278: Religion & Cultural Respect in Yoga with Emmy Chahal278: Religion & Cultural Respect in Yoga with Emmy Chahal

How are yoga and religion connected? Why do some people, depending on their religion, feel like yoga is evil? What does spiritual bypassing look like and why is it harmful? These are the challenging questions Emmy Chahal tackles in this episode.

Emmy Chahal is a trauma informed yoga teacher, bodyworker/energy healer and workshop facilitator based on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Territory (in the place now known as Vancouver). Emmy works at the crossroads of business, social justice, and spirituality. Emmy has experience of more than 19 years of steady yoga and meditation practice, and over 10 years of teaching. She integrates her educational background in Cultural Studies, and Gender and Women’s Studies to offer tailored workshops for workplaces around wellness topics, cultural education for yoga teachers and practitioners on topics like cultural awareness, ancestral healing, and uncolonizing yoga, as well as intuitive healing sessions. Emmy also offers mentorship for yoga teachers and semi-private or family yoga classes. 

There’s no denying that yoga and religion intersect at some points – yet they are different. Emmy explains how colonization shaped our understanding of religion, the impact of that, and why it is important to learn about other faiths and belief systems to avoid causing harm and violence. Emmy also shares more about how yoga can strengthen your faith practice, and how to be respectful of other cultures we partake in while also learning about and connecting to our own culture. This is a rich discussion answering a question many yoga teachers and practitioners have no doubt encountered – is yoga religion?

Key Takeaways:

[3:28] Shannon introduces her guest for this episode – Emmy Chahal.

[8:20] What does Emmy do and who does she do it for?

[11:16] How do yoga and religion intersect and how are they different and similar?

“Yoga became a way of connecting to a collective consciousness, but also connecting to our own personal spirituality.” ~ Emmy Chahal

[15:05] Shannon and Emmy discuss how people in North America may not have had the experience of interfaith exploration or learning about other faiths different from their own.

“Yoga is about union. It’s about finding that connection between your mind, body and heart and really connecting to yourself.” ~ Emmy Chahal

[18:03] Emmy shares her thoughts on the idea that yoga is not religion and addresses the idea that people have that yoga is against their religion.

[22:46] How are things like colonization and residential schools tied to yoga and religion?

[28:10] Shannon reflects on her ancestors’ history.

[29:08] Understanding your ancestry and history can help you avoid something Emmy calls “hungry ghost syndrome”.

[34:27] Learning about whose land you are on and the history of that land can be a healing practice.

[35:18] Emmy shares her experience of a Kundalini awakening.

[38:08] Shannon shares a short conversation she had with Sara Villamil about OfferingTree.

[40:31] What are Emmy’s thoughts on Christian yoga?

“There are really interesting links between yoga and Christianity that if we dig deeper, we could see some deep connections about the mystical quality.” ~ Emmy Chahal

[44:45] Yoga is a great system to have difficult conversations through.

[46:14] There is a lot of ignorance about the history of yoga and lack of cultural awareness among yoga teachers, particularly white yoga teachers in the west.

“There has been a denial of the roots of yoga and this is something so common in the yoga industry. … Something is lost here because we’re not recognizing, we’re not acknowledging where the practice comes from.” ~ Emmy Chahal

[48:23] What actions can yoga teachers take to make a difference in how yoga is treated?

[54:07] Do not turn to South Asian yoga teachers and expect them to tell you what to do.

[54:52] Research your ancestors and learn about your own spiritual, embodiment, and earth-based practices.

[55:26] Is yoga religion?

[60:14] Emmy has found that yoga can help people in their faith practice.

[63:18] Find out more about Emmy’s work and learn more from her via her website.

[66:08] Shannon shares her key takeaways from this episode with Emmy.


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