Apparently, some people feel that “No Christian Should Ever Do Yoga.”
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:
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:
Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. (NIV) (Leviticus 25:44)
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.
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:
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