Should Christians do Yoga?
I teach yoga in a conservative Christian town and I often get asked, “Should Christians do yoga?” My answer is “Yes!” I am Christian myself and I have never felt that the values of yoga conflict with my Christian beliefs. Let’s bridge the gap between Christianity and yoga using the two of the eight limbs of yoga, the yamas and niyamas, or the value system of yoga.
Bridging the Religious Gap with the Yamas
I often think of the Yamas and Niyamas (1st and 2nd limbs of yoga) as being a value system. In Christian beliefs, this can be compared to the 10 commandments.
Instead of harming others, you are serving others. This can be compared to “thou shalt not kill.” Many yogi’s practice non harming by participating in a vegan lifestyle. I choose to practice ahimsa by focusing on how I can physically practice yoga so that I do not harm my body. I do not participate in extreme poses. I also think of others- how my words or actions may harm them. Should Christians do yoga? Yes, Christians should “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Matthew 7:12
This is the principle of being truthful in all areas of your life. We should avoid little white lies as well as something greater like cheating on our partner. If we are delusional, lying to ourselves, then we cannot be truthful. We can feel Satya in our physical yoga practice by remaining true to the alignment in a balancing pose:
Asteya is non-stealing- Stealing implies void, seeking for external satisfaction. “Thou shall not steal.” This principle goes deeper than shoplifting. We can steal another’s energy if we are self-centered. We can steal from nature without giving back. If we revere what is given to us, we try to live an non-wasteful life. If we practice asteya, we can be the richest person in the world because we would always feel that we have enough.
This is the practice of preserving creative and sexual energy by following the middle path. We do indulge or repress our desires. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.” Following brahmacharya will give you peace of mind to stay disciplined on the right path.
Should Christians do yoga? Yes, they should practice aparigraha. This principle means that you should not have possessiveness towards things or people. “Thou shalt not covet your neighbors goods.” In yoga, we reduce desires, especially selfish ones, to live a happier, freer life.
Should Christians do Yoga? Observe the Niyamas
Yoga philosophy is not a religion. The niyamas are ethical, inner observances and healthy disciplines that keep you on your journey to enlightenment. In my practice, this brings me closer to my God.
Saucha is purity. We cleanse ourselves internally with yoga poses that twist and spine and squeeze the internal organs. We cleanse ourselves inside and outside. We keep our houses clean, our bodies clean, our minds on elevated topics, and our thoughts pure. Perhaps Christians could use the preparation for the sabbath day as a time of cleaning and purifying so that we can, “Remember to keep the sabbath day holy.”
Santosha means contentment. When we are content, we do not desire more or less. We learn to be happy with what we have. Through my 10+ years of practicing yoga, my body has gone through hormonal changes, injuries, weight loss, weight gain. I have to learn to be happy with my body and the pose I am in during the moment. It can be challenging to be happy with the bodies we are given. At the basic level, our bodies are a gift from God. These amazing bodies should not treated with contempt. We love our bodies, we honor our God. This principle alone answers the question, “Should Christians do yoga?”
Tapas is self-discipline. We use our intellect to stay on course and check our natural man tendencies. Enough said! To focus our self-discipline, I suggest studying sacred scripture daily for Christians and yoga philosophy for yogis.
This is the practice of self study. Should Christians do yoga? Yes, a Christian value system is rooted in self study and reflection. We are taught to daily reflect so that we may correct our mistakes a do better the next day. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Hebrews 8:12
Meaning, surrendering to Ishvara or the Self. Yoga can be found when we have humility and this is essential for spiritual growth. “Blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5. Why should Christians do yoga? Because we when are humble and surrender to the self, we get a sense of inner peace, sense of service, and contentment. This is in a sense knowing that we have everything we need and we ask for nothing in return. We can see divinity in everything and this fuels the love for everyone and everything. To me, that is profound.
Should Christians Do Yoga? (In my opinion, yes!)
The meaning of the word Yoga is Union. When I practice yoga, I try to align my body, mind, and spirit toward a personal goal. Since my body, mind, and spirit are gifts from God, Yoga is a healthy way to align my God given gifts and pay tribute to them. As in the parable of the talents, we should not keep our gifts hidden under a rock. We are meant to use them.
Practicing yoga for the health of my body, the enlivening of my mind, and the healing of my spirit, are essential to the worship of my God. Greater still is the ability to teach others to revere these gifts as I share yoga in class. Should Christians do yoga? Yes!
This is the beauty of the modern yoga practice – it helps us unite the different parts of ourselves (body, mind, heart, and spirit) and from this place of integrated wholeness, be one with God.Caroline Williams Yoga
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