Monday, May 04, 2009

Yoga and Christianity

I am in the midst of a really interesting conversation about yoga and syncretism. I have been exploring yoga as a way of strengthening my neck and back, as well as introducing some physical exercise into my bookish existence. Tomorrow it will be three weeks of about an hour a day. I'm really impressed, right from the start I could feel the difference. My body felt great, I've had constant body pain for years now, and my mind felt clearer. The first few days I was simply doing yoga for dummies, which is North American mass market yoga. Sure, it has a component of slowing down and becoming more attentive to the self. But really it is devoid of the spiritual references that some expect from yoga. I moved from there to some more mass market yoga routines, finding a nice 1 hour session called I Love My Yoga. Still no spiritual references but I'm already seeing possibilities - and so my searching on the internet turns up some interesting stuff. But just like Christians who have their own takes on everything, so do the yogis have their own takes on yoga. Some tie it in quite strongly to their Hindu meditation. Others capitalize on questionable assumptions about the spirit. But most seem to shy away from the extremes. So just as I shy away from the Christian extremes I think it is safe to stick with the main and plain for our analysis.

About finding potential, well it really came in the closing meditation. This is called Shavasana and consists of laying in the corpse pose and reflecting on the good your session has done to your body and mind. It is about bringing your presence/attention to what is happening in your own body. Something Westerners are not that good at. During Shavasana there is a moment where the instructor on I Love My Yoge encourages you to thank yourself for spending this time on yourself. Well, as soon as I started to think about thankfulness my mind turned to all that God has done and a prayer of thanksgiving was instantly filling my mind. That moment has become a time of grounding prayer for my day. It is when my attention is turned to the Spirit whose temple I have just been preparing, a time when I can say come. It is interesting that after this we return to a seated prayer position and pronounce peace on all around us - namaste (a word that means greeting of peace and a recognition of the light - I see Jesus all over that!) So I'm capturing some of the spirituality of yoga, but appropriating it into a Christian spiritual foundation. The question is: is this legitimate?

I have some thoughts, love to hear yours.

11 comments:

steven hamilton said...

i think that's called redeeming it! this is great frank...

actually, almost everyone says that yoga is great for your core muscles and your body, but of course they tend to secularize it as just another form of physical fitness. yet, if we are really embodied spirits - meant to be enfleshed (which i would say we are, given that we get resurrection bodies and all), then that tends to break down the traditional boundaries of sacred and profane, spiritual and physical and integrate them. which, as you did (and as i have practiced the same thing) i turn my meditation Christ-ward, and i tell my yoga friends that there is but One Ascended master...and Jesus Christ is His name.

;-)

One of Freedom said...

Steve there is something about embedding ourselves in cultures in an effort to be Christ to those cultures. That doesn't mean we simply blend our realities, but rather genuinely look for the marks of Christ in all things.

The first time I ran into this idea was through Don Richardson's "Eternity in their Hearts".

steven hamilton said...

yes, i think that is exactly it. too often, at least around these parts, we are afraid of getting infected with whatever the world has in these types of things, especially things like yoga that have a "spirituality" attached to them. yet, God is everywhere, and he is ahead of us, like you commented, in these cultures. we need to go in and enbed and look for the invisible thread, as it were, and lo-and-behold: the Kingdom breaksthrough...thus, it's what we are focusing on and what we are looking for that redeems something. just like when sitting with some friends who are seriously into yoga (they actually go every three years to india to an ashram and take a year to study...wish the church had more disciples of Jesus with that kind of dedication) and they were talking about ascended masters and the yogi they study with...it was at that point i realized a connection with them and talked about Jesus as Ascended Master that i follow, who is my guide, who teaches me, etc. i was "formed" by that experience, and as you can probably tell, have gone on to seek to discover more of the type of thing you are talking about, whether from newbigin, and richardson as you pointed out, or our incarnational/missional thinkers that are re-digging these ancient wells applying new frames of reference...

but how do we help others "see" that same thing? i struggle with that, because i tire of all the arguing that goes on...

steven hamilton said...

frank...kind of off topic, but i don't have your e-mail address. i thought the following might be appealing to you:

http://www.vineyardusa.org/site/content/society-vineyard-scholars

i know that technically you are VineyardCanada and not VineyardUSA, but i don't think those distinctions are recognized in something like this...plus they are throwing a conference in October that isn't exactly far from you (Columbus, Ohio)...

anyway,

cheers

One of Freedom said...

Thanks Steven! I'm checking it out now.

BTW I'm at femanuel(a)sympatico.ca

Anonymous said...

I am a really keen sportswoman (running gym etc) and often find this is my best time to pray and meditate. I have just come back from a holiday where I went to several yoga classes - it was a great experience because I found an easy 'flow' to the exercise that really helped me reach out in prayer. I'm amazed that anyone can worry that practising yoga will convert you to hinduism or any of the other rabid denunciations that I have read online, is it their their faith is weak and half hearted?. I learn about and expand my faith through reading the Bible, going to Church, meeting with my home group as well as praying. Prayer is an activty that can happen at any time so why should Christian mediatation involve sitting still - for some of us physical activity is the way to quiet times in our minds - my most prayerful moments happen while running and gardening.

Mary Shore said...

Thanks for the post and comments. I'm a New Testament (seminary) professor and a yogi, having practiced yoga for about four years. I'm writing an article on Yoga and Christianity for an upcoming Word & World issue focused on Healing and Wholeness. Not sure what I'll say yet. My experience is quite similar to yours: there are connections between the spiritual aspects of asana practice and Christian theology (savasana is corpse pose, and when you leave that pose you are "reborn" into your life: this feels like the Lutheran idea of daily dying and rising with Christ, and so on). I don't think someone not steeped in Christianity would have the experience of yoga deepening one's Christian faith and walk, but for those of us who are, it can be a way to pray.

One of Freedom said...

Good point Mary, in fact my approach to yoga is a wonderful example of how we always contextualize our experiences. If I were from another faith tradition I would likely find similarities and jumping off points in yoga to support those different faith commitments - ie. the way we pray.

disa said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
One of Freedom said...

Disa, not sure what your comment said but it seemed like spam with all those links.

Thomas Fincher said...

Frank, sounds like a very fruitful experience.

Yoga in its many forms and facets primarily aim at mindfulness. The ability to take the time to meditate and be conscious of your body, your thoughts and the things around you is possible through meditation and prayer. Doing such rejuvenates both our body and our spirit.

The healing abilities of meditation is seen in a lot of spiritual practices like Theta healing. Similar to yoga, the goal of Theta healing is to seek a deeper connection to the creator though taking a few minutes to meditate. Through meditation and Theta healing, we are able to remove all the negativity in our system and channel a more positive stream of energy that can eventually cure our bodies from various diseases.

I'd probably try Shavasana with my wife one of these days. Thanks for sharing your experience!