Originally Posted by sarahsmiles
Not sure how to word this so it won't be in violation. The OP asks a quelike if a Hindu decided to pray the rosary as a form of meditation, without really believing in the special importance of Mary to Christianity.
Actually, not to derail this thread too far... many Hindus (and others--including myself) pray with a mala which is similar to a rosary, only with twice as many beads (108.) I've heard that the practice of the rosary was inspired by Christians who came to India and saw people praying with malas. I'm not 100% sure of the accuracy of this claim though but it's something I've heard often.)
It's also worth mentioning that the practice of yoga is not, nor was it ever actually a specifically "hindu practice." Yoga philosophy itself, and Patanjali's Yoga Sutra stems from a philosophy called Sankhya (sometimes spelled Samkhya.) Sankhya is a duelist philosophy that's actually atheistic. Yoga philosophy itself is not atheistic (though it is, like Christianity as I understand it, dualistic.), but it doesn't get into which deity to worship, which religion to be, or anything like that. Patanjali's Yoga Sutra is written in such a way that it's really accessible to people of almost any religion.
The few Sutras that directly reference God (These are the ones I can pinpoint offhand, there may be a couple more):
1.23 From practicing the presence of God, Samadhi (liberation) become imminent
1.24 Ishvara (God) is a particular being unaffected by affliction, actions, the result of actions, or the latent impressions of these.
1.25 In Ishvara, the seed of consciousness has reached its utmost.
1.26 Ishvara is the teacher of former teachers because there is no limitation in regard to time in Ishvara's consciousness.
1.27 The sacred word designating Ishvara is OM
1.28 Japa of that name, cultivating and absorbing it's meaning is called Ishvara pranidhana--practicing the presence of God [note: a person living in the world would not actually practice japa--the silent, continuous repetition of a sacred word or sound--often aided by the use of a mala--on the word OM by itself. That would be a practice for a renunciate or someone nearing the ending of their life, not someone who is active and participating in the world, that person would use another mantra that a teacher deemed suitable for them, or a universal mantra like "soham" in their japa practice.]
2.45 From devotion to God, Samadhi (Freedom, liberation) is attained
There's a translation of the Yoga Sutra called "How to Know God" that does an excellent job of explaining the sutras to a western, Christian audience (interestingly enough, it is also written from an advaita vedantic--or non dual perspective.) It's very clear and short, with almost no Sanskrit.
And to also note, when the sutras were written (and that time frame is often debated) "asana" simply referred to one's meditation posture (the word asana basically can be translated as "seat".) not the sun salutes, downward dogs and standing poses of today.
The hatha yoga practices didn't come about (or at-least weren't written about) until the middle ages. These include asana (in this context, referring poses besides a meditation posture too) pranayama (breathing practices), bandha (physical locks to build heat in the body, increase mental attention to energy, and control the flow of energy throughout the body) and mudra (gestures, or seals--subtle techniques for controlling the flow of energy.)
And actually, many of the hatha yoga practices that are taught today (standing poses, etc., much of what you would find in a typical class) only date back to the late 1800s. Many of these asanas were introduced by Sri Krishnamacharya and many are said to be inspired by other disciplines like gymnastics. Krishnamacharya was a pioneer in teaching yoga in a therapeutic context. Previously, Ayruveda, yoga's sister science, was the discipline that people tended to turn to for healing the physical body, and yoga was seen as a purely spiritual (though not sectarian) pursuit. As you can probably tell...things have changed quite a bit
Also, I do find it worth noting that yoga is not "Hindu" but it is Indian and many postures are named after particular characters in Indian mythology, and the majority of people in India are what we would call "Hindu." It's natural that the religion would influence the culture and the culture would influence the practices.
I often think of the fact that, for many years I danced ballet, which has strong roots in France and other European countries that have Christian heritages. Many ballets have Christian themes, reference Christian storys, use Christian names, etc. but that doesn't mean that one needs to be Christian to dance ballet, and as dance can often be extremely spiritual--it doesn't mean that a non-Christians can't have a strong spiritual experience while dancing a Christian-themed ballet.
If you're interested in learning more about the history of yoga asana, I can highly recommend Mark Singleton's "Yoga Body" and additionally, if you're interested in learning more about yoga from a Christian perspective, in along with the book by Father Ryan I mentioned above, the late Father Bede Griffith has written many good books about yoga and other eastern practices within the context of Christianity.