For a lot of people, yoga is a little scary. I suspect that many people wonder “Can Christians do yoga? Can I do yoga? Is there such a thing as Christian yoga?”
People can be intimidated by yoga for lots of reasons.
We imagine people folding themselves into impossible poses or doing headstands and we think to ourselves “there’s no way I’m trying that!”
Other people are uncomfortable with yoga’s roots in Eastern spiritual practice.
In my years of attending yoga classes, I’ve only once been invited to do a headstand (I did not attempt it) and I’ve discovered that ancient yogis were onto something when they developed practices like yoga to quiet the mind and body for prayer.
Our Christian prayer lives can be enhanced when we take some of the principles of yoga and incorporate them into our Christian faith practices.
I often find quiet time with God challenging - at least the “sitting quietly and praying” type of quiet time. I have discovered that more “physical” types of prayer (walking a trail, using prayer beads, and even doodling) help me to slow my busy thoughts and open my heart and mind to God.
One of my first steps toward a more active approach to prayer happened when I started attending yoga classes in college.
Most of the classes ended with a few minutes of lying on our backs with the lights dimmed, relaxing our bodies and minds. My normal jumble of distracting thoughts had been unravelled and pushed aside as I focused on my breathing. My body was relaxed from 45 minutes of slow deliberate movements that helped me to let go of much of the tension that I carry around.
One afternoon, as I lay there I suddenly felt very close to God, and I began to pray.
I can be pretty good at drowning out God’s voice as I go about my day. On that day, I quieted my mind and body, and God was able to grab my attention.
Today many yoga classes in the US are focused on fitness and stress-relief rather than spirituality. But there are also plenty of Christians who are also yoga enthusiasts, and who know that we can transform the practice of yoga into a “whole body” prayer where we open ourselves to experiences of God’s love.
Because of my experiences, I was eager to participate in our Christian Yoga Workshop in it's first year. It was a welcome time of peace during the hectic hustle and bustle of summertime.
Our facilitator, Fa Lane, invited us to experience yoga as a form of Christian prayer. The stretches and poses were interwoven with Scripture meditation, prayer, and sharing.
The yoga was gentle enough for beginners, and Fa encouraged us to listen to our bodies and only push ourselves “as far as the impulse of the love of God” took us.
It was a refreshing afternoon, and a great opportunity for those of us who were seeking new ways to pray with our whole bodies!
We've been holding this retreat for several years now, and it's a highlight of my summer!
It is understandable that some people would be uncomfortable with the idea of participating in something that has been associated with a different religion. For other people, yoga just isn't their thing!
But I have learned in my own spiritual practice that we can learn a lot from other religious traditions. Yoga is a time tested practice that can help us to learn to sit quietly without getting distracted by discomfort or unwanted thoughts.
The Christian element begins when we decide what we will focus on once we have created that quiet space within. Will it be a list of errands or a grocery list... or our need to accept ourselves as we are... or the unconditional love of our God?