. This, and specific cases like it, are codified. –  WAF Nov 24 '11 at 12:14
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Hello Andrew Knight and welcome to Judaism.SE! Thanks for bringing your unique perspective to the site. –  WAF Nov 24 '11 at 12:15
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@WAF: No source right now, but there are some acts of idol worship that are forbidden across the board, even if the idol is not worshiped that way (e.g. bowing). Other methods of worship however, are only forbidden if the idol is worshiped this way. This is discussed in relation to the jews worshiping baal peor. –  Menachem Nov 24 '11 at 20:11
    
Andrew, to bow in front of an idol is a prohibited act whether or not one actually intend to pray or not, likewise it isn't a stretch (sorry I couldn't help myself) to suggest that since one is DOING YOGA after all, that performing the physical acts as yoga is a problem even if one doesn't "mean" it. The context is the problem. –  Yirmeyahu Jan 8 '12 at 3:45
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Andrew, I apologize for the harsh tone of some of the comments. Welcome to our forum. Your perspective is welcome, however, we generally hold ourselves to a standard of providing sources from Jewish literature, particularly when answering questions of Halachah (Jewish law). In fact, as others have pointed out, the Talmud and other sources have explicitly condemned accidental and incidental performance of acts associated with worship of idols. –  Seth J Jan 8 '12 at 21:46
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The Ruling in Israel regarding this subject is as follows. Yoga and similar things are OK as long as the person teaching it does not know any of the meaning behind the stretches and has no way to learn the meaning.

If the meaning is learned however, then the teacher must alter the stretch in some way as to make it meaningless.

The basis of this ruling is that the practice has become known through secular fitness experts who have likely not learned the 'proper' religious stretches and so it is most likely a corruption of anything that smells of Avodah Zarah. Therefore, since it's not really avoda zarah there is no problem. If it is learned that that is not the case, then the activity must be changed so it is most certainly not Avoda Zarah.

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do you have a source for this? Also, how much altering is necessary? For example, is facing a different direction enough? –  Menachem Nov 24 '11 at 20:09
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"and has no way to learn the meaning" in the age of the Internet? –  msh210 Nov 25 '11 at 4:42
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@Meachem I read it in a shul newsletter one shabbat many months ago. Don't remember who they quoted sorry. As for the age of the internet.. I guess that means you have to research it and alter it. –  avi Nov 25 '11 at 7:21
    
@Menachem I imagine that you have to change enough that a religious practitioner would feel that you are 'doing it all wrong, and this is meaningless' –  avi Nov 25 '11 at 7:22
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