As “Christians practicing yoga” we approach yoga with a deep sense of gratitude and respect for its ancient history. Yoga was developed in India, a primarily Hindu culture, but was intended as a universal human practice, the goal of which involves experiencing the union with the divine that is already there but that has been clouded over with the stresses and strains of life. Our intention is not to “christianize” yoga. Rather, we share a strong desire to live a holistic Christian spirituality and to benefit from practices that contribute to it.
“Yoga” can refer to the traditional yoga philosophy or modern postural practice or both. While some of the voices on this site may vary in their approaches to yoga, overall, we have found the physical practice of yoga, especially the postural practice, to be helpful in a variety of ways:
I. As a form of worship. When we step onto our mats with the intention of honoring God, we are bringing our whole selves—body, mind, and soul—into worship of and communion with God.
II. As a way to prepare for meditative prayer. A few simple yoga exercises will help you become relaxed in body, relieved of mental preoccupations, and restful in spirit.
III. As a practice in cultivating spiritual values. Patience, sensitivity, non-judgment and many similar spiritual values can be cultivated on the yoga mat. As we work with the abilities and limitations of our bodies and our habitual ways of responding to challenges, we have the opportunity to practice these virtues.
IV. As a physical health practice. A good yoga routine is one of the most comprehensive, holistic health practices available. All of the dimensions of physical fitness are cultivated in an integrated way. These include strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, concentration, and deep breathing.
An Incarnational Faith
Where the body is concerned, Christianity has by and large not walked its talk. It has resisted the radical nature of its own good news. On the one hand, it has the highest theological evaluation of the body amongst all the religions of the world, and on the other hand, it has given little attention to the body’s role in the spiritual life in positive terms. High theology; low practice.
The practice of yoga reminds us of the Biblical basis for a Christian high theology of the body:
- The opening chapter of the book of Genesis affirms that we are created male and female in God’s own image and that the body reflects God’s own goodness.
- In the festival of Christmas, recorded in the Gospels, it is precisely God becoming flesh in a historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, that is celebrated (the incarnation—from in carnis, which literally means “in the flesh”).
- In the feast of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, Jesus is not only revealed as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, but he also gives us a glimpse into our own human dignity and destiny. (Mt. 17:1–9, Mk. 9:2-8, Lk. 9:28–36)
- During Easter, Christians celebrate Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead.
- In celebrating Jesus’ bodily Ascension into heaven forty days after the resurrection, Christians find a foreshadowing of the entry of their own embodied nature into the intimate embrace of God’s life. (Lk. 24)
- Ten days after the Ascension comes Pentecost: the Holy Spirit, God’s own life, is given to vessels of clay, given in this mortal flesh. (Acts 2)
In the Biblical record, God is identified with and discovered within this bodiliness, this fleshiness, this materiality, this sensuality, this worldliness, this passion. There is every indication that salvation does not mean getting out of this skin, but being transfigured and glorified in it. A spiritual body, yes, but a body.
No wonder, then, that the apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? So glorify God in your bodies!” (1 Cor. 6: 12-20). In the Incarnation, Jesus took the world as part of himself. Life in this world is already permeated with the very divinizing energies of God. We have been gifted with this planet and these bodies because this is where God dwells. All flesh is holy and the ground of all human endeavors is sacred.
Living the implications of an incarnational faith is a strrrreeeeeeetch that takes you right off your mat into conscious and response-able living. Yoga is more about providing you with a strong and resilient “container” to stand on your feet in your life than it is about standing on your head on your mat.