- Should Christians practice yoga?
- Is it spiritually safe?
- By practicing yoga are we unknowingly worshipping a false god?
These are all questions that I have been asked. Below you will find some of my thoughts on the topic of yoga. My aim is not to provide final answers to the questions listed above, I simply aim to explain some of what I have learned and discovered through my own yoga practice. I hope that through reading the article below I can give you some insight into my experience.
WHY I DO YOGA
After a full day at work, I enter a room where yoga is being offered. Sometimes that is a yoga studio, sometimes a space in my home. I roll out my mat and take a seat. Yoga often begins with a breathing exercise. As I breathe I begin to pray, thanking God for the breath that he has allowed me to experience in this life. As I notice my breath I am reminded of Genesis 2:7, “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” I turn my focus inward. I begin to feel stress leaving my body as my lungs expand.
Slowly, I move through various postures that get my body moving. I feel strength building, muscles lengthening as I move, always moving with my breath, the Breath of life. As I work on balance postures I am reminded of Colossians 2:6-7, “… continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” I feel my feet rooting into the ground as I aim to stand tall. In postures that encourage heart-opening, my chest space begins to expand, I pray, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps. 139:23-24)
Class ends with a posture called “Savasana” which invites me to lay on my back, eyes closed, focused on breathing. This is the moment that the whole class builds up to, the moment of stillness. All of the breath, balance, strength… it is all preparation for stillness. In this stillness, I am able to meditate on the goodness of God. I can bring him my worries and cares, I have space to simply sit with Him and allow His presence to wash over me. In this position I find healing, I find communion with the Father, I find hope. In stillness, He is there. Waiting. Waiting for me to turn my eyes to Him. Thismoment, this stillness is the purpose of yoga.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)
I leave my mat feeling a sense of unity, I feel connected to my body. I am released from the tension that followed me from my day. I am deeply connected to the Lord.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF YOGA?
The word yoga comes from Sanskrit- an ancient Indian language. Yoga in Sanskrit literally translates as “yoked or union” “Union, as it pertains to yoga, is a fusion between the mind, body, and spirit. It is a system of physical and mental disciplines that includes postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. “ (Stretching Your Faith, Michelle Thelien) What differentiates yoga from other forms of exercise is that while there are physical benefits, the purpose of yoga is far greater than physical. Yoga aims to unite the body, mind, and spirit together in harmony. In the Yoga Sutra, which is the oldest known writings on Yoga, the purpose of yoga is translated as, “To still the turning of your mind to see clearly what is.” I believe that if we can bring ourselves into a moment of stillness we are able to see God, to hear from Him. And I believe that is more valuable than anything else.
HOW IS YOGAFAITH DIFFERENT FROM YOGA?
Yoga was originally adopted as a practice within the Hindu faith. While many aspects of yoga existed long before the Hindu faith adopted it, it was those within the Hindu faith that first wrote and organized the yoga philosophy and practices. If you were to take a Yoga class that is not faith-based, you would find some differences in language and approach. Most yoga classes will use a mixture of English names for poses as well as Sanskrit. The focus on meditation often invites students to focus on emptying themselves or sometimes feeling their connection to the universe around them. This all varies depending on the teacher and the worldview they hold.
YogaFaith is Christ-centered. You can expect to hear scripture, worship music is often played in the background, prayer is a key part of the class. Instead of focusing on emptying ourselves, we, as Christians focus on being filled with the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the class time is for people to be able to connect with their Creator, finding unity with Him.
SHOULD CHRISTIANS BE PRACTICING YOGA?
I have heard many reservations about Christians practicing yoga. Many concerns are centered around the idea that through practicing yoga we may, knowingly or unknowingly be worshipping a false god. While I understand the concern, I believe that scripture is clear that worship involves a posturing of our heart. “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Ps. 51:16-17
“Outward worship is only righteous when the inward state of the heart is in a proper place.”(http://gettingstill.com/jesus-yoga-part-1/). Worship involves a posturing of the heart. Physical postures may enhance or add to a worship experience, but a physical posture is not enough, we much position our hearts.
ARE ALL TYPES OF YOGA THE SAME?
The short answer is no. As with music, dance, and even our faith, yoga has many branches. Below you will find a short description of a few different types of yoga. I hope that these will help you to be able to find a type of yoga that you find beneficial. *Each of the styles of yoga listed below can be faith-based yoga, it will depend upon the instructor.
- Vinyasa- Vinyasa classes are known for their fluid movement. Instructors plan each posture to flow seamlessly into the next while linking breath to movement.
- Hot Yoga or Bikram– While Bikram and Hot Yoga have differences, both are done in a room that is heated to anywhere between 90-120 degrees. The heat allows the practitioners’ muscles to be incredibly warm allowing for deep stretching as well as building good strength.
- Ashtanga- Ashtanga Yoga is very structured. Every Ashtanga class will have the exact same sequence of movement with assigned breath. This type of class is good for those who like to know what is coming. That being said, the sequence of postures can be very physically demanding.
- Power Yoga- Power Yoga takes its roots from Astanga. It is designed to build strength. This type of yoga is often a favorite for athletes. Some power yoga classes will include the use of weights or props to intensify the work.
- Yin- Yin yoga is a meditative form of yoga. Postures are held for a long period of time (typically 3-5 minutes). Due to the length of time postures are held, Yin typically focuses on deep stretching.
- Restorative- Restorative yoga is designed to help the practitioner relax. This type of yoga makes use of props; blocks, blankets, bolsters, etc. to get the body into a passive pose so that the practitioner is not required to exert any physical effort.
- YogaFaith- Christ-centered yoga. YogaFaith classes can be power, restorative, yin, vinyasa, etc. but if you see YogaFaith you can know that scripture and the Christian faith will be a part of the class.
*I do want to take a moment to acknowledge that there are some branches of yoga that are, in fact, tied to a spiritual practice that does not line up with our Christian faith. The types of yoga listed above often have a meditative or spiritual component that depending on the belief system of the instructor will shape the class. One type of yoga that I personally choose to stay away from is known as Kundalini. This practice is tied to the release of specific spirits. Many of the concerns I have heard about Christians practicing yoga refer to things that may happen within a Kundalini yoga practice. I bring up the various types of yoga to say that many yoga practices allow for the Lord to speak, move and bring healing. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to do a little research if you are unsure about the type of yoga you are practicing, learn a little about your instructor and use discernment.