Yoga and Christianity
A friend sent me an article that someone posted on facebook about how yoga is anti-Christian. She was wondering about my perspective and I have to admit I am perplexed by this issue. I take my own faith so personally that I’m not sure how someone else can tell me that a legal, healthy activity inherently distances me from god. I see that there’s some cloudiness on issues of drugs, sexuality, truthfulness and how close/distant they can bring you. But on the issue of practicing yoga and religion I have much clarity. Yoga is an eight-fold path designed to bring the practitioner closer to god. It includes the yamas and niyamas, which are very similar to the 10 commandments. In fact, all of the commandments are accounted for in these lists of ways to live to bring closer alignment to god. Next on path are asana, or what we call “yoga” today, which is the physical part of the practice. Then pranayama, which is using your breath to move your energy in your body and increase its flow. The next four are about focusing your attention on one thing and what happens as a result of that practice of focus, which hopefully one day will be that you cease to feel disconnected from god, but rather are filled with him/her/it/the universe/whatever you call that spirit that can’t really be named anyway.
I’m not sure how someone decided that anything on that list is anti-Christian. Scientists proved long ago that we are all made of energy. Nothing controversial about that. Christians believe in the holy spirit and that we are made in god’s image. Jesus meditated in Gethsemane. Christians believe in satya, or truthfulness. Ahimsa, non-harming. Aparigraha, non-coveting. Asteya, non-stealing. Isvara pranadana, surrender to the divine. All parts of yoga.
My own practice has brought me closer to god than any church, and I am a Christian. But my definition of Christian is based on loving and honoring Jesus and his compassion, not on a particular “flavor” of Christianity. The flavors get me in trouble, dividing me from god, not uniting. Because the flavors are other people’s idea of the best way to reach god. And god is one size fits all, but we are not. Out of our own cultures and stories each of us has to find the unique path that brings us closer to god. I know that many translations of the bible say Jesus is the way. And for me Jesus is the way. But for some that might not be the case. And I’m not telling non-christians they are going to hell because they don’t worship him. Nor am I judging the Christians who do pick flavors and stand by them quite strongly. There is a Zen saying that goes something like, “There are many paths up the mountain. The only ones who don’t make it up the mountain are the ones running around the bottom telling everyone else they are on the wrong path.”
I know that some Christians believe that practicing yoga invites satan into your heart or your life. Without entering into a whole other post about that I’d just like to say that darkness will only manifest in your life if you let it. What you focus on expands. If you worry with every breath about your dark side taking over then it will. On the other hand, if you intend with every breath to expand the joy and compassion in your own life, then that will happen. When I feel closer to god and move through the world like that, then I am spreading god’s love. And that’s the most important thing. But don’t take my word for it. Look it up. Be someone who goes up the mountain. Let’s meet at the top and swap stories.