To the Christian Who Sent Me Hate Mail on Easter Sunday.

Via on Apr 8, 2012

Apparently, some people feel that “No Christian Should Ever Do Yoga.”

Hi everyone!

Guess what I just found in my mailbox, nestled in-between my Time-Warner cable bill and a couple of checks from my day job teaching at yoga studios across the nation:

Hate mail.

Wait, check that…Christian hate mail, which seems to me a direct contradiction in terms. But apparently not for one God-fearing man. And, actually, a few others. I get these letters once in a while, usually from anonymous sources.

This time, however, I have a name to put with the hate, or should I say, strong concern for my heathen soul, by the way, is Mike Harris Jr. moderator of Mike’s Christian Corner.

Thanks, Mike! I feel I can respond to him, since he asked me to “tell (him) what you think” in his letter. Well, okay then!

Mr. Harris Jr. let me know a few things I was unaware of about my yoga practice, things that I’ll share with you below. Then I’d like to take this opportunity to clue Mike and those like him in to another side to yoga, one I hope he never forgets, lest he start daydreaming about sending another one of thee lovely missives to a fellow yogi.

Thee? Wow—Freudian slip, I guess.

I meant to say ‘these.”

The heading of the letter reads “Why No Christian Should Ever Do Yoga.”

Hmmmm…I was intrigued. Especially since I used to teach yoga in a Christian church, was raised Presbyterian and my father is a born-again Christian and deacon. Perhaps I was causing harm?

Mr. Harris Jr: “Is it just another exercise method that has benefits that far outweigh anything else?”

Well, yes, in my opinion. Well said, Mike!

He continues: “These are postures that are offered to the 330 Hindu gods. Yoga poses are really sacrifices or offerings to the gods.”

Wow! I wondered why I always say “your yoga practice lasts 24-7.” Because I’ve been trying to appease 330 million gods! No wonder it takes so long.

Mike, don’t worry. I am not a Hindu.

If I was a Hindu, I might be doing the exercise form of yoga in addition to my other Hindu-esque lifestyle choices. As it stands, ‘yoga’ may have stemmed from a certain culture and time, but, just like you are translating the words of a book written centuries ago, and adopting some (not all, certainly) of its concepts to meet your current needs (like picking on yoga teachers in your spare time), so do we yogis choose concepts from  long ago to help us live in the way we also think is best for ourselves and humanity. In this way, we are not so different.

As I am not a Hindu, I usually do not bring Hindu gods into my classes, just as I would not sing “Jesus Loves Me” or dance the Horah in a classroom that contains all creeds, colors and religions. I do not chant Hindu verses, in the same way I wouldn’t read from the Bible or the Koran during a yoga session. Religion is personal, as is yoga.

For me, yoga is a personal path to what is clear, and good, and honest about a unique student on a unique mat. It contains universal wisdom that needs no religious figure, much less 330 million, to anchor it.

How anyone chooses to get there while in these poses, whether it is to exalt Christ or pray to Allah or focus on their breathing or send love to their creaky knees or wish death to their challenging teacher is none of my concern. Bringing them into an inspired, aligned state so they can get to their best personal work that day is my only job.

Moving right along, Mike offers up some conveniently cherry-picked quotes from the New and Old Testaments, such as:

Thou shalt have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)

Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprieve them. (Ephesians 5:11)

By the way, not only could I quote you some real gems as well, such as:

Keep slaves:

Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. (NIV) (Leviticus 25:44)

or

Kill rude children:

Anyone who dishonors father or mother must be put to death. Such a person is guilty of a capital offense. (NLT) (Leviticus 20:9)

…but I’m pretty sure Jesus came along and said that we could take all the Commandments and condense them into one:

Love thy neighbor as Thyself.

Oh wait, except if they are gay, or Muslim, or, God forbid, do a Down Dog four times a week, eh, Mike?

In fact, if we all took a page from Jesus’ book and practiced that one commandment, and refrained from, say, sending hate mail to, say, those who don’t live like we choose to, we could completely change things on this planet for the better. Pretty smart guy, eh?

But back to the real world.

Mike continued with a pithy monologue I’ll paraphrase here:

Doing pranayama can let Satan in.

God doesn’t want us to meditate.

Astral travel attracts demons.

Now, I’m pretty sure that we won’t be seeing Mike anytime soon on a yoga mat, so this post is not for him. But it goes through the example of him to speak to the far larger numbers of more moderate Christians, and those of other religions, who may yet be on the fence about whether yoga is for them, or confused about whether it conflicts with their faith. The answer is: it depends.

Yoga is not Hinduism, necessarily. They were originally separate practices. Yet over time some people and lineages have fused them together, even many of today’s well-meaning yoga teachers who are not Hindu or Buddhist but still insist on bringing both into their classes.

