In Chandler, Arizona, mother-daughter team DeAnna Smothers and Courtney Chalfant run Yahweh Yoga, home to one of the first Christian yoga teacher training programs in the United States. Over the past few years, DeAnna and Courtney have added the a new word to the phrase "Christian Yoga": style. Yahweh Yoga teaches Christian-style Yoga. In this interview, DeAnna explains the change:
CPY: Why did you start calling your yoga "Christian-style Yoga"?
DeAnna: One of the important facts about yoga for all religions to recognize is that it is not a religion. According to the vast majority of leading yogis worldwide (both ancient and modern), yoga is a methodology, not a theology. Yoga can be practiced by any religion or no religion at all, such as a gym setting. Yoga as Medicine is now an integrated part of healthcare systems here in the U.S. Yoga has never been and will never be a religion, but classes can be stylized to meet individual class delivery preferences. For example: At Yahweh Yoga we design and deliver Christian style yoga classes so we can experience and enjoy His peace and presence throughout our classes, while also getting our bodies flexible and strong.
It can be confusing to both Christians and the secular yoga industry to call it Christian Yoga as some people have said, "If yoga is not a religion, why call it Christian Yoga?" It's clarifying to say Christian-style yoga because the majority of yogis refer to various styles of yoga in everyday conversation. Styles of yoga are commonly referred to by students and teachers alike. Styles are referred to by Yoga Alliance, in fact, a school is registered at Yoga Alliance according to its style. For example, when our teachers graduate they must register with Yoga Alliance according to their style of teaching so they register for Yahweh Yoga style when registering for their credentials.
What other styles of yoga are there?
There are many different types of recognized styles of yoga:
- Anusara: Anusara is often described as Iyengar (a purist form of yoga) with a sense of humor. Created by the aptly named John Friend, Anusara is meant to be heartfelt and accepting. Instead of trying to fit everyone into standard cookie-cutter positions, students are guided to express themselves through the poses to their fullest ability.
- Ashtanga: Ashtanga has six established and strenuous pose sequences — the primary series, second series, third series, and so on — practiced sequentially as progress is made. Ashtangis move rapidly, flowing from one pose to the next with each inhale and exhale. Each series of poses linked by the breath this way is called a vinyasa.
- Bikram: Bikram features yoga poses in a sauna-like room. The heat is cranked up to nearly 105 degrees and 40 percent humidity in official Bikram classes. If it’s called “Bikram” (for inventor Bikram Choudhury), it will be a series of 26 basic yoga postures, each performed twice.
- Hatha: By definition, hatha is a physical yoga practice, which is pretty much all yoga you’ll find in this hemisphere. One of the six original branches of yoga, “hatha” encompasses nearly all types of modern yoga. In other words, hatha is the ice cream if styles like ashtanga and Bikram are vanilla and chocolate chip. Today, classes described as “hatha” on studio schedules are typically a basic and classical approach to yogic breathing exercises and postures.
- Iyengar: This is a purist yoga named after founder B.K.S. Iyengar. Props like blocks, straps, harnesses, and incline boards are used to get you more perfectly into positions and have earned the style its nickname, “furniture yoga.” Appropriate for all ages and abilities, Iyengar yoga is all about precise alignment and deliberate sequencing. Don’t take that to mean easy.
- Jivamukti: A physical, limit-pushing practice that reintegrates yoga’s traditional spiritual elements in an educational way for Western practitioners. Expect a theme for each class, Sanskrit chanting, and references to ancient scripture. Created by Sharon Gannon and David Life in 1984 in New York City, jivamukti translates as “liberation while living."
- Kripalu: Kripalu is a three-part practice that teaches you to get to know, accept, and learn from your body. It starts with figuring out how your body works in different poses, then moves toward postures held for an extended time and meditation. It then taps deep into your being to find spontaneous flow in asanas, letting your body be the teacher.
- Kundalini: The practice of kundalini yoga features constantly moving, invigorating poses. The fluidity of the practice is intended to release the kundalini (serpent) energy in your body. Weren’t aware you had any? Well, just think of it as an energy supply, coiled like a sleeping snake at the base of the spine, waiting to be tapped; the practice aims to do just that — awaken and pulse the stuff upward through the body.
- Prenatal: Yoga postures carefully adapted for expectant mothers. Prenatal yoga is tailored to help women in all stages of pregnancy, even those getting back in shape post-birth. When you keep your muscles strong through your term, they will still have the strength and energy to return to normal.
