As a Christian perusing some mostly Christian websites, I am surprised to find so many alarmists sounding their angelic trumpets to warn us of the threat of yoga. Really? Are we still on that? I experienced this first hand in a bible study I did at a church in Shoreview, Minnesota some years ago. For those of you unfamiliar, Shoreview is an educated, fairly affluent suburb of the Twin Cities—by no means an exurb. I thoroughly enjoyed coming together w/ my devoted “Sisters in Christ” for coffee, conversation, and inspiration from Beth Moore, a Bible Study celebrity guru. Her videos and workbooks are excellent companions for group study and appeal to Christian women of all stripes.
At the end of these 6-9 month studies, tears and hugs abound as we say our goodbyes, having shared our personal struggles and triumphs, prayed and played together. Little did I know, my study leader in Shoreview was praying a bit harder for me. A few months after the study, I received a note in the mail along w/ a copy of a DVD warning me as to the dark, cult-like origins of yoga. I am a yoga teacher and make my living teaching full time. Some might call it “living the dream.” Well, these women, apparently, consider it “flirting w/Satan.” I have no doubt they are praying for my soul to this day, which is great—my small yoga community is thriving. I just wish that God would have given them the courage to confront me in real time, in person.
For this reason, I feel I need to make a public statement and confront their mindset which is more widely held among Christians than I may have suspected. For you, Sisters in Christ, I submit for your consideration my “Top Ten Questions Yoga-Fearing Christians Should Ask Themselves”:
1)Have you ever been to a yoga class? My experience is most have not and would not go, for fear of being infused by dark forces and Hindu deities. You would find that most yoga classes in America are extremely watered down and secular, to the point of being little more than a great workout, nothing more. There is little if any meditation. Vinyasa flow, so popular in health clubs and mass market studios is really aerobics with yoga moves, that’s it. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find “Christian Yoga” which gives you a sermon, of sorts, with your basic yoga. It has been explained to me that a prayerful focus on God (Christian varietal) reduces the threat of unsavory dark forces entering during meditation. I see this as a commentary on our Western Culture: how “threatened” we are by stillness and silence– but hey, if it feeds your soul and makes you healthier, do it! I do think Christian “ministry” yoga should be non-profit ( 501(c) 3), donation-based, and refrain from “scare tactics” to grow their business.
2) Do you know where those “yoga moves” come from? Well some may tell you they’re thousands of years old, really the physical postures we see today were “borrowed” from calisthenics which the local Indian population observed the colonial British Military practicing. A sun-salutation can look an awful lot like an old-fashioned “burpee” from your phy-ed class. The truly “ancient” yoga was pretty limited to sitting meditation, (and poses to limber up for sitting), breathing exercises, hand positions and breath control exercises. The physical, Hatha pieces were really a way to promote a higher degree of fitness in the Indian population—nationalistic yes, in case they had to go to war against their occupiers, perhaps? Giving the calisthenics “Indian” names was an logical selling point. Instead of “lunges” and “planks” we have a warriors and chatturangas. I am tempted to make the argument that a few savvy Indian gurus of the 19th and 20th centuries were a lot like the Japanese car manufacturers: they borrowed Western techniques, put their own unique stamp and lexicon on it (think “kaizen”) and sold it right back to us!
3) Do you know that “meditation” has a rich history in the Christian Church? St. Teresa of Avila, Spain had students sit and stare at objects like rocks and shells in the 1500’s to focus their attention so they could pray more deeply. She was known for her pursuit of “bliss” and ecstatic states. Walking meditation is popular as well, evidenced by the number of labyrinths in churches around the world.
4) Do you know that meditation is just a higher form of concentration, a means of creating a single-pointed focus which can be directed to a multitude of things, from the breath, to God, to hitting a golf ball better?
5) Do you know that Hatha yoga (the prevailing style of yoga in America) exercises are “meditations in motion,” in other words, that the focus becomes the fine tuning of the posture and that the mental state is akin to that of an athlete “in the zone”?
6) Do you know that muscle tension affects your brain and can lead to unhealthy mental states like anxiety, and depression which can lead to harsh judgement of others—why is it the people who need yoga the most are always so vocally critical? Sorry, but as the “judgee” I feel I have grounds for commenting on common characteristics of the “judgers.”
7) Finally, do you know there are only about 600,000 practicing Hindus in America? With 20+ million doing yoga, if it were really a “gateway” to Hinduism, wouldn’t the number of Hindus have exploded by now, in line with the yoga trend? In addition to the 600,000 practicing, The Huffington Post reports 1.2 million “self-identify” as Hindus, meaning they may participate in bigger celebrations (Creasters anyone?)—and most of them are of Indian ethnicity.
8) If you calm your mind and slow it down, are you fearful that a Hindu Deity might worm his/her way in to your subconscious? If that were the case, wouldn’t there be millions of newly-minted, “all-American” Hindus chanting to Kali or Vishnu? According to Stephen Huyler, author of Meeting God: Elements of Hindu Devotion, “Hindus rarely proselytize; most respect the rights of others to their own beliefs. According to the tenets of Hinduism, all philosophies and beliefs are considered equally valid paths to salvation, and it is thought inappropriate to judge the choices of others.” Of course, exceptions are cited, such as “politically motivated disturbances such as the Hindu-Muslim or Hindu-Sikh riots.” Most Hindus would be quite supportive and accepting of the Christian God, as they too are monotheists? – you knew that, right?
9) So, to those who see yoga as a conspiracy to lure Christians to the dark side, even if that were the case, is it really working? After decades of yoga practice in America, there are only, as mentioned earlier, 600,000 Hindus practicing in about 1,600 Hindu Temples, concentrated primarily on the East and West Coasts—some states have not a single one. If that’s really the Hindu strategy for “world domination,” I’d rate it an “epic fail.”
10) Newflash: the biggest threats to your mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing are probably some combination of stress, anxiety, poor posture/breathing/digestion, depression, obesity, etc.—why be so critical of a wellness system designed to combat them all, helping you to be a healthier, happier and better-adjusted person? Sure, if you go back a couple of millennia, you can find some strange rituals associated with various sects of yogis, but have you read Genesis? What if due to needing an outlet for your frustration or paranoia, you “turn off” someone to yoga who really needs it? What if that someone is…YOU?