Recently I found myself riding in a gondola with a sweet yet curious couple on my way to teach a class at the Telluride Yoga Festival.
The magnificent morning glow of the sunrise peaking through the crisp blue sky, along with the cool mountain breeze has a somewhat intoxicating effect on every spirit.
So the almost 20 minute heavenly ride lends itself to heartfelt conversation even among the newest of friends. My gondola mates loaded up their mountain bikes as I loaded up my yoga mat and latte and, once past a few friendly exchanges and pleasantries, we got down to their burning question, “Can Christians practice yoga?”
Their question made me smile. I have not been asked that probably 10 years. It reminded me that even though yoga has become mainstream, there is still a large population that is not only fearful about yoga, but are in the closet about practicing it.
My immediate response was yes, absolutely. But I could tell they were searching for a bit more, so I shared with them a little about my own early struggles as a Christian and coming to terms with practicing yoga, and not feeling like a hypocrite, sinner, and thinking I was going to burn in hell—or worst of all keeping my mother up at night worrying that her youngest daughter joined a cult.
Yoga is inclusive and not exclusive.
We all show up to our yoga mats for different reasons, coming from different religious backgrounds and different relationships with Spirit. The beautiful thing is yoga doesn’t discriminate or judge—yoga blesses everyone! We don’t even need to understand everything that is going on to reap its benefits; yoga only requires that we show up.
Yoga opens us up to the very essence of who we are, and the spirit that connects us all together without the religious labels and facade. Through the practice of yoga asana, we release the holding patterns and blockages in our physical bodies, and, in return, we are able to release the fear-based processes and patterns in our minds and hearts too.
Yes, yoga was developed in India, a primarily Hindu culture, but was intended as a universal human practice. The goal of yoga involves experiencing the union with the divine that is already within us, but that has been clouded over with the stresses and strains of life. Christians practicing yoga can approach yoga with a deep sense of gratitude and respect for its ancient history and still share a strong desire to live a holistic Christian life.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? So glorify God in your bodies!” (1 Cor. 6: 12-20)
Yoga can refer to the traditional yoga philosophy, modern physical/asana practice, or both.
The physical practice of yoga, especially the asana practice, can be helpful in a variety of ways:
1. As a form of Worship. When we step onto our mats with the intention of honoring God, we are bringing our whole selves—body, mind, and spirit—into worship of and communion with God. Our yoga practice on and off the mat becomes our prayer in action to the God of our own understanding.
2. Preparation for Meditation and Prayer. Even a short yoga practice will help the body relax, relieve mental chatter, and calm the spirit. We release all of the life stuff that we hold onto and empty out our vessels so that the connection to God is unobstructed and open. We become more receptive to that small, still voice of God within.
3. To Cultivate and Strengthen Spiritual Values. Patience, sensitivity, non-judgment, truthfulness, non-violence, love, and many similar spiritual values can be cultivated on the yoga mat. As we connect with the physical body and work with its abilities and limitations, we begin to shift our habitual ways of responding to challenges. We have the opportunity to practice these virtues on the yoga mat, so that we can take them off the mat and into our lives.
4. Physical Health. A consistent yoga practice is one of the most comprehensive, holistic health sciences available. All of the dimensions of physical fitness are cultivated in an integrated way. These include strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, concentration, deep breathing, lifestyle, and dietary choices as well. Yoga is more about providing you with a strong and resilient “temple” to stand in your truth and walk in faith through your life than it is about standing on your head.
As our gondola ride came than end, I told them that finding the right teacher is everything in the beginning. A teacher that speaks your language and that you resonate with will allow you to feel comfortable and more receptive to the yoga practice on all levels. Yoga is for everyone, and there is a teacher and a community out there for all of us.
“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” ~ Unknown
Author: Tymi Howard
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Lieselle Davidson
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