First of all, may I say that I don’t entertain religious talk because most of it, if not all, is often rooted in sensationalized misconceptions about individual opinions. I’m not a religious person because I know religion has torn this world apart, and left people asking questions like; if God really exists, then why are innocent people being massacred in Syria and children being raped and killed all over the world? My question is; did God come to earth with a gun, grenades and bombs and do that?
I’m not religious, I seek a meaningful relationship with God every moment I’m awake, fully aware that I just didn’t land here on earth. I was created. So in speech, thought and deed, I live like it. There’s nothing “New Age” about that. I just choose not to let religion limit my lifestyle, and choose to “be the church”, not “go to church” as a weekly chore. Am I making sense?
I am positive person and have made the conscious decision to focus on positive content, and truths that build rather destroy not only me but others too. That’s why I decided to start Phenomenal Magazine, the ‘IAmPossible’ brand and #Mission52. It was all to focus on the good in the world and not the bad, because the journalist in me, in my previous life, enjoyed the adrenaline of what is termed in the mainstream media as a “good story” – there has to be death, rape, sex, corruption etc., for it to make front page news. Then I woke up one day and thought: wait a minute; bad people will never stop being bad. So why not focus on the good that’s still left? That’s why when I write blog posts, either for this site or for our on-going 52-day wellness and self-development course, #Mission52, I do it to build, not erode or destroy anyone’s beliefs or inner world. I’m not a “self-righteous” out to name and shame whoever doesn’t live according to my beliefs. Neither should you.
That said, the ‘IAmPossible Sacred Circle’ on whatsapp (group) is simply a network meant to bring women together to build one another, grow and network with each other. It is not a place to trivialize issues or make them bigger than they actually are. In it, we should encourage one another to live better, make better choices and be there for each other. Not tear each other apart and scream, ‘murder’ once someone says something that doesn’t align with what we believe in.
On that note; the below article (sourced from the net, articulates my thoughts way better than I would have written them), through the help of Hilda Basson-Namundjebo, is meant to tackle the argument (for lack of a better word), that ensued this morning following today’s #WellnessWednesday blog on physical wellness.
The question that stirred the conversation was; (simply put) Should Christians practice yoga? It was a valid question raised by one of the women I have so much respect and admiration for and it was meant to open minds and ignite a decent conversation surrounding facts most people would rather not tackle, because of the flaring emotions they arouse. Boy, didn’t emotions fly everywhere! 🙂
So as soon as the conversation began, I consulted some of the phenomenal women I look up to and who have spoken life into my life, such as Natasja Beyleveld, Hilda Basson-Namundjebo, Rosalia Martins-Hausiku, and the great Aunt Joan (Guriras), to mention but a few. Some of them have already been featured on this site (refer to articles). Here’s what they had to say:
- Aunt Joan:
“I am not surprised. I personally believe that if a person believes that yoga is “unchristian” for whatever reason they should not engage in the activity. However it is NOT their place to judge those that do since those Christians that do participate in yoga are lead by the same holy spirit they are. I am quite capable of gleaning from yoga the health and restive benefits and at the same time incorporate worship to Jehovah. Which I do. The enemy of this world has stolen and twisted so much that is beneficial to us and I chose to take what is beneficial to me and twist it the way I want, honoring God as I go. That each person will have to give an account and if I am off track I trust the Holy Spirit to direct me and up until now I have peace practicing Yoga.”
“I have chosen for myself not to do yoga because of its root system. I do other ways of exercise to achieve my physical goals.
Yoga is a form of worship to a foreign god. Can you separate the form from its original intent and purpose?
https://www.breakpoint.org/component/blog/entry/12/27109 “Wherever truth may be found, it’s belongs to the Lord.” – St Augustine. Read this version…”
3. Rosalia Martin:
“Hi Vicky, when it comes to faith and religion it is a difficult debate and I try not to get into it. My take is any open door you keep open for the enemy, he will use it. My teachings are that yoga is a sport with spiritualism. Hence I choose not to engage in it in whatever form or means.”
