I am a Christian who practices yoga daily. There is a belief that you can’t be a faithful Christian and practice yoga. This saddens me greatly. As with anything, it is a matter of intentionality. I have done a lot of reading on this topic over the last two years and have contemplated on the writings and feelings of people on both sides of this sometimes controversial issue. For me, I see no problem. When I step on the mat I have the intention to honor God by bringing my whole self – body, mind and spirit into communion and worship. “Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others.” (Col 3:23) and “whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) say’s the Lord.
I certainly realize not everyone who practices yoga is Christian. Not everyone who walks into a church is one either! And, how many Christians only hang out with Jesus on Sunday in church and go about their lives the rest of the week? Not everyone you may encounter at work or school, the store or the gym is a Christian. Just as Jesus walked among sinners and ate at their tables, we too are both sinners and believers who should reflect the love of Christ daily. We all fall short! Not one of us is the perfect manifestation of Christ but we are to put our best foot forward moment by moment. This is a very “yogic” idea and one that a person will get better at as they step onto the mat more and more.
Acts 17:28 states, “In Him we move and breathe and have our being.” The ancient vedic (ancient Hindu writings) texts parallel many biblical principles as well.
Think about it. Do you have to be Brazilian to do Zumba? Do you have to be Argentinian to dance the Tango? Do you have to Buddhist to practice martial arts and do you not have to be Hindu to practice yoga? Hearsay and opinions about Christians practicing yoga should not come from a preachers mouth, especially one who has not practiced, or even from the author of an article or from a friend. Rather, I encourage you to go directly to the Source, the Word of God, our TRUE NORTH! Dive in and read for yourself. Sit with scripture, maybe even add in your Lectio Divina practice of reading! Mark 12:30 “Love the Lord with all of your heart, all of your mind, all of your soul and all of your strength.”
I believe God leads and guides seekers to the truth. Yoga can truly be worship in action, your faith and prayers in motion. Yoga also teaches us to be still so we can hear Him, hear that still small voice. Did you know that yoga predates religion and that religious people have and do practice yoga? As a Christian, no matter what we choose to do to “honor our temples” that the Lord has given us, we take our everyday comings and goings to glorify Him. When we take care of ourselves we are honoring and glorifying Christ.
If someone were to ask me to honestly share what I have experienced in my practice, I think there would be a book in it! But here, in a nutshell, I can share a few major ah-ha moments with you.
- My walk with the Lord has strengthened. I can sit in meditation or contemplative prayer, and truly listen in silence and stillness. I can mediate on a word or scripture verse, I can sit and visualize myself walking with Him and having a conversation. I can come before Him with questions and concerns, prayers and intercessions. By learning the tools to come into stillness, this has strengthened my prayer life and enriched my connection to His divine presence in my life. There are times I can now sit for long stretches of time and not lose focus.
- When I slow down my mind and focus on my breathing (pranayama), another tenant of yoga, I can not only bring myself to a place of calm and peace, but I can also visualize healing in my body. Being an asthmatic all my life, my practice has allowed me to increase my lung capacity and to get myself to a place of peace and ease when I am in dis-ease! Having an asthma attack or getting sick when you have an already compromised immune system, can cause mental and physical stress. My practice has taught me to remain calm. The pranayama exercises offer a variety of options to help relax and strengthen my lungs. Our faith encourages us to not only ask Christ for healing but to visualize, and believe we are already healed. I love the idea of “INHALE HIM and EXHALE ME”
- We store emotion and the experiences of daily life in our bodies without even noticing. By moving through asanas, I can be fully present in the moment and begin to uncover what these are, where they came from and even how to change my “stinking thinking” so that I can become more like Christ. I can be less judgemental, more loving and forgiving. Become less ego-driven and more service oriented. This list can go on but I think you get my drift! When we can learn to stop labeling ourselves as this or that we can allow ourselves to get in touch with who we really are and what we are to give of ourselves during our life.
These are just a few things that are at the top of my list.
So I repeat, yoga is not a religion. Aspects of yoga have been incorporated into some groups and religions, however yoga itself is not a religion and you don’t have to be religious to practice yoga. At my wonderful studio here in Charleston, Holy Cow, I have met and made life long friends with so many wonderful people. They are teachers, scientists, writers, owners of local stores, creators of non-profits that offer outreach to the community, and so much more. Yogic principles of exercise, breathing, relaxation, diet and self study are offered to anyone and everyone who wishes to come on to the mat and learn. The good news is that this is not a cult or club that forces you into a set of beliefs or makes you conform to some set of rules. Stepping on the mat is personal through and through. Stepping into my studio is an opportunity to be with a diverse and above all accepting group of men and women who desire, as I do, to love all and serve all.
Doesn’t that sound like something Jesus would want us to do?