Russia bans yoga because it’s ‘too much like a religious cult’

In a move that surprised and concerned the yoga community, Russian officials are clamping down on the practice of yoga, labeling it as part of a broader crackdown on activities associated with “religious cults.”

This development comes as at least two yoga studios in Nizhnevartovsk, namely Aura and Ingara, received letters from local authorities instructing them to cease conducting yoga classes in municipal buildings.

The letters explicitly link Hatha yoga, a popular form of yoga in Europe, with religious practices and request property owners to intervene in preventing the classes. The message emphasizes the need to curb the spread of what officials perceive as “new religious cults and movements.”

Inga Pimenova, a teacher at the Ingara School, conveyed a mix of fear and amusement among practitioners in response to the government’s directive.

The crackdown is particularly notable given that Hatha yoga has roots in Hindu tradition, attributing its foundation to Shiva, a central deity in Hinduism, and transmitted through disciples.

This move follows the recent celebration of the first International Yoga Day, where people worldwide participated in yoga-related activities. However, controversies emerged in India, where Muslim politicians argued that the event sought to impose Hindu practices contrary to Islamic teachings. The tensions escalated when a Hindu nationalist MP suggested that Muslims opposed to yoga should “go drown in the sea.”

Yoga, once considered a holistic and universally embraced practice, is facing unexpected scrutiny in Russia, raising concerns about the freedom to engage in activities associated with personal well-being. As discussions unfold globally about the intersection of cultural practices, religious beliefs, and government policies, the fate of yoga in Russia remains uncertain.