The Shared Practices of Christians Practicing Yoga
When one hears the word “practice,” especially referring to yoga, what comes to mind first might be yoga asana, or the physical practice of yoga. We are sometimes asked if there is a certain asana practice appropriate for Christians. People within our network practice with such variety! The possibilities are endless. There is no single practice CPY endorses.
While there is no one way to practice yoga as a Christian, we notice that our lives, our website, and our gatherings center around these five broad practices. You might notice that these practices seem like values—and that is true too. These five practices are things we deeply value.
We are opting to call our shared values “practices” for several reasons—practices emphasize the embodied nature of all that we do; practices mean that we are actively living what we believe; practices indicate ongoing formation; and valuing practices rather than theological beliefs allow for theological diversity in an ecumenical group like this. Our practices indicate things that we, as a community, actually do—together and individually.*
Here are the five practices of Christians Practicing Yoga with annotations on key phrasing:
The Practice of Yoga and Contemplative Prayer
One Contemplative Prayer: Some people might prefer the word “meditation” here rather than “contemplative prayer.” In today’s culture, however, “meditation,” is a broad term—it’s slippery and applied to many things. We choose “Contemplative Prayer” because it indicates the vertical relationship inside meditation and encompasses all the different forms of Christian meditation.
Although grammarians (like the ones writing this) might cringe to see a singular noun combined with plural objects, this tension exemplifies a debate we at Christians Practicing Yoga have been having for years. For some in our network and in the greater yoga community, these two practices are indistinguishable; yet for others they are clearly two different activities. If we look at the 8 Limbs of Yoga, Asana is one of them; Dharana and Dhyana—which encompass the practice of meditation—are two of them. Does that make these practices the same activity under the umbrella of yoga? Or does Modern Postural Yoga clearly delineate different stages of practice, and therefore separate these into different activities?
Some of us say these are two activities, others one. For nearly 20 years, our community has been debating this relationship, so writing out the practice as singular with two entities honors both perspectives. What we are emphasizing here is that yoga and contemplative prayer are integrally related practices.
The Practice of Study/Knowledge
For some, the path of study is a yoga—jñana yoga. For nearly twenty years, some of the teachers behind this site have been meeting to share our study and ideas with each other. Our early discussions produced a book (Reclaiming the Body in Christian Spirituality) and this website, where our study continues.
We find great spiritual growth in the practice of studying the intersections of philosophy and practice of Yoga and Christian theology. We study on our own; we study together. Our studying produces knowledge. This practice is key to who we are.
Join us in studying: let us know what intrigues you about the intersections of yoga and Christianity. What can’t you stop thinking about?
The Practice of Incarnational Theology
God came to earth in and through the body of Jesus Christ—the Incarnation. “Incarnational Theology” might be a heady term, but what we mean here is that through the practice of yoga, we acknowledge the appropriateness of going to God the way God comes to us: in and through a body. By bringing our bodies into our devotion to God, we are inviting knowledge of God into the very fibers of our being.
Consider, too, the radical position of Christianity on the body: we believe in the resurrection of the body. That’s a very high theology of the body—not only did God come to us in the form of Jesus’ body, then sacrifice that body, and also resurrect that body, but also heals and resurrects the bodies of others. What does it mean to have an embodied theology? This is a question that we continue to live into. See more at “What if the body were an altar?” or “Can Yoga Teach a Christian to Pray?”
The Practice of Christian Unity
Our network of teachers originally came together around Fr. Tom Ryan, after the publication of his book Prayer of Heart and Body: Meditation and Yoga as Christian Spiritual Practice. As a Catholic priest teaching yoga for Christians, Fr. Tom’s events attracted Christians from a wide variety of denominational backgrounds. Thanks to his leading and vocation through the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, each of our teacher gatherings end with palpable Christian unity.
Our practice of Christian Unity here reflects back on our vision of yoga helping to heal the divides. Some might say the divide is between Catholic/Protestant/Orthodox, and others might say it is between liturgical and evangelical expressions of worship. Whatever it is, in the spaces we hold at Christians Practicing Yoga, we actively practice listening to each other and our different understandings of the Christian faith. This practice is often uncomfortable, yet always one of the most valuable. We believe quite strongly in the Body of Christ, that we all have essential places in that Body. It is a practice to listen to one another and work to find common ground.
The Practice of Community
CS Lewis writes, “The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one…” People practicing Christ-centered yoga often feel alone—and when they find our site or other yoga practitioners from a Christian perspective at our gatherings, they find a place of belonging—they find family. So we seek to practice community here, to help people know they are not alone in their questions or their Christian practice of yoga.
Although we experience this community at our biennial retreats, we recognize that biennial is not often nor for everyone. It is our hope to grow that community more online through synchronous and asynchronous events, as well as provide more in person opportunities for community. Bear with us as we grow into this edge: we invite you to keep checking back. Be sure to sign up for our email list for any new developments!
On practice, St. Mark the Ascetic, a 5th century Desert monk writes, “Even though knowledge is true, it is still not firmly established if unaccompanied by works. For everything is established by being put into practice. Often our knowledge becomes darkened because we fail to put it into practice.”