Monday, November 18, 2013

The Root Problem of “Christian Yoga”

I am very concerned about Christians being involved in yoga, even a “Christianized” version.  I have some personal experience with yoga and I’ve looked into the issue and addressed it on several occasions—so my concerns are not based on knee-jerk reactions.

In the 70’s, our high school P.E. teachers had finally come up with something interesting.  Though I was a devoted Christian, the mystique of a yoga class in the “safe environment” of our school gym sponged me in.  My mother had repeatedly warned me that it was “eastern religion” but I waved her off, “Don’t worry, it’s just exercise.”

The first class was cool.  A bearded guy in a white robe & turban instructed all us girls to lie down on the gym floor and breathe in particular ways while he played his flute.  We experienced something fascinatingly new—we were so “relaxed” that we were “plastered” to the floor.  Nearly paralyzed, we truly could not move without great difficulty.  Other students who peered through the window later said, “Y’all looked like you’d been mown down by a machine gun!”

Though my mother still warned, I was eager to return to the class the next week.  The bearded guy “hit the replay button” but this time when were “paralyzed”—read open and vulnerable, the be-turbaned yoga instructor interspersed his flute playing with chanting in another language.  While I couldn’t understand the words, my spirit knew it was wrong and that I didn’t belong there.  I wanted to run, to flee but I couldn’t move.  At the end of the class when he brought us back to ourselves (my term), it was clear that I wasn’t alone in my concern about the chanting.

I knew I wouldn’t be going back!  I told my mother she was right.  There was no third class.

You’re probably thinking, so that was in the 70’s and it wasn’t “Christian Yoga”—this is different.  In the 1990’s there was a major marketing move to get yoga more widely accepted in the West.  “Exercise and breathing techniques” were emphasized but the yoga remained the same.

An Indian missionary to America and former Hindu that I’m acquainted with said he was shocked and horrified when he came to America, to see so many Christians involved in yoga since, he told us plainly, yoga was a Hindu practice solely for the purpose of lining up the body for demon possession. The origins of “Christian Yoga” are not in Christianity but of course in Hindu Yoga.  Yoga is passed from guru to guru and the “gurus” of “Christian Yoga” learned their trade from Hindu Yoga gurus.  What gave the originators of “Christian Yoga” the ability and authority to make the transition from Hindu practice of ”lining up the human body for demon possession” to benign stretching exercise and relaxation breathing techniques with a Christian bent? Some of these founders of “Christian Yoga” were "inclusive" Episcopal and Catholic priests who taught that spirituality could be found in all religions. Here are some of the founders of “Christian Yoga” and some of what they have to say:

“I cannot speak to you about Yoga and Christianity without mentioning my gratitude to this French Catholic priest (Jean Dechanet) who, some 40 years ago gave not only me but many Christians a memorable introduction to Yoga. Up to today, his name is still known, his books are still in their libraries, in many a Catholic monastery and convent because of his rendering accessible the exercises and philosophy of Yoga to Christian contemplative minds…
“Jean Dechanet said in the beginning of his book that he came across Yoga because for 20 years he searched ardently to create in himself a harmony between what he calls, the anima, (body) the animus (mind) and spiritus (soul). For him, it’s through the harmony of these three aspects of oneself that the Grace of Redemption flows

“Fr Bede Griffiths, a catholic priest who lived in India and who was co-founder of an Ashram called Shanti-vanam (Forest of peace). Fr Bede was well known for his work in Inter-faith dialogue and he wrote several books and among them a commentary of the Bhagavad Gita.
“Fr. Bede thought of himself as a Christian Yogi and wrote about Yoga particularly in the first decades of his life in India. He defined Yoga as Union: a realization of nonduality in which the three worlds of God, human, self and universe are experienced as one.”