Again, only in my opinion, unless one is teaching a class full of Hindus or Buddhists, only serves to confuse the core teachings of yoga unless it’s made clear that any religious or dogmatic inclusion is there to offer a greater truth up for individual repurposing.

Back to the letter.

Finally, Mike asks (about yoga, presumably, not Astral travel):

“Why would a Christian want to take part in such a thing?”

I’ll tell you why, as a teacher who has taught hundreds of good Christians yoga:

If you love God, yoga can help you get closer.

If you want to pray, yoga will help you be clearer.

If you have a family, yoga will create a more loving you for them.

If your body needs work, yoga will help you transform it.

If you want to live with courage and faith, yoga will help you find it.

If you seek an end to daily suffering, yoga will salve it.

If you are estranged from your neighbor, yoga can unify you.

If you want to be more like Jesus, yoga teaches you the way.

Turn the other cheek if you like, but I’d suggest you take another look at this mindful addition to your existing religious beliefs. When you find the right teacher, yoga becomes an “and” not an “or.”

And, Mike, I’m strangely honored that you care enough about my soul, and that of my fellow practitioners to write a whole missive about it. But when you ended with “Christians should run away from yoga!” I knew I had to write this post. Because there are more like you out there, in churches and synagogues and mosques everywhere giving yoga some pretty bad PR.

If anything, Jesus-lovers, run toward your mat.

You may be surprised to discover that one of the closest things to heaven on earth is waiting for you there.

And, Mike, why don’t you try a class?

You don’t know what you’re missing.

~

Prepared by Bob W./Editor: Kate Bartolotta

About Sadie Nardini

Sadie Nardini, is the founder of Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga, an anatomically-optimized flow style that gives you more results and benefits for every minute spent on your yoga mat. She is a holistic anatomy geek, healthy hedonism advocate, yoga expert, author, and TV host who travels internationally bringing empowering tools to yoga teachers and students everywhere. Her new book, The 21-Day Yoga Body: A Metabolic Makeover, Life-Styling Manual to Get You Fit, Fierce and Fabulous in Just 3 Weeks! (Random House), is out now, and her TV show, Rock Your Yoga, is playing across the country on the new Veria Living Network. With Sadie, you'll sweat, laugh, learn, and come away transformed, informed, and inspired anew. Learn more at www.SadieNardini.com.

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177 Responses to “To the Christian Who Sent Me Hate Mail on Easter Sunday.”

  1. mike51907 says:

    I think "hate mail" is a bit strong to describe this letter. However I believe Mr Harris is wrong in suggesting you could be guilty of idolatry simply by employing these positions in your exercise. While it is true that, generally speaking, you can be led into sin if you are not careful about your associations and habits, I don't believe you can sin by accident. Simply because certain postures and positions are used for the puposes described that does not mean those same purposes are ascribed to the person who is simply exercising. Many Christians participate in the Olympic Games. Are they guilty of showing fealty to Greek gods by participating in the ceremonies? I am not saying that caution should not be exercised with regard to Yoga but the idea that Christians who practice the exercises are somehow in danger of worshiping Hindu gods strikes me as borderline paranoid.

  2. kane303 says:

    Clearly the guy who wrote the letter to Sadie is crazy… that makes him an easy target. And I feel a little like this column consists (at least in part) of dressing down and making fun of somebody who has so many obvious issues of his own that it's both a bit mean and rather pointless. This guy is a religious fanatic who wrote a nutty letter… but the author's response seems as if she would have us think he's the leader of some sort of widespread anti-yoga movement that must be defeated. This gives him way too much credit and both sensationalizes and legitimizes a loony rant.

    Also, yoga IS essentially Hindu in its nature. There's so much about yoga that is closely linked to Hindu traditions and Gods and music and stories… unless you want to fundamentally change the practice, it's going to conflict with traditional Christianity (which orders its followers to only worship the Christian God, among many other silly admonitions). There's no getting around that, so why not just come to peace with it.

    Yoga is growing fast and will continue to grow… any sort of "moral" objections to the practice lessen with each new generation or even each passing day/month/year. Yoga is a beautiful way to strengthen and bring peace to the mind, body, and spirit… it clearly has roots in Hinduism, but is not dogmatic.

    Those who interpret Abrahamic faiths literally will find there is conflict between that living that interpretation and practicing yoga… they're right about that. The "solution" is not to pretend there's no conflict — instead, why not honestly discuss these religious traditions (warts and all) and yoga practice?… placing something that may seem awkward or unpleasant into the light is not anything to be afraid of.

    Besides, whatever conflict exists, yoga is growing rapidly anyway, and literal/fundamentalist interpretation of religion is diminishing rapidly. I'm not in the traditional yoga "demo" myself (and I see more and more people who also aren't in that "demo" at my yoga classes all the time) as I'm male, over 30, and grew up poor… this practice is reaching people (myself included) that 10-20-30 years ago never would have come across it… what a blessing!

