I got bent out of shape last week when I happened upon a blog post written by a priest regarding the controversy of Christians practicing yoga.
Maybe I have spent too much time in shavasana, the deep relaxation pose that means corpse in Sanskrit, but I had no idea of such a controversy. So when I read his post explaining that yoga is more than physical, but leads practitioners toward non-religious spirituality and Buddhism, I was stunned.
Over the years I have tried many forms of yoga – Bikram , Vinyasa, Baptiste and Hatha. Regardless of how much I sweat, stood on one leg, wrapped my limbs like wet noodles, folded myself in half, balanced, breathed, backbend or stood upside down, never once did anyone bring up Buddhism or spirituality.
So I was confused.
I reread his article. I read some of the comments of people who had enjoyed yoga practices, but gave it up to avoid being led away from Christ.
This controversy about contorting your body seems twisted.
I guess it’s plausible that one day a Christian spends too much time in downward dog and the next he is down with the devil. But really, evil, temptation and false gods are everywhere not just in the yoga studio.
It’s the value we assign things, including our relationship with God that is most significant. If I saw that practicing yoga was interfering with that relationship, I would need to acknowledge it and deal with it in the same way I do the rest of my sins.
While I feel uncomfortable disagreeing with a priest, I am just as uncomfortable not speaking up about his misgivings, which seem far-fetched and alarmist. I would not choose the practice of yoga over my faith. But why should I be asked to choose?
Yoga is an hour of my day that I don’t think, plan, fret, speak, work, check email, or take care of other people. Do you have any idea what a blessing that is? Wouldn’t you stand on one leg to have an hour like that?
It is place where I can just be. I am not stoned on incense or in some meditative coma. I am not thinking of Buddha and his big fat belly, and how he looks like he has not been to a single yoga class in any of his countless reincarnations.
I am just there physically strengthening my body that I was taught to respect as a temple – a teaching that comes from my Bible not Buddha. I am there restoring my body with the oxygen that fuels each cell that God carefully selected to make me unique. I am there relaxing not with alcohol, Xanax, oxycodone or any other chemical concoction, but with the same breath that God used to create me. And to the Christians who believe that yoga leads to paths divergent from God, you may find it hard to believe that while I am there, I often pray.
I do not do this at the encouragement of the instructor, because I have never heard it mentioned, nor because I have been told to meditate, as I have not. I do it because somehow it occurs to me to pray, just as it does at other points in my day. I even assign the prayers to people in my life or in this world that I think may need them –meaning I am consciously praying.
I don’t credit yoga for that, but it makes the argument about the practice turning people away from Christianity all the more baffling to me.
I guess what frustrated me most and made me feel that it was not a subject I should even acknowledge, is that this controversy has nothing to do with living out the Gospel.
Jesus spent His life, His whole being showing us the way to live, the way to love, the way to care for one another. I see suffering in so many places regardless of wealth or poverty. Suffering all over the place. God sent His son to show us ways to comfort one another. This is what we should spend our lives doing. We should be bent over backwards trying to emulate the examples of service that Jesus gave us because the needs are tremendous and whether you choose to practice yoga or law is really insignificant in the whole scheme of life.
Maybe Jesus never stood on His head, but I think He is less concerned with our physical posturing and more so with where we stand in our relationship with Him and others.
Yoga is referred to as a practice because it has nothing to do with perfection. It’s a lot like life that way.
Some days are simply easier than others. Sometimes we wobble on an unsteady path. Sometimes we are balanced; sometimes we fall. On really great days we stand tall and strong like a mountain. But the best day of all, at least for me, are the days when I feel the peace of God’s love and am successful at sharing it with others.
Like yoga, it’s something I have to practice, but when I get it right its pure bliss. And that’s got nothing to do with Buddha.
As always, I love your comments. There is still so much work to be done to ease the lives of others so if you have an experience to share, I welcome the inspiration! Peace xo ~ Lara