Rev. Nancy Roth an Episcopal priest author of An Invitation to Christian Yoga

Susan Bordenkircher, author of Yoga for Christians: A Christ-Centered Approach to Physical and Spiritual Health through Yoga was reportedly influenced by Rev. Nancy Roth, but “fell in love with yoga after attending a national yoga workshop” and still builds her skills by though ongoing yoga training.

“Founder of Holy Yoga, Brooke Boon is an expert yoga practitioner and certified master teacher, facilitating Holy Yoga ministries worldwide. A yoga practitioner since 1998, Brooke has achieved 2500 hours of yoga training under the teaching of masters like Baron Baptiste and John Friend.

(In 2006 Yoga Journal Magazine said: "If there were a royal family of American yoga, Baron Baptiste would certainly be a prince." It's clear that Baron has exactly what it takes to continually transform the face of yoga in America and build powerful bridges from the wisdom of the east into the spiritually starved west.

(John Friend) was first introduced to yoga in 1967 at the age of 8 by his mother, Ann Friend, when she read him stories of yogis who had supernatural powers and hidden knowledge of the mysteries of life.

(emphasis added)

With this information in mind, is it really possible to receive that much training from other spiritual sources, to keep going back to that same well and not be affected by those sources?

While I keep hearing that it’s only exercise and breathing and nothing spiritual—the things I read from both Hindu yoga and “Christian yoga” sources say that it is all deeply spiritual and cannot be divorced from spirituality.

In the wake of a Christian yoga movement, Brooke [Boon, author of Holy Yoga: Exercise. for the Christian Body and Soul] maintains that Holy Yoga is not just stretching to Christian music. "Holy Yoga is absolutely yoga and absolutely Christ," says Brooke.

But just what is this “Christian spirituality” that is being taught?

“We believe that when God spoke the world into existence, His creative essence or ‘vibration’ permeated all of creation. It has been documented that there is a vibrational frequency common to all of creation and that this vibration has the sound of ‘Aum’. That frequency is often vocalized in classical yoga as ‘OM’, or in Christian circles as ‘Shalom’. Holy Yoga chooses not to use the practice of chant or ‘OM’ invocations in classes in order to dissipate fear concerning their usage in relation to worship.”

The author of this document believes there is much common ground between the various aspects of yoga spirituality and Christianity and concludes:although Westerners may think of yoga as exercise, it is so much more. The postures simply provide a means of becoming more deeply connected to our true nature and accepting ourselves as we are.”

“Imagine what it would feel like to pray with your whole body--how powerful your prayer could become! For centuries, yoga has been used to prepare the body for meditation and communion with the divine. Now, with Yoga Prayer, Thomas Ryan offers an embodied practice to renew and invigorate your connection to God.”

“Christian Yoga may help you to renew your methods of prayer in opening doors to the Living God in a Jesus meditation state of mind. You’ll gain a deeper perception in recognizing the freedom of God’s Divine Will and the Divine Person of God. The goal is through the yoga exercises or non movement in performing the yoga poses and breathing techniques to form a union between your physical and mental forces so they work in harmony by recognizing God as an outside force, a center of grace apart from you, a force that you are able to tap into, through stillness…
When practicing Christian Yoga in sunlight you fortify your inner force. As a result of paying attention to the sounds of your spirit, and by giving heed to the Spirit of God that is around you, you make your search for God simpler, and more intense.”

“First of all, as St. Paul told the Romans in his letter to them, Christians embrace and celebrate all that is good and true in other religions.”  HUH???

In all my studies of the Bible, I’ve never seen anything that indicates that:
1. we need to vibrate with the universe to get closer to God
2. we are to accept ourselves as we are—on the contrary we are told that our old self is to die and we are to be ever maturing new creatures in Jesus
3. that the position of our bodies makes prayer more effective
4. that God is a force

The above quotes are all “Christian yoga” sources saying these things—not other sources complaining about “Christian yoga”. (one source that eludes me at the moment referred to “Christian yoga” as “a way to God” when the Bible says that Jesus is the Only way to God.)

Here are some sites that discuss the ramifications of these teachings:

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