  3. Eschaton says:

    Dear Sadie, from your comments on Dee's blog it seems you are buying into Singleton's spurious and discredited premise that 'Krishnamacharya integrated YMCA calisthenics' into his instruction. Also referring to Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj as 'nationalist organizations' is a historical fallacy. They were both highly reformist and progressive organizations, not parochial, supremacist and 'nationalist' as your quoted source claims. Like I mentioned in Dee's post Yoga and Hinduism are intertwined and interdependent concepts. One cannot be separated from the other. Hinduism is not a 'religion' in the Abrahamic sense. It is a way of life, of living, of relating to reality and yourself, at the deepest level. So whether you admit it or not, by practicing yoga, you are integrating a vital facet of Hinduism in your daily life. The term 'Hinduism' as it exists today has transcended it's post-colonial origins. It is no longer a term used by 'outsiders to describe inhabitants of the Indus plains', as hacks like Chopra and his acolytes claim. It is the contemporary form of the more accurate 'Sanatana Dharma'. The term is comprehensive and all-encompassing and includes the entire gamut of Indic thought as centered around the Vedic concept of Advaita or non-duality, which itself emerges from Samkhya philosophy. What you call 'yoga' is just 'Asana', and no more.. Scriptural Yoga comprises of Bhakti, Raja, Kriya, Jnana, Hatha, Laya, Swara among others, and includes the entire foundation of 'Hindu' thought or Sanatana Dharma. Attempting to decouple one from the other is absurd since they are wholly synonymous and symbiotic concepts. Asana, which is taught by self-proclaimed 'yoga teachers' is merely one tiny branch on the giant tree of Yoga or Hinduism. However, the good news is you do not need to 'convert' since Hinduism does not believe in proselytization. Anyone can avail of the 'revealed wisdom' or Shruti, regardless of beliefs and religion. I reiterate : Hinduism is not a religion, in the Anglo-Saxon sense of it. It is a comprehensive, holistic way of life that is based on practical, experiential methodology to attain liberation. The Hindu 'Gods' are merely an embodiment or personification of universal and cosmic attributes that are found in the manifested world. They do not correspond to 'Gods' in the Anglo-Saxon sense of the term.

    • yogaboca says:

      Eschaton – once again – Thank you for breathing a breath of fresh air into this discussion. I am very humbled by your knowledge and confidence.

      I have also heard it said that Hinduism is not actually a religion but yet it's usually listed as one of the major world religions.
      That's a bit of a contradiction but because there is no dogma — I guess it is in a different category than Christianity.

      Over the past few days, I got a bit bleary eyed reading all these posts. I thought I came across something that said that Hinduism is actually monotheistic and all those 320 gods (or however many there are) are actually all representing different aspects of the one God, who is not really named but I often see a reference to Ishvara.

      I wonder what you say about this.

      • Eschaton says:

        Hi Dee, I'm glad I could be of some help in clarifying the obfuscation that is often heaped upon 'Yoga'. The fact is that there is no debate whatsoever. Yoga and Hinduism are interdependent concepts. The multitude of 'gods' represent various attributes of 'Brahman' or the supersoul. Hinduism is a monotheistic system. And no, it does not qualify as a 'religion' in the Abrahamic sense (Christianity, Islam, Judaism). The reason Yoga has been delinked from it's Hindu context is commonsense – it boils down to the almighty dollar!! Chances are attendance at yoga studios would drop if the teachers were upfront about the entirety of what yoga represents. Worshipping a personal diety, chanting, mantras, yantras (Hindu rituals) etc are all aspects of Bhakti Yoga. Studying the scriptures in Sanskrit is Jnana yoga and so on… Asana is a only a tiny branch on the giant tree of yoga.
        I am dismayed by the rampant use of historical fallacies and inaccuracies by self declared 'yoga teachers' like Nardini. She may have some cursory knowledge of physical postures but her knowledge of Yoga is extremely limited, which is par for the course.. quoting a source which defines Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj as 'nationalist' organizations is like calling Obama a 'white supremacist! It's a totally ridiculous assumption. She would have got an 'F' if it were a freshman history paper. And the whole bit about 'YMCA calisthenics' influencing Krishnamacharya is pure doggerel. Even the progenitor of that spurious and discredited theory, Mark Singleton has eaten his words..
        Sadie really needs to brush up on her facts, as do all 'yoga practitioners'.

  4. yogaboca says:

    Eschaton, Once again, I appreciate your input.
    You are probably right about the almighty dollar.

    I started practicing in 1970 in NY (state) and the changes in yoga are astonishing.
    I had been away from yoga for many years and then jumped back in in 1997 and was
    quite surprised to see these things called sticky mats.

    I also noticed the yoga had become more athletic (which is not necessarily a bad thing)
    and people were using blocks and straps.