I do not practice yoga, as personally I believe you can not separate the core (spiritual and ritual) of yoga, from the exercise. If you do a couple of stretches with your girls and call that yoga, sure. Each to their own. No judging and no long list of explanations.
So then don’t yoga. Call it stretching :-). Its like saying I do not practice full sex only partial sex before marriage. Sex before marriage is still not Christian.
5. Abie: Yoga it’s physical exercise and People practice this meditate to what they believe in Christian can do the same.
Here’s word for you via the link Hilda Basson shared with me…
“Be still and know that I am God.”
I’ve been sincerely warned by Christian friends not to practice yoga. “Well,” they often add, “the stretching part is okay, but not the rest of it.” Christian leaders such as the Rev. Al Mohler echo their concerns.
On the other hand, at least two other Christian friends have shared that yoga has been life-changing for them, offering them relief from physical and emotional ailments that nothing else had alleviated.
So what exactly is the story of the Christian ambivalence toward this ancient practice, and how should followers of Jesus Christ view what is one of today’s most popular fitness trends?
Body and Breath
On one level, yoga is about stretching muscles and building strength through a series of postures and poses coordinated with deep breathing. The benefits of practicing yoga, according to WebMD, are increased flexibility, improved muscle tone, calmness, and lower stress.
Christians, for the most part, do not quibble with these aspects of yoga. After all, we recognize that God made our bodies and that we are charged with taking good care of them, as the Apostle Paul admonishes (1 Corinthians 9:27). And the art of breathing as part of natural childbirth is just as popular among the churchgoing population as the general population.
Now we come to the sticking point of yoga for Christians: the focus on a state of being, or, as it is popularly called, mindfulness. For the purposes of yoga, mindfulness is defined as “focusing one’s awareness on the present moment,” paying attention to what is around us without mulling over the past or worrying about the future. Sounds a lot like, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Wait a second. How did we get from an essentially Hindu spiritual practice to the Psalms?
Let’s go back a bit.
Not What It Used to Be
Though its exact origins are obscure, yoga is thought to have been developed in India over thousands of years as a form of physical and spiritual practice geared toward enlightenment. It was first introduced in America in the 1890s by a Hindu monk and became popular in Hollywood in the 1950s. A decade later, it became a staple of the 1960s counterculture.
But today in America, according to a recent article in The Week magazine, there are more than 100 types of yoga, many of them Western creations, such as “power yoga” and “hot yoga” (practiced in a room with temperatures ranging from 90 to 105.) In fact, the spiritual elements of yoga have been so blended, so watered down, or so ignored in the West, that India is attempting to reclaim yoga. But with estimates that the American yoga industry tops $10 billion a year in classes, clothing, and DVDs, and claims over 20 million American practitioners, India’s aims are unrealistic at best. The fact is, America has its own brands of yoga now and most are a far cry from the original.
Roots don’t determine everything
But do yoga’s undeniable origins in Eastern philosophy mean that Christians shouldn’t participate in yoga?
Let’s answer this question with another one: How many followers of Jesus Christ put up Christmas trees to celebrate the birth of Christ? According to the Encyclopedia Britannica and other sources, the origins of the Christmas tree are closely tied to pagan winter rites and even tree worship among pre-Christian Europeans. What did Christians do? They took something that had been used in pagan rituals (the tree) and re-interpreted it, giving it new meaning as a symbol of the Christian faith. There is even a story that Saint Boniface cut down an oak tree that German pagans were worshiping and replaced it with an evergreen tree, showing how its triangular shape reminded one of the Trinity and how it pointed to heaven.
Some of the most famous hymns of the Christian church have similarly dubious origins. Hymn composers such as Fannie Crosby and William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, often turned to popular songs of the day as tunes for their hymns, simply changing the lyrics and hoping, in Booth’s case, to attract those on the street with familiar music. Some say Booth famously retorted to criticism of this practice with, “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?”
