Knowing the origin of yoga, you’ll understand why Christians view it as a controversial form of exercise. They claim that the stretching part of the yoga is okay, but not everything else that comes with it. So, how should the followers of Christ respond to Christian yoga? Let’s find out.
On a positive note, there are Christians who’ve had positive experiences with yoga. It has offered them relief from both emotional and physical ailments that they struggled to combat using other methods. But because of the controversy between Christianity and yoga, should Christians respond to this ancient practice? Before we answer that, we must understand what yoga is.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a total mind and body workout which combines stretching and strengthening poses, with deep breathing and relaxation or meditation. It mainly involves stretching muscles, strengthening, and building through a series of poses and postures, together with deep breathing.
It offers many benefits, which include improved muscle tone, increased flexibility, lower stress, and calmness. Many people believe that yoga has many positive aspects. The reason why a lot of Christians don’t like yoga is because of its focus on a state of being or mindfulness.
In yoga, mindfulness refers to the focus on one’s awareness on the present moment. In short, it’s paying attention to what is around you, without getting hooked on the past, or worrying about the future.
The Origins of Yoga
Yoga has been developed in India, over thousands of years, as a form of spiritual and physical practice geared towards enlightenment. It reached the United States of America in the 1890s through a Hindu monk, and it eventually became popular in the 1950s. A decade later, it became a part of the 1960s counterculture. Today, there are now over 100 types of yoga, and most of these are Western creations
Is It Okay to Practice Christian Yoga?
Yoga today has generated $10 billion a year in classes, with 20 million practitioners. The USA has shifted yoga as a brand, ignoring many of its Western practices. Does this mean that Christians shouldn’t practice yoga?
The answer is simply no. Yoga has Eastern origins, but the roots don’t always determine everything. There are several traditions and holidays that we still celebrate, including Valentine’s day, birthdays, Mardi Gras, which are all elements of paganism.
Christmas trees are closely related to pagan winter rites, but how many Christians have put up Christmas trees as they celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ? The point is, Christians have taken things that have been used in pagan origin, and gave it a new meaning, as a symbol of the Christian faith.
This is very similar to Christian yoga. Christian yoga is a term that the French monk Fr. Jean Marie Dechanet used when he explored physical exercises, to connect with God. Yoga means yoking or unity, and it’s a beautiful word. For the Christian yoga practitioner, yoking refers to uniting our breath, body, and spirit with Christ, to become one with him. We can also yoke our breath with our movements and dances.
In short, Christian yoga is still yoga, but it has been interpreted to fit the needs of the Christians. Just like in the case of Christmas trees, we can re-interpret yoga to benefit the followers of Christ.
Mindfulness isn’t Hindu
One thing that many Christians who are also anti-yoga fail to realize is that mindfulness isn’t Hindu. A lot of early Christian spiritual leaders taught their disciples to develop nespis, which is to be attentive and wakeful, to watch what was around them.
In Matthew 6:25, Jesus tells us not to worry about our lives, or what we will eat or drink, or what we will wear. Life is more than food and clothes. Moreover, he said that we are more valuable than the birds, so if the Heavenly Father feeds the birds, then He will also feed us. In this text, Jesus advises us to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.
How to Practice Christian Yoga
If you’re a follower of Christ, and you’re interested in practicing yoga, you need to focus on the positive aspects of yoga and ignore the remnants of its Eastern view. You can do this in two different ways:
- Re-interpret anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. In a traditional Yoga class, sessions will end with hands in a prayer position, saying “Namaste.” This is an ancient Sanskrit greeting, which means, “My true self bows to your true self.” If this makes you feel comfortable, you can say, “Thank you” to your instructor instead.
Also, in a traditional yoga class, your instructor may tell you to focus on the universe or nothingness. As a Christian practicing yoga, you can focus on Jesus instead. Doing this will help you transform yoga into a prayerful meditation and closeness with God.
This is very useful in practicing Christian meditation. Jesus should be a part of your workout routine.
- Try different yoga classes until you’re able to find one class you’re comfortable with. You can also practice yoga at home via DVD classes. Some instructors include elements of Eastern practice into the yoga classes, but some don’t. Try looking for a class that focuses more on the movement – stretching, breathing, and being in the moment.
As a Christian, avoid classes that focus on Hinduism, as this is against your faith. If you know a recreation center that offers Christian yoga, then that would be a better option so that you can incorporate your faith into exercise.
Yoga doesn’t have to influence you negatively. It’s all up to you – it’s what you make it. The focus and deep breathing that comes along with yoga should allow you to feel closer to God. Many Christians who practice Christian yoga have expressed positive feedback that they feel more emotionally connected with God. This is your chance to feel the same way, and to become one with God through exercise and meditation.