This past spring, two new books were published for Christians who practice yoga. Specifically, both books are aimed at Christian teachers of yoga, but there are ways in which yoga students can use them as well.
Both books were published to help Christian teachers incorporate Scripture into their yoga classes. This synergy makes sense: One of yoga’s aims is to clear the mind of all distraction; one of the Christian’s aims is to fill the mind with the Word of God. So, the combination of clearing the mind in order to focus on the Word of God is powerful.
Up until now, most of the published Christian yoga how-to books have included chapters about how yoga and the Christian faith dovetail. While these chapters have included Scripture, the chapters with the poses themselves have not incorporated Scripture to the extent that these do. (One notable exception is Roy DeLeon’s Praying with the Body, which pairs yoga poses with Psalms.)
Stretching Your Faith by Michele Thielen, March 2016
Stretching Your Faith: Practicing Postures of Prayer to Create Peace, Balance, and Freedom was written by Michele Thielen, founder of YogaFaith, a Christian yoga teacher training studio based in the Pacific Northwest. The book includes three class videos, detailed instructions for each pose, and Scripture meditations for each pose.
Stretching Your Faith is loosely organized into three overall parts:
- Beginning chapters lay out a framework for understanding yoga, what it is as a philosophy, where it comes from, and how the Christian practitioner can use yoga to spend time with God and be away from the busyness of everyday life.
- Middle chapters of the book are organized around families of poses and begin with the spiritual and Biblical significance of that family before describing the poses and modifications in words and pictures.
- Final chapters contain Thielen’s testimony and more information about YogaFaith.
The bulk of the book is the middle--the parts about the families of poses: seated, restorative, supine, backbends, revolved/twisting, balancing, inversion, and arm-balancing poses. Each chapter includes an introduction to the significance of the pose family; for instance, Supine Postures are for surrendering and being still before God. Next, the physical benefits and contraindications of the family are introduced. Then, the poses themselves. Each pose has a photo, cues for getting into the pose, modifications, advanced versions, and a Bible verse. Finally, each chapter ends with a prayer.
Grouping the poses into families has one limitation: this book does not teach you how the individual poses link together. There is one sequence of poses--the Son Salutation--but the book otherwise is geared more for the student of yoga than the beginning practitioner. With the videos, however, yoga beginners could start to use the information in this book, but it is best for the intermediate yoga student and aspiring yoga teacher.
If your goal is to know more about each pose, how to get into it and go deeper, this is the book for you. As a trained yoga instructor, I myself might use this book as a devotional, picking a pose to focus on during a yoga prayer time. I’d use the verse that accompanies the pose as my devotional focus, and then use other poses to complement the central pose--using yoga to stretch my faith.
Scripture Yoga by Susan Neal, April 2016
Scripture Yoga was written by Susan Neal, a Florida yoga teacher who began incorporating Scripture into her yoga classes in 2004. As she sought to teach yoga from a Christian perspective, Neal began combining her practice of memorizing Scripture with teaching yoga. Neal eventually wrote Scripture Yoga to help other yoga teachers prepare for class by focusing on a Biblical theme.
Scripture Yoga highlights 21 Biblical themes for yoga classes, outlining verses, notes, and suggestions for how and when to use the verses in class. Each of these 21 chapters is a mini-Bible lesson; each theme has dozens of verses from both Old and New Testaments. Themes include “How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit,” “Temptation and the Evil One,” “Atonement and Righteousness,” “God’s Mighty Angels,” and more.
To help teachers gain a sense of her class, Neal also shares her basic class outline of poses, modifiable for different levels. She also explains when and how she uses the Scripture verses throughout class in that outline.
Neal also includes beautiful photos of each pose with written cues. These photos seem aimed at yoga students, not teachers, who would already know the poses. The cues are basic information for how to find the pose--not an in-depth teaching resource with modifications or contraindications. A student could have the book next to the mat and flow through a class, which makes the book accessible for yoga beginners who want to develop a home yoga practice focused on Scripture.
All-in-all, Scripture Yoga is a resource for students who want to use yoga as a devotional practice at home, as well as a resource for teachers who are looking for Biblical themes in their classes. I’d recommend it to yoga practitioners of any stage.