- Restorative: Less work, more relaxation. You’ll spend as many as 20 minutes each in just four or five simple poses (often they’re modifications of standard asanas) using strategically placed props like blankets, bolsters, and soothing lavender eye pillows to help you sink into deep relaxation. There’s also psychic cleansing: the mind goes to mush and you feel brand new. It’s something like group nap time for grownups. It's better not to fall asleep, though.
- Sivananda: An unhurried yoga practice that typically focuses on the same 12 basic asanas or variations thereof every time, bookended by sun salutations and savasana (corpse pose). The system is based on a five-point philosophy that proper breathing, relaxation, diet, exercise, and positive thinking work together to form a healthy yogic lifestyle.
- Viniyoga: A highly individualized practice in which yogis learn to adapt poses and goals to their own needs and abilities. Vini actually means differentiation, adaptation, and appropriate application. Instead of focusing on stretching to get strong and flexible, viniyoga uses the principles of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). PNF simply means warming up and contracting a muscle before stretching it. This decreases your chance of injury.
- Vinyasa / Power: An active and athletic style of yoga adapted from the traditional ashtanga system in the late 1980s to appeal to aerobic-crazed Westerners. After having studied with Pattabhi Jois, Beryl Bender Birch and Bryan Kest simultaneously pioneered this westernized ashtanga on the East and West coasts, respectively. Power yoga doesn’t stick to the same sequence of poses each time like ashtanga does, so the style varies depending on the teacher. Classes called “vinyasa” or “flow” in your gym or studio can be vastly different but in general stem from this movement and from ashtanga as well.
- Yin: A quiet, meditative yoga practice, also called taoist yoga. Yin focuses on lengthening connective tissues and is meant to complement yang yoga—your muscle-forming Anusara, ashtanga, Iyengar, or what have you. Yin poses are passive, meaning you’re supposed to relax muscles and let gravity do the work. And they’re long — you’ll practice patience here too.
- Yahweh Yoga: A style of yoga designed especially for people who love Jesus and love yoga. These mind, body, soul classes are delivered in such a way that those from all denominations of the Christian faith can practice in an environment that makes them feel comfortable and honors their personal relationship with Christ. A scripture is read at the beginning of class, the classes can be any level including: restorative, gentle, flow, yoga pilates, hot and power, beautiful Christian and secular music is played. The class ends with a little prayer. Yahweh Yoga is a recognized style of yoga by Yoga Alliance.
How do you see Christian-style Yoga coming alongside them as another offering of yoga?
Our experience is that if you are a professional yoga teacher and teach great yoga classes, everyone appreciates and respects your style - Christians and non-Christians alike. Also, my daughter Courtney Chalfant has been committed to and instrumental in having Christian style yoga taken seriously by the yoga industry at large. She has studied with the super-stars and they respect her. She is a two-term Lululemon Ambassador (which is truly rare to be chosen two times), and out of Lululemon's 1000 Ambassadors world-wide, Courtney was chosen as one of their 70 Athletes of Influence and flown to Whistler, Canada, to receive the honor. This helps everyone in the Christian style yoga industry.
What is exciting to you about thinking about Christian Yoga in this way?
I think all of us in the Christian style yoga industry are excited to see it grow so much in the last 10+ years. It has become popular, and we believe has "tipped" and that Christian style yoga is here to stay. It is exciting for us because people who love Christ have a comfortable haven to care for their mind, body and soul health. Students have a place to unwind, come to their center, to learn to manage the stresses of life, to live in the moment, to strengthen their bodies and to take care of themselves so they can enjoy their everyday lives more and shine even more brightly for God. Over the past 10 years Yahweh Yoga has graduated more than 1000 credentialed teachers who are out in the world helping others benefit from Christian style yoga. The excitement we feel and the pure joy that comes from being a part of the Christian style yoga industry is profound and meaningful to us...it drives us and enriches us beyond our wildest dreams!
WHEN YOU DISCUSS THIS PHRASE WITH THE STUDENTS IN YOUR TEACHER TRAININGS, WHAT DO YOU HOPE THEY TAKEAWAY FROM THE TRAINING INTO THEIR OWN PRACTICE?
We emphasize clarity and simplicity in all things during teacher trainings. This is one of the areas we cover and they take the clarity back to their communities.
Since you've started using this phrase, what feedback have you received from people in the yoga world?
Clarity! Both Christians and Non-Christians say it helps them understand what we do quickly and clearly and that Christian style yoga is not a religion.