Why I Teach and Practice

Joanne Wohlmuth 

I teach an early morning class for Christians wanting to practice yoga. Recently, a dear friend and yoga student of mine who has attended many of my classes asked, “What do you feel the difference is between Christian yoga and the regular yoga we do?” I could tell by the sound of her voice that she was somewhat puzzled, perhaps unconvinced, that there was or ought to be a difference at all. I promised her that we would chat; in the meantime, I proceeded to ponder over why practicing yoga in a Christian context has made such a difference in my life.

First, I needed to explain to her that we are not practicing Christian yoga, but simply are Christians practicing yoga. Yoga is yoga. It needn’t be Christianized, made feminine, nor change color or ethnicity to suit its audience. Yoga is neutral and therefore it can benefit any who practice it, be that person a Christian, a woman, a black person or an Asian. The intention of yoga is to open us up to the possibility of union with God.

I was invited, or should I say challenged, to initiate a yoga class that would encourage Christians to come and practice yoga. “You could teach this wonderful science,” I was told, “with full devotion and commitment to your faith, and without the need to hold back.” These words made immediate sense to me, and I needed no further convincing to commence such a class.

I have been practicing yoga for 31 years, and have been teaching for 29 of those 31 years. I lived in a yoga ashram where I took a Sanskrit name. I followed the guru and I committed myself to the establishment and running of a yoga center in my country (Bermuda) for more than 20 years. I trained others to become yoga teachers because I believe it is a beneficial practice. In short, like many other long-term practitioners of yoga, I have run the gamut, sunk my heart and soul into this work. I have learned a lot about yoga for which I am grateful. What I did not know or learn was how to integrate it into my faith practice as a Christian. Hence as my practice of yoga wore on, my appreciation for “that good old time religion” which was in my bones and had lived in the flesh and bones of my ancestors long before I arrived, wore off.

As a long-term yoga practitioner I never stopped being a Christian. I have valued the practice of yoga and meditation deeply for the peace and experience of God’s nearness it gives me. After spending time and attending workshops with Fr. Tom Ryan, I found the piece that had eluded me both in the church and on the yoga mat, that lone puzzle piece for which I had been searching for many, many years. I just needed to bring the points of connection between the two to greater clarity so as to integrate the two harmoniously in my own lived experience. I have always been convinced that practicing yoga made me a better Christian, and now I feel I can better articulate it and share it with others as well.

So now I practice and teach with a new commitment both to yoga and to my Christian faith. When I first began teaching yoga, I felt that what I was blessed to receive I was duty bond to share as a gift to others. I continue to believe that, and will share it with others, like my long-time Christian friend, or the recent young adult female student who entered the class and said, “I am a Christian and I love to practice yoga. I am looking for a class that honors both parts of who I am.”