In the last few weeks, I’ve been asked my opinion on this topic a few times so I guess that means its finally time for me to address it. I must admit that I’ve been steering away from this polarizing topic for years because it is the one place where my two worlds of faith and fitness collide and I’ve been struggling with how to reconcile the two — until now.
Lets face it — yoga is hot right now (pun intended). It has been for the last couple decades and is not leaving us anytime soon. Its become a place where upwardly mobile 20 and 30 somethings go to ‘unwind’ and to slow down the pace of their frantic lives.
What was once relegated to ashrams and private studios, yoga now has made its way into the YMCA’s, Goodlife’s, local community centres and even some Christian groups have developed a ‘Christian’ form of it called Holy Yoga. This phenomenon has left many well intentioned Christians curious and even more confused about this form of fitness.
As a fitness instructor of almost 30 years, I honestly have experienced the lure of trying to stay up to date with the latest fitness trends. Like Yoga — Step, Pilates, Zumba have all added variety and depth to the world of fitness. The difficulty for me and many other Christian fitness enthusiasts is that at the core of yoga is a deeply spiritual practice with the intent to unite with pagan gods and attain enlightenment.
Wikipedia defines yoga as the physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India with a view to attain a state of permanent peace of mind in order to experience one’s true self.
The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj”, which means “to yoke” the spirit and physical body together.
The inherent problems with this form of exercise for Christians are:
1. It teaches you to look within yourself for fulfilment and peace. As Christian, we believe that we are to look to Jesus for our fulfilment.
2. In yoga, there is no distinction between humans, animals and plants. We are all one and equal with the universe. However, the bible teaches us that we (humans) are created in the image of God and we are to have dominion over everything.
3. The poses performed in yoga and done as an act of worship. We believe that worship to anything other than the God is idolatry.
4. The practise of meditation in yoga teaches us to empty ourself and become one with ourselves to reach higher forms of enlightenment. The Christians practice of meditation is not to empty yourself but to fill yourself with the power of the Holy Spirt. Unlike yoga, it is not you that is doing the work yourself– you are not striving to reach higher forms of enlightenment by yourself or for yourself.
On the flip side:
Christians who participate in yoga classes argue that North American yoga is a far cry from its original intent and has very little to do with pagan worship. Yoga is no more pagan than Christmas and Easter yet we still celebrate those. Yoga is not a spiritual practice. It should just be seen as in intense stretch class, nothing more, nothing less.
Do your homework– What type of class are you attending? Are you going to the local YMCA to do a stretching class that might have a couple of ‘downward dogs’ where the instructors are hired to teach whatever’s trending or are you attending a yoga studio where the instructor is going to guide you on a journey of becoming one with yourself? Once you know what the class is you’re attending then you will be able to make a more informed decision. Certain classes, such has power yoga, have no affiliation with the original intent of yoga and are just pumped up stretch classes.
Understand the difference-There are many natural stretches and moves that are just intrinsic and natural to moving that help and heal the body. Should they be removed because they are practiced in a yoga class? Of course not, your intention was not to worship a god but simply to stretch your body.
The problem comes when one meditates and focuses on the religious aspects of yoga. One needs to distinguish between purely stretching and yoga. So if you are just purely stretching and is not practicing the philosophical and religious nature of yoga, then feel free to participate in a stretch class that might have some yoga type moves in it.
Talk to the instructor–
Before the class begins, take a minute and ask the instructor what the class will entail.
I’ve been to regular fitness classes where the instructor took it upon themselves to end the class with some yoga as a ‘gift’ to her participants. She guided us by telling us we were one with the trees, and the animals and the universe. That was my cue to leave. There have been other times when I found myself in a similar situation but I felt too awkward to walk out of the class when I was told to keep repeating ‘om, om, om’. Instead, I began to pray my own prayers. No-one wants to be caught in these situations, but with the proliferation of yoga at our gyms, it will happen.
At the end of the day. Use your discernment. If something is telling you that this is not the class for you then high tail it out of there toute suite. I will attend a yoga class where I know that the instructors only intention is to give me a good stretch.
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Have a fit week!
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