Are yoga and meditation the right practices for you at this time?
Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP, and Molly Metzger
If you found this site via a search engine, it's likely that you already know there is no shortage of writers cautioning Christians about the practice of yoga. It's true that when we evaluate a spiritual practice, there’s a need for discrimination, discernment, and sometimes rejection. Guided by our faith traditions, we are called to discern what is edifying and beneficial to our relationship with Christ, family, and the community. We are Christians of all walks of life who have found profound benefit in going to God the way God came to us, in and through the body. As practitioners who have come to terms with the controversy, we know that there is a lot to think about here, and we offer practical advice as you consider this practice.
We are now living in a global village, and people from other cultures and religions are our neighbors. There are two very different approaches available to us: adversarial, or mutual enrichment. In the adversarial approach, the focus is on where we’re different, and the differences are often used to construct fences between us. In the mutual enrichment approach, the differences are not denied or ignored, but the focus is on the gifts we can offer to one another and the things we can learn from one another for the enhancement of our lives. Which approach do you choose?
As you consider beginning or continuing a practice of yoga and/or mediation, we offer a few questions to help you discern whether these practices are right for you at this time.
what is your intention in trying this practice?
What makes a particular practice Christian is not its source, but its intent. If one’s intent in assuming a particular practice is to deepen awareness in Christ, then it is Christian. If this is not one’s intent, then even the reading of the New Testament loses its authenticity. Intentionality, working in tandem with discerning intelligence and freedom, is key to the place a practice like yoga might find in one’s life and to the contribution it can make.
are you COOPERATing WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT?
As Christians, we believe only the Holy Spirit can move our hearts and make us free to love as we are called. Transformation, both inner and outer, is the work of God's healing love and grace. All we can do is cooperate. Are you looking for a magic answer, a surefire path to transformation or simply a means to open yourself to Grace?
What needs to be understood is that it is incumbent on Christians engaging with practices like yoga or zen or tai chi to work with these disciplines in a way that is coherent with Christian faith and to apply to their practice a Christian understanding. One of the primary understandings that distinguishes the Christian approach to a spiritual practice or method is that whatever beneficial effects accrue are not due simply to the method or to my persevering effort. They are only means. Transformation, both inner and outer, is essentially a work of God’s healing, life-giving, restorative grace.
Is your CURIOSITY piqued?
Differing approaches, unfamiliar belief systems, foreign-sounding words and phrases beg comparisons. The curious student asks,"What is similar or different in my own faith tradition?" Are you ready to dig in and re-discover your own faith, or are you shopping for something new?
Christianity has a wonderfully high theological evaluation of embodied being. But it has not had a similarly high level of actually according to our bodies a significant role in our spiritual lives via particular practices. In our time, we are learning helpful methods and practices from other cultural contexts that can help us implement in practical terms our own faith understanding.
DOES IT MOVE YOU TOwards SOLIDARITY WITH PEOPLE who need you?
Does the practice it enable you to be a better neighbor, friend, volunteer, husband, wife, spouse, or employee? Does it help you to grow in compassion, or does it separate you further from others?
If what you’re doing on your mat is not strengthening you to engage with the wider context around you, perhaps you’ve not yet realized the implications of the Word of God becoming flesh for the life of the world.
how does your practice contribute to your christian character?
Yoga and meditation practices require vigilant dedication and long-term effort in a world more and more reliant upon fast and easy answers. The best practices require that you build healthy habits of self-denial and hard work, with the expectation that the outcomes are completely up to God. Are you up for that challenge, even if you never stand on your head or "get enlightened"?
Good practices, of course, have their place as helpful and effective instruments. It is not that one will achieve union with God by dint of one’s own effort, but that through the practice one will put oneself in the place or provide the opening where God’s grace can effectively enter in and do its healing, transforming, and unifying work.