Yoga has been a significant staple in religions across the world since their originations. Religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism have utilized yoga as a way to practice one’s own spiritual devolvement and helping them have a sense of awareness of their own nature (Surrenda, 2012). The migration of yoga into the western-world of Europe and America’s began as a form of exercise to promote flexibility in the human form and for the philosophical properties that the originating religions had sold it to have. Since yoga has increased substantially in the western world and many people know of or how to do yoga, and the historical background is related so closely to religious affairs, it seems logical that Christianity would also pick up this model.
Christian yoga is a very new concept brought into the religious world. The thing that makes this yoga Christian is the reading of the Bible in different parts of the practice (Soloman, 2017). Yoga is a controversial subject within the Christian community. Many have referred to it as demonic and see the Hindu roots as incompatible with their faith. In a blog post titled “Christian Yoga? It’s a Stretch,” outspoken pastor Mark Driscoll described yoga as a “system of belief that is unchristian, against Scripture, and thus demonic in nature.” He went on to write that whatever way you look at yoga, including Christian yoga, it cannot be divided from its Hindu roots (Driscoll, 2011). Other Christians see yoga as spiritually benign, a harmless exercise to improve flexibility and strength. Then there are people who blend their Christian faith into their yoga practice. This dance around yoga reflects the debate within the Christian community on if and how it can fit into a faith other than Hinduism.
Exactly what can make yoga Christian is undefined. It can look like prayer and scripture readings being added into the session, Christian worship music might be played during a class, some put yoga poses to traditional Christian prayers or incorporates a whole Bible study into a class. Holy Yoga doesn’t present trainees with a Christian yoga formula but encourages each certified instructor to incorporate Christianity as they see fit (Boone, 2006). Christian yoga also takes a few things away from the traditional course of yoga. The word or sound “om,” a mantra that is typically chanted at the end of a yoga class with the goal of connecting to others and the universe, is often missing from Christian yoga (Soloman, 2017). The Christians Practicing Yoga website advises that the meaning and implications of “om” should be understood rather than uttered just because “it’s ‘cool’ or ‘what people do’ in a yoga class.” The website offers “Shalom,” the Hebrew word for peace and wholeness, as an “om” alternative (Gelinas, 2008). In the video “To Om or Not to Om,” Holy Yoga founder Brooke Boon said there isn’t anything inherently wrong for Christians to let out an “om,”, but the mystery of it can create more questions than answers. “From our perspective, prayer does the same thing,” she said (Boone, 2006).
As the founder of New Day Yoga addresses why she teaches yoga from a Christian perspective, she also lists many scriptures that she likes to use in classes. She states that her aim as a company and Christian yoga studio, that as we learn to balance our body in tree pose by engaging our core and keeping our focus on a still point, we also learn to balance our lives by engaging our minds and keeping our focus on the One True God, (Gelinas, 2008). When questioned about her verses she stated, each one of these verses is rich and powerful in the spiritual realm, and I wanted to give my students the opportunity to let the truth of these words sink deep into their minds so that they could be transformed. I wanted New Day Yoga classes to build up my students in their faith as well as in their body so that they would be equipped to live out the fullness of their destiny in Christ. I wanted to help them reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ so that they would not be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching, (Gelinas, 2008).
PraiseMoves was created by Laurette Willis as a “Christian alternative to yoga,” rather than Christian yoga (Willis, 2001). However, at times, the 150 postures in PraiseMoves can look a lot like yoga. For example, cobra pose is referred to as the vine, a reference to a Biblical analogy where Jesus referred to himself as a vine. Willis created other poses herself, some of them modeled on the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. During each pose, a corresponding Bible verse is recited by the class, such as for the vine pose it is John 15:5 where Jesus says ‘I am the vine; you are the branches…’ “PraiseMoves is disguised as exercise,” said Willis, “but it is really a way for people to have a closer relationship with God,” (Soloman, 2017).
Yoga has never had a single purpose for its seekerswhether it is philosopher-ascetics seeking enlightenment, ecstatic devotees expressing the love of God, people in pursuit of yogic superpowers, fitness buffs seeking the perfect yoga butt or Christians wanting to get closer to Christ. The argument that Christian yoga is not real yoga assumes that yoga is or has been a tradition that has exclusively featured Hindu symbols, practices, and ideas. In reality, yoga includes a variety of historical as well as new traditions that have changed and evolved throughout the years. Yoga’s history is rooted in a variety of South Asian religious movements going back over 2,000 years ago (Jain, 2017). In India alone, yoga practitioners have included Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Muslims (Jain, 2017). In other words, yoga has never belonged to any one religion, but it has always been packaged in a variety of ways. The real question that everyone should be considering is not the question of whether or not Christian yoga is real yoga, but has there ever been one real yoga?
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