Recently I entered my yoga studio feeling restless and anxious. Each week, the instructor asks us to check in with what we're feeling and then to set an intention for our practice. On this particular evening, I was feeling restless and my intention is to get grounded and centered in Christ. As we transitioned through session, she continued to remind us to connect with our intention and to bring our minds back to the present moment. By the end of the hour long session, my mind was at peace.
Many Christians see yoga as an obstruction to Christianity. I see it as an enhancement. Like meditation, Christ-centered yoga (and other various forms) acts as a chasm or tunnel that ushers me to enter into the deeper chambers (the presence) of God. It does this by helping me to clear away the weights, worries, and the negative mindsets that so easily latch onto me as I go through the day and then to release them to Christ. Colossians 3 tells us to put off the old man. Through subduing of the body and controlling the breath, the choreography of yoga can calm the restless beast in each of us, allowing us to open our hearts more fully to our Creator.
Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 10:29-31 regarding food offered to idols, "For why is my freedom being judged by another's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." That's how I see yoga. In 1 Corinthians 8:4, Paul goes on to say, "We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so called gods, whether in heaven or on the earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords) yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live and there is but one Lord"
Currently I am in a yoga teachers training program. At one point I was an instructor for a Christian yoga alternative program, which was good; however, I wanted greater skill and confidence in this practice. I wanted to know proper form and alignment to prevent injuries. I would have attended a Christian yoga training program but I needed something local as I'm not a very good online learner. I need a classroom and structure.
Although am learning about yoga philosophy there is no emphasis on serving or worshipping pagan gods. In fact, the bulk of my training is on teaching the asanas (poses) safely, beautifully, and with the greatest health benefit to my students. If I had one complaint about yoga, it is that yoga (as a spiritual practice) does not profess that Jesus Christ is Lord, but neither do Zumba, Pilates, Kickboxing or the martial arts. Worship comes from the heart of the participant. The Bible says, whatever you do, do it unto the Lord. God leaves that decision up to us.
In yoga they have what are called yamas or niyamas. These are principles for living. A few of them include "do not covet," "practice chastity," "promote non-violence", "practice truthfulness," "be content," and "surrender to your higher self (God)." In every yama or niyama I hear the words of Jesus, God, or the disciples. These truths strengthen me and support my beliefs in Christ, not take away from it. It cosigns everything I know about God and the Bible. We are taught that the ultimate goal of yoga is to clear away our false self, our ego and all its conditioning, so that our true self, our God-self can come through. It doesn't really matter whether you're Christian, Buddha, or of some other faith, I believe we all struggle with keeping our eyes on what is divine and what is truly important: love, peace, joy, contentment, faith, and truth.
Yoga, as an exercise and discipline helps us slow down. It is the integration of strength building exercises aligned with breath. As the breath slows down, so does the mind. As the mind slows down, we can cast out negative thoughts and fears that overshadow our faith. As we begin to clear out our doubts and fears, we can renew our minds and embrace all of God's promises to us. Can we do this without yoga? Absolutely! The real question is, "Do we have too?" Absolutely not! Many people, as well as Christians flock to yoga several times a week, not just for the physical benefits, but the mental benefits as well. Yoga provides another opportunity for quelling the mind and centering the soul. Yoga can be a moving meditation to God. For me and many other Christians, that is exactly what it is.
I'm not saying that all types of yoga should be practiced. There are some yoga classes that most Christians wouldn't be comfortable in and thank God that we have the Holy Spirit to help us discern this. But in the same light, there are some books we should avoid, some music we shouldn't listen to, and some foods we shouldn't eat. Does that mean we should ban the whole darn lot of them? No, just use good judgment.
The only thing better than yoga, is yoga that openly honors Jesus Christ! How delightful it would be to walk in a yoga studio with a huge cross and scripture on the wall? How awesome it would be to give glory and honor to God for every movement and thought as we progress through our yoga practice or to meditate on the scriptures while standing as a warrior for Christ? Anyone who condemns Christian yoga hasn't practiced it. I can think of no better combination than yoga exercises integrated with God's word and Christian principles. It is like the best of both worlds.
Yoga is just a tool. Meditation is just a tool. We, who love the Lord Jesus Christ and practice yoga or meditation, see them as exactly that. They are not our gods and we're not confused or deceived by them. We are striving to love God with all of our heart, soul, and strength and if yoga or meditation can help us do this, then I say, "more power to us."
I take comfort in knowing that God draws us into his kingdom. I have heard testimonies of how God has saved people who were drenched in the yoga religion and who now openly condemn yoga with a passion. Yet could it have been their sensitivity to the spirit after practicing years of yoga that opened them to hear Christ's voice? The Bibles says that "no man comes to God unless the spirit of God draws him." I know that many of my yoga colleagues are not Christians, but I also know that they are seeking and through their seeking they may find the true and living God, the God who is able to really save their souls. They may not ever enter a church, but they might just be curious enough to go to a Christian yoga class and see what it's all about. Let's stop putting God in this humanly crafted and limited box. He is so much bigger than what we can see, understand, and perceive.
Roman 14:2 says, "One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man whose faith is weak eats only vegetables." Should we therefore all become vegetarians? Perhaps those who oppose yoga believe that "they" themselves lack the strength to practice yoga without being seduced away from the Lord. Verse 13 declares, "Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards the day [yoga] as special does so to the Lord. He who eats meat [or practices yoga], eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who doubts is condemned [if he practices yoga], because his eating [yoga practice] is not of faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin."
The Bible gives us liberty. It tells us that we must individually live out our own soul salvation. Therefore let's spend more time listening to what God tells us regarding our own personal lives, instead of dictating and condemning those who don't sin like we do. Even Jesus said, "Who made me a judge or ruler over you? For I have not come to condemn the world, but to save it."
Rhonda Jones is the creator of over 25 Christian meditation and affirmation Cds and the author of the Christian makeover program, Detox Your Life & Awaken Your Inner Spirit. Learn more about books, CDs & annual Christian Meditation and Yoga retreats at http://www.thechristianmeditator.com.
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