(photo by RelaxingMusic)
The first time I took a yoga class was over a decade ago. I was a new mom looking for ways to re-center, and it was something that I’d always wanted to try. When my parents gave me some money for my birthday, I decided to treat myself and sign up for a class. It was nothing fancy… just a basic beginner class at the same Y where I took Mommy and Me classes with my son, but I will always remember it fondly as the class that introduced me to what would become a lifelong passion.
The day after my first class, when I was still feeling that loosy-goosy, super relaxed, post-yoga “high”, I mentioned to a friend that I’d started doing yoga and how much I loved it. She just looked at me for a long time, before she finally asked,
“Isn’t it a bad idea for Christians to do yoga?”
I couldn’t answer her. I mean I literally couldn’t answer her. I had never heard that before, and I couldn’t imagine what might have been wrong with what I’d done the night before. Plus, to be honest, I was a little bit irritated that I’d shared something I was excited about and she’d promptly rained on my parade.
I did the only thing I could think to do on the spot: I changed the subject.
I finished out that 8 week class, and spent the next several years just practicing on and off (mostly off) at home. Then about three years ago, I was called to become a yoga teacher. I have no other words to describe it. I was called. I fought it too, with lots of excuses. Too much money… too much time… my kids were too young… I’m too much of an introvert… I don’t like getting in front of people. But the more I resisted, the more strongly it was laid on my heart. I felt like I had no choice but to eventually answer, “All right, all right, I’ll do it!”
As I went through the 250 hours of training this year, I finally learned – with great clarity I might add – both the answer to my friend’s question so many years before, and the concerns that may have prompted her to ask it.
Yoga originated in the Hindu religion – I begin with this one simply because it’s the easiest to answer. This is false. Archaelogical findings show that yoga actually predates all of the world’s major religions. While Eastern religions did eventually adapt and codify yoga for their own purposes, it did not begin there. This is an important distinction to make, because many Christians fear yoga as something that was born out of another religion… which just isn’t the case.
Yoga is a spiritual practice that is meant to align yourself with Eastern religions, the occult, etc. Yoga itself is a methodology, not a theology. How it’s employed is up to each individual participating. For example, as a Christian, I believe in prayer. But I know that Christians are not the only people who pray! Other religions pray, as well as some people who align themselves with NO particular religion. While the method of the prayers may be similar, our theologies that we bring to the prayers make them different. So it is with yoga. Just like prayer, yoga’s benefits can be used by any (or no) religion at all.
The word “yoga” means to yolk, and join yourself with other Gods. The word “yoga” comes from the Sanscrit word, “yug” which is translated as “to harmonize,” to “bring together,” or yes, to “harness or yoke.” Again, I think it’s important to remember that who or what we’re joining with is up to us. I find the meaning of the word ‘yoga’ beautiful, and think it perfectly illustrates both the coming together of mind, body, and soul; and, as a Christian, the coming together of myself and God.
The postures are meant to praise and worship other Gods. This is where a lot of people get lost, but I promise it’s not that confusing. Many Christians who fear yoga use this as their basis. “The postures were created to worship other Gods. The postures are inviting evil forces into your heart. Etc.” First, as I stated in point one, the postures were not created for that purpose. Secondly, there is nothing inherently spiritual about a downward dog (or a warrior or a sun salutation) either for good or evil, unless you so decide. The meanings of the poses come from the intent and the heart of the participant. Just because one person – or one religion – assigns a certain spiritual meaning to a posture, it does not mean that that meaning then applies to me whether I like it or not. I’ll be completely honest…. when people tell me that Christians should avoid yoga because we might “accidentally” be worshipping a sun god or a hindu deity, or inadvertently joining ourselves with some kind of cult, my first thought is this: Is your faith really so weak that you fear you have no control over what enters your heart, that you have no control over who or what you do or do not worship? Yes, eastern religions have used yoga postures as part of their worship. And I don’t mean to make light of it, because I respect that it’s a genuine concern for some Christians, but… so what? If some crazy, weird cult sprang up, and decided that as part of one of their spiritual rituals, they would sit naked in a circle in a sweat lodge and eat pizza… would that mean that Christians would then need to forever avoid pizza? That pizza would suddenly cease to be crust, sauce, and cheese and instead become a harbinger of evil forces? Of course not. That’s ridiculous.
Yes, it’s ridiculous. Pizza is just pizza.
And yoga is yoga. It is one of the best ways to connect with, stretch, and strengthen your body… while at the same time quieting your mind, calming your spirit, and finding peace in your heart. As a Christian, I’ve never found yoga to be at odds with my faith. Just as importantly, I’ve never worried that it would turn me away from God. In fact, when I’m there on my mat; when I’m finally STILL; when I’ve been able to quiet my mind and actually meditate on something of my choosing (and meditation by the way, is mentioned numerous times in the Bible) what I experience is very much the exact opposite.
It’s like coming home.