    Whats so crazy now is how everyone is branding their yoga.
    It's like the ice cream that comes in 28 flavors.

    I also find there is a rebellious streak with the young people.
    They feel that things like chocolate, caffeine and booze mix quite well with yoga.

    I really respect people like Dharma Mittra who espouses a very clean diet.
    Concern with diet and purification seems to have gone out the window.

    Those are my beefs, but I also believe that it's an individual journey and people need to make
    their own decisions – not blindly following some creed.

    Thanks again. I'll look forward to seeing more comments from you in the future.

  5. As i worked on my thesis about Yoga in the school system..a. 2-year project….in India…I came across many such views.
    Because of our context…re: the Western world it is truly going to be challenging to bring Yoga into it…and divorce it from its roots. Of course, that is exactly what is happening right now. And why many traditionalist take issue with the 'white-wash of Yoga" and/or why more religious people take issue with the whole of Yoga.

    Knowing the history and background of Yoga…re: its evolution does help…..because you cannot rewrite history. We cannot close our eyes to how and where it evolved. As the scholar Georg Feuerstein said this many times…That is, it will be a challenge for us to bring Yoga into the present day context given its historical roots. And he went on to say most of what is called Yoga is not really Yoga and far removed from its original purpose. How many students really practice thinking about the higher good, the divine being or even the yamas and niyamas. I am not saying anything either way….just posing the open-ended question of such. Some yoga teachers even think that ain't any of your business as a yoga teacher anyway…..Meaning that people practice..if they want to take it deeper…good….if not, also good/OK.

    I recall early on when learning Yoga in the context of India that we were getting into Hinduism rituals and cultural understanding. I remember thinking, "Am I being indoctrinated?" I don't pray to Jesus despite being raised a Christian but I'm OK with praying to a Hindu God?

    Overall, it is all about waking up and learning and not taking things blindly. We should encourage people to think, feel and discuss. As long as we understand that ALL of this is to gain more clarify for ourselves and our world.

    I do think, however, as a teacher one should exercise some discretion in how many comments one wants to respond to. For example, if someone writes on my youtube wall that I look sexy and am great…well, that's nice but it may not prove to be of much benefit to enlightened thinking to encourage the discussion.

    Something to think of ….as we move forward and get lots of feedback from various sources in our little world.

  6. I enjoyed reading this…

    better spot breathing before I get possessed by the devil! hahaha

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  11. writingkat says:

    You have taught me something today. Thanks for being my teacher.

    Kat

  12. Keith Artisan LivingArtisan says:

    Great read, thank you for the pithy responses and clear insights. :)

    One a side note, I'd written about similarities in christianity and yoga : http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/01/similariti

  13. David says:

    Question????

    Do you remember who you were before you were told what to be, what to believe, how to think and how to view the world around you? I was recently asked "what I am." The question was directed at my political affiliation.
    I will try to answer that the best I can.

    I AM a boundless, infinite, eternal, non-physical entity having a temporary human experience, here to learn, love, grow, and evolve, in this three dimensional classroom called "LIFE." I AM not a drop in the ocean . . . . . . I AM the entire ocean in a drop. I AM of no religion, no country, no state, no political affiliation. I see no boundaries, no distinction, and no lines drawn between me and others. I see no race, creed, color, tint, or hue. I temporarily belong to only one race, the human race. I AM not a citizen of America, I AM a citizen of the planet. To ask what I AM? I AM nothing and no one in particular, and yet everything and everyone at the same time. To label ourselves or others as anything is to segregate, and is to see them and ourselves as separate from one another. It's to focus on our differences instead of our similarities. It's to divide instead of unite.

    In today's world, the fundamental problem is our need to label things. It polarizes us, and we see the world in very dichotomous terms. To make broad, sweeping generalities and point fingers in judgement at an entire culture or religion is reckless and irresponsible and perpetuates stereotypes, promoting bigotry, racism, profiling, and is at its very core, the very hate and prejudice that breeds war. I've never met a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Jew, that showed me anything but love, kindness, and compassion, and saw in their eyes, the same beautiful kindness, love, hope, and aspirations for themselves and their families, that I see in every person i meet.

    The world is only a reflection of what we choose to believe it is. Life is for the most part imaginary and illusory. What we see in the world is only a reflection what we believe and what we see in ourselves . . . . . . . We see things not as they are, but "as we are."

  14. Danny Baffoe says:

    Many paths lead to the the same mountain….Initiator is merely showing a lack of depth of in his own Faith…His view of the path is paved, straight, no U- Turns, no rest stops. Trouble is he's already asleep @ the wheel or driving with his eyes closed. "driving with your eyes closed…you're gonna hit something that's just the way it goes." Don Henley

  15. Human-hater says:

    Hey yogasamurai or whatever, do you hate men or women or human(s) in general???

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