Hungry Bodies, Hungry Souls: What does Yoga have to offer to Christians?

Jennifer Tufts

Yoga is the yoking, the union of body, mind and spirit. My mind and my spirit were on one track, the spiritual journey of following Christ, but my body was not along for the ride. A wise yoga teacher gently led me back into my body about 6 years ago. She did it by being non-judgmental and patient, and by trusting in yoga itself to reconnect body and spirit. I don’t even know when exactly I had lost my way and separated from my body but it’s awfully good to be home again.

You could say, my body was lost but now it is found – and reunited with mind and spirit in the worship of God! This is the story of one Christian who was captured by the practice of yoga. I am not alone.

When the Bible says that the body is the temple of the Lord, it means the body is the temple of the Lord! Not the church building, not the synagogue, the human body. Each morning we wake up with the opportunity and the need to reconnect to God. Yoga was developed as a spiritual discipline. A quick tour of Yogic philosophy is striking in that Jesus is revered as a great teacher and spiritual leader. It need not detract from our understanding of the unique and ordained message of Christ’s life and his death to view scriptures through a different religious and cultural lens. Rather we find new and meaningful insights that only deepen our appreciation of Jesus’ words. It is only fear that could keep us from seeking to know Jesus better and scripture teaches us that perfect love casts out fear!

Paramahansa Yogananda’s book, The Second Coming of Christ, brings new light to Jesus’ teachings from the viewpoint of a practitioner of yoga.

“We must know Jesus as an Oriental [Eastern] Christ, a supreme yogi who manifested full mastery of the universal science of God-union, and thus could speak and act as a savior with the voice and authority of God. He has been Westernized too much.

Jesus was an Oriental, by birth and blood and training. To separate a teacher from the background of his nationality is to blur the understanding through which he is perceived. No matter what Jesus the Christ was himself, as regards his own soul, being born and maturing in the Orient [East], he had to use the medium of Oriental civilization, customs, mannerisms, language, parables, in spreading his message.” (Pg. 90-91)

As a young Christian I was taught to spend time each morning to read the Word of God, pray, and be quiet as the spiritual foundation of each day. No one mentioned bringing the body into that quiet time. Physical exercise was not something my Christian teachers would have mentioned. Important, maybe, but not on a similar plane to the spiritual disciplines.

No surprise that our culture is introducing the same split to the practice of yoga that we have introduced to the practice of Christian faith, that is to divide the body and the spirit. Yoga is all the rage among actors, models, the rich and famous, not to mention stressed-out working types. Yoga is being taught in fitness centers and studios alongside nautilus equipment, aerobics classes, and the treadmill. It is regarded as a tool for a more beautiful body, a treatment for stress, or an alternative medicine. The practice of yoga in America has broken into the mainstream as the cover story of Time magazine.

Churches could lead the way but, rather than jumping on the yoga bandwagon and responding to the evident need, many Christians are reacting out of fear, immediately critical of yoga without knowing much about it. America has grown and flourished based on its ability to assimilate other cultures and traditions. The medical and scientific communities have begun to acknowledge the health benefits of yoga and to demonstrate the important links between the mind, the spirit and the body. Yoga is starting to pop up in places of worship, in our schools, in hospitals and sports training facilities.

It is time to liven worship liturgy with dance. It is time to energize our prayer lives with body prayer. It is time to teach our children to breathe, to calm their over-stimulated minds. An overweight, stressed and addicted society is crying out for meaningful rest time, for truth about the body’s connection to the soul, for the tools to quiet physical, materialistic cravings.