All Truth is God’s Truth
We might echo Booth by saying, “Why should Hinduism have the best exercise?” Cannot yoga, as in the case of Christmas trees and hymns, be re-interpreted and reshaped to benefit followers of Christ?
St. Augustine said, “Wherever truth may be found, it belongs to the Lord.” Sometimes this sentiment is expressed as, “All truth is God’s truth”—the point being, if something is true and good, it is ultimately a gift from God, wherever it is found. So if stretching our muscles, breathing deeply, and staying present in the moment can actually can help heal and restore our bodies and minds—then isn’t it essentially of God?
A practical approach
If you’re still with me, I’d like to suggest a practical approach for Christians who want to practice yoga in America in the 21st century, embracing what is positive and good about yoga while downplaying any remnants of an Eastern worldview:
- Try different yoga classes or DVD’s. While some instructors bring elements of Eastern philosophy into the class, others do not. Look for a class that focuses on stretching, breathing, and being in the moment—not the teachings of Hinduism. Some churches and recreation centers even offer “Christian yoga.”
- Re-interpret what makes you uncomfortable. For example, some classes end with hands in a prayer position saying “Namaste.” This is an ancient Sanskrit greeting meaning, “My true self bows to your true self.” Instead, I just say, “Thank you,” as a closing greeting to the instructor. Similarly, if you are invited to meditate on “the universe” or even “nothingness,” fill your mind with thoughts of Jesus Christ instead. After all, Christian meditation is a one of the spiritual disciplines of the church, largely ignored today. Why not practice it as part of your yoga workout?
- Finally, realize that that there IS a faith connection between yoga and Christianity. We mentioned earlier the Christian duty to care for our bodies as temples of God. But think for a moment about the way the Holy Spirit is described in the Bible as the “breath” of God. Jesus even breathed the Holy Spirit upon his disciples (John 20:22). When you are breathing deeply in yoga, why not imagine breathing out any worry or anxiety that you are holding onto (“Cast your burdens upon the Lord,” Psalm 55:2), and imagine breathing in God’s Holy Spirit and the peace He promises.
- Mindfulness isn’t necessarily Hindu. Early Christian spiritual teachers taught their disciples to develop nepsis, that is, “to be wakeful and attentive (from the Greek verb nepho—to be vigilant, mindful) to that which was inside and around them.” Isn’t it interesting that Jesus’ primary antidote to worry and stress was to prompt us to pay attention, to be awake and alert, to our surroundings: Look at the birds. Consider the lilies. (Matthew 6:25-33).
In a world of increasing stress-related diseases, where children are overstimulated by electronics and entertainment and most of us are generally overcommitted and too busy, the practice of yoga can be an oasis, offering relaxation, calm, and a boost in both physical and mental health. But rather than embrace yoga uncritically or dismiss it wholesale (extreme responses of which we Christians are often guilty when it comes to cultural trends), why not approach yoga with thoughtful discernment—embracing the good, dismissing the bad—re-interpreting and making the faith connection where we can. William Booth would be proud.
For Further Reading:
I recommend checking out these books for further study of the subject of Christian mindfulness; I haven’t yet read them, but am familiar with some of the authors’ other work.
Martin Laird, “Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation” (Oxford University Press, 2006).
Richard H. H. Johnston, “Introducing Christian Mindfulness” (Amazon Digital Services, 2015).
Richard H. H. Johnston, “Christian Mindfulness: Are You Living on AutoPilot?” (Amazon Digital Services, 2015).
Image courtesy of “pat138241” at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Ginny Mooney writes about spiritual and cultural matters from her home in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where she often practices yoga with a faith connection.
NOTE: Also check this article: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/whole-life/features/23243-is-it-okay-for-christians-to-do-yoga