Sunday, March 02, 2008

yoga: it’s not just for pagans anymore

back when i was training to be a missionary, a speaker asked a roomful of us to share different ways we relieve stress in the US, and which methods we thought would prove useful abroad. i was quick to suggest yoga, to which i received a very reserved and calculated response, “er, yes. some would say yoga relieves tension. others may find it conflicts with their christian faith.” WHAT? do i worship yoga instead of God? no. do i take off my christian hat when i step on the yoga mat? of course not. what was this nonsense?

well, it turns out, quite a few people have issues with yoga. and maybe i should just let that be. others have decided to embrace “christian yoga,” creating (i think) an us-verses-them mentality in what ought to be a very unifying expression of exercise and meditation. perhaps my experience is unique. i started going to a yoga studio 6 months before moving to benin, looking for some form of exercise i could eventually perform in the privacy of my own home. i even signed up for the “hot yoga” classes, where you practice in a ridiculously hot room, sweating puddles, enabling you to get deeper into your stretches. i figured it would help me to acclimate to the african heat, and it did. at the beginning of each session, the instructor asked us to “name our intention” for that practice. we didn’t actually name intentions aloud. it was just something to focus on and work toward in a personal way. i never found this to challenge my faith. the best practice i ever did was one where my intention was forgiveness. perhaps it’s because i’m a kinesthetic (hands on) learner, but i felt i had a better understanding of loving my enemies as i walked out of that sweltering room… something about asking God to teach me forgiveness, approaching him with my mind, body and soul… the understanding i left with was more complete.

hot yoga has been good to me here too. i finally dusted off my yoga mat last week, lit a candle and struck many a pose (and the heat is automatic in benin!). every time i come before God with my whole self and ask Him to aid me in whatever intention He lays on my heart. this week it’s been listening.

this isn’t christian yoga. this is me approaching yoga as a christian. the same as when a runner approaches his run as a christian, or a teacher stands before her classroom as a christian or a man sips on his cup of coffee as a christian. i’m a christian when i eat ice cream, when i ride squished between two big mamas on a bush taxi, when i share a cup of tea with my girlfriends, when i blog, when i eat, sleep and breath… and even when do tree pose. especially and intentionally then. to God be the glory in all things. namasté, amen.

5 comments:

YogaDawg said...

Nice post Lauren. Sounds like you have a measured approach to yoga. Just wish a lot of other yogis would stop taking yoga so serious.

The best to you.

Crissy said...

Interesting how others see the practice. Not once have I ever thought that yoga conflicted with my Catholic beliefs, if anything it strengthens my spirituality and allows me to be a better person. Great post - reminds me of our yoga practice together. Namaste, chica!

Mike & Nancy Juntunen said...

I may have been one of those who commented on yoga at the missionary training. My concern is not with the exercise part. Exercise is good for us and as far as sweating goes... I'm Finnish and grew up with the sauna. I love to sweat- it's good for the body.

My concern is with the spiritual side of it. Yoga along with Transcendental Meditation, acupuncture and even martial arts come from a culture that is steeped in eastern mysticism. Involvement with these when they include the spiritual side can open a person up to all kinds of demonic activities.

It is possible, I know, to be involved with the exercise part (I know there are Christian martial arts groups) and not include the eastern mysticism. But, I do warn people to be careful about it. It does sound to me, though, that you have a good balance with it.

Bless you,
Mike

lauren said...

oops! i'm a huge fan of acupuncture too!

in all things, it's important to know where your heart is. my heart is God's when i do these things, my heart is not touched by eastern mysticism. just as when i go to church in africa and do the SAME dances one would do at a vodoun fete, my heart is God's and is not touched by some fetish.

if yoga or acupuncture (or african dancing) makes you feel uncomfortable in your faith, by all means, steer clear!

(and it wasn't you at training, mike, but thanks for speaking up!)

Susan said...

I am fascinated by the post and the comments. I have been a Christian my whole life and recently started practicing Yoga about 3 months ago.

I have severe back probelems that western docs have told me the only way to remedy is radical surgury. When someone suggested I try a special type of Yoga for people with scoliosis, I did. I has changed my life. I am virtually pain free and have a MUCH greater understanding of my body and how to stretch and care for my back.

While I started Yoga for stretching and exercise, I cherish the time to tune out the hectic parts of my life. During my practive I can focus and relax and concentrate on what my body needs.

The Yoga instructors I have worked with focus on respecting others, celebrating our differences, forgiveness, understanding and balance in life. While I have not studied the literature thoroughly I have not found anything remotely demonic.

By better understanding different religious and spiritual practices and cultures I think we can build bridges. I think we should celebrate the similarities and the shared beliefs and spend less time highlighting the differences.

During my time in Africa I was delighted to see how many African Christians had combined local traditions into their religious celebrations.