During my recent recovery, I took an excellent on-line course entitled “Defining Yoga Through History, Philosophy and Worldview”. The teacher challenged us to be able to defend our yoga practice to those who may find yoga to be incongruent with Christian teaching, particularly because it is historically rooted in Hindu and Eastern spiritual practices. Our final task was to write our defense as Christians for why we confidently practice yoga. I thought I would share my story with all of you. Feel free to comment or share your own experience.
“As a Christian, do you ever have any misgivings about practicing yoga?” I have been asked, heard, studied and reflected on this or a variation of this concern many times over the past ten years. The best way that I know how to answer is to speak straight from my heart, for it is there that I hold the deepest affection for this spiritual practice that does, indeed, come to us by way of a different culture than ours. Different, not less than. With this culture, we share the deepest desire to know our Creator, for we were all created for this unity.
One of my favorite scripture verses is from Acts 17:28, “For, In him we live, and move, and have our being.” As a follower of Christ, every moment that I am living in his Truth and Love, then even the breath and movement of my body honors his Presence within me. Jesus affirmed the sacredness of the human body by taking on our humanity. He has breathed life into each of us and continues to empower that life with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we are asked to honor him with our body. It is there that he dwells.
I have spent most of my adult life as a Group Exercise Instructor at our local recreation facility. About ten years ago I was restless and curious, seeking a way to incorporate my Christian spirituality into some sort of movement. I wanted to somehow embody my prayer, to experience his presence in me as I moved and breathed. When I stepped onto a yoga mat for the first time since college to help out a friend who was in yoga teacher training, I was overwhelmed by the Spirit. I began to realize that this was the answer to my prayers. But I was also somewhat apprehensive about what I thought I knew about yoga, so I understand why others might have this same reaction. I realized that I had been taught to fear anything that came from the Eastern cultures and all things that did not come up through Christian roots. I knew that I wanted to bridge this gap of misunderstanding in the western yoga world with my fellow Christians and so I embarked on a teacher training program that used our biblical scriptures as the foundation. I teach yoga now within that framework, coming onto my yoga mat with the intention to honor Christ and to offer my practice as a prayer. My mat is my sanctuary, a holy place where I enter into a deeper awareness of the Light and Life within me.
How, might you ask, does this happen? Through breath, movement, and meditation. As we begin our practice, we come into our breath, noticing it, perhaps slowing it down, and we begin to quiet our being; body, mind, and soul. This was another reason why yoga was so appealing to me. Before I began to practice, I felt as though I was never where I thought I should be. If I was at work, I thought I should be at home. If I was at home, I thought I should really be playing with my grandkids. If I was with my grandkids, I was thinking that I needed to get to the grocery. How could I possibly hear the voice of God if I was never able to land in one place and be quiet and still? Connecting with the breath that God has so graciously breathed into me helps me to quiet my being. As I begin to move my body into a variety of poses, I experience the beauty of this created form as it responds to my breath. I offer thanks and praise as I breathe and move. I am reminded that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, and that my body is indeed a temple of the Holy Spirit. I honor my body by caring for it and the poses or asanas help me to develop both flexibility and strength. Additionally, through a sense of inner listening, I have become very aware not only my body but also of my mind, and of how to please God with the meditations of my heart as well. I sit then with the silence, and I hear the Voice. Yoga has awakened a deep spirituality within me, as I seek a deeper connection with my Creator each time I breathe, stretch, and pray my way through a practice.
I love how Jesus said that he came, not just to bring us any old life, but so that we might have a big, abundant, full life in him. My yoga practice, firmly rooted in Christ, has helped me to live fully alive. And for this gift, born out of the East, I am most grateful.