Michelle A. Thielen, RYT, R-YFMT
When Yoga and Faith are Yoked
If you are not one of the millions of people who practice yoga, you may be one of the very few that have not experienced its numerous benefits. Yoga is set apart from any other physical activity as a mind, body and spirit practice. Because yoga creates a space for holistic wellness, the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits of yoga are all encompassing.
Yoga is simply defined as a union, to unite or to yoke. Not only do we unite our postures with our breath and our practice with our lives, we also create a union with the community and those we practice with. Many practitioners choose to unite their faith with their yoga practice.
This beautiful and ancient gift of yoga was never meant to be exclusive, belonging to one person or a specific group of individuals; that in itself would be “un-yogic.” Yoga is inclusive, meaning that all are welcome no matter what walk of life you come from.
Yoga + Faith
Yoga is not a religion. It is nonsectarian, but contains the ability to deepen anyone’s faith. Aspects of yoga have been incorporated into many groups and various organizations, including religions, for thousands of years. However, yoga is not a religion in and of itself, nor do you have to be religious to practice yoga. Some have used the practice of yoga, meditation and times of stillness to reflect on self enlightenment, a source they believe in, or as an act of worship.
There is a myth that one must be Hindu or Buddhist to practice yoga. The truth is that yoga predates many of the religions that have incorporated yoga techniques. In the Middle Ages (500-1500 BC) numerous variations and practices stemmed from the common Hatha yoga practice. Bhakti yoga is one stem. It focuses on surrendering to God. Unlike other types of yoga, Bhakti is a spiritual journey and a devotion to the divine. This often confuses followers of Christ, and makes them question practicing yoga. Hindus incorporated Bhakti yoga and other yoga techniques into their religious practices. Other religions have done the same thing, however, because Hinduism is the most popular religious group to incorporate and use yoga, many believe that yoga is Hinduism, and that you have to worship other gods or believe other philosophies in order to practice yoga. This would be like saying you can’t read the Bible if you are not a Christian. Of course, the Word of God and Jesus is inclusive and for everyone, just like the practice of yoga.
How a practitioner or a group chooses to use yoga is their business. It certainly is not up to others to judge how or why one practices. The reality of our world is that we are so quick to judge one another or throw stones at something we don’t quite understand or have never experienced for ourselves. Our job as human beings is to honor, respect and edify one another and learn to put aside all judgments.
Can a Christian Practice Yoga?
There are many misconceptions as to why a Christian can or cannot practice yoga. As with anything, it is a matter of intentionality. What are you meditating, contemplating or dwelling on? What are you setting your heart and mind toward at any given moment? Scripture says, whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Colossians 3:23 reads, “Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others.” Christians, no matter what we choose to do to honor our “temple,” do it all for the glory of God. When we take care of ourselves, we are honoring and glorifying Christ.
YogaFaith is a Christ-centered yoga practice. This is a practice of reclaiming and redeeming numerous biblical principles such as meditating, complete surrender and whole worship as Acts 17:28 describes, “In Him we move and breathe and have our being.” The ancient vedic literature parallels many of these biblical principles.
Many modern-day Christians hang out with Jesus on Sunday and then go about their lives for the rest of the week, leaving Jesus back at church. YogaFaith proposes that Christians keep Christ in the center of every part of our lives like washing the dishes or practicing yoga. The goal is wholeness: mind, body, spirit and soul. Why would a Christian want to exclude God from any part of their life in the first place?
Let’s get real. You do not have to be Brazilian to do Zumba, you do not have to be Buddhist to practice martial arts and you do not have to be Hindu to practice yoga. A person of Christian faith no longer has to fear doing yoga. Hearsay and opinions about Christians practicing yoga should not come from a preacher’s mouth, especially one who has never experienced Christian yoga, and it should not come from an author of an article such as this, or from the mouth of a friend. Rather, I encourage you to look to your True North which is the Word of God. Don’t let a myth, opinion or anything else come into your mind and spirit without checking your Bible. Dive into scriptures such as Mark 12:30 that declares, “love The Lord with all of your heart, all of your mind, all of your soul and all of your strength.” Scriptures declare worship and adoration with the “whole self” repeatedly. It isn’t the truth that will set you free, it is the truth that you know that will set you free. God leads and guides seekers into all truth. If you believe that God created the Heavens, the Earth and everything above and below, then you would believe that yoga is a gift from God. Your yoga practice, centered on Christ, can be your worship in action, your faith and prayers in motion.
Faith in Action
When was the last time that you created a space and time to simply be still? You do not have to be a person of faith to know that in a loud and chaotic world you need to decompress and exhale some junk daily. As a Christian, I cannot find anywhere in the Bible when God shouted He wanted to speak to His disciples. We cannot and will not be able to hear His still, small voice if noise is cluttering the frequencies. As a Christ-follower, you can’t afford not to find stillness and meditate with Him daily. He isn’t trying to keep anything from you. Perhaps it simply has been too long since you completely surrendered and exhaled “you” to create space for God.
This post first appeared on YogaFaith.org.