Americans love yoga so much – 20% of Americans who participate are women, while 18% of Americans are adults aged 18 to 44, 8% are kids, and 17% are non-Hispanic whites. But how many Americans who identify as Christians practice yoga? Can yoga and Christianity actually go together? That’s what we will find out.
If you want to practice yoga, but you fear that it may go against your faith, then you’ve come to the right place.
What’s the connection between yoga and Christianity?
The term yoga comes from the Sanskrit root, yuj, a cognate of the English word, “yoke”. While many still argue that yoga predates religion, the earliest written references are in Hindu texts. The Upanisads and Bhagavad describe yoga as meditative disciplines for withdrawing the senses from the world to yoke with Brahman (the divine reality behind everything in the universe).
During the 1970s, the popularity of yoga in the US has accelerated. It would be easy to think that all yoga is the same thing, so let’s focus on these examples. Shri Krishna Pattabhi Jois was a developer of modern Ashtanga. He was one of the influential popularizers of yoga back in the day. He said that the reason people do yoga is to become one with God. By this, he meant that there’s no essential difference between the jivatma (indwelling self of the individual) and the Paramatma (universal self).
Hinduism is very hard to understand, that’s why Jois didn’t talk much about the Hindu philosophy. Instead, he got Westerners practicing asanas (Ashtanga’s third limb). He was confident that anyone who will practice Ashtanga postures will experience God inside – whether they wanted to or not.
What is Ashtanga?
Ashtanga begins with Sun Salutations – bowing in prayer to the sun god. That’s because the postures of yoga have each a presiding deity, and there are 72,000 deities in total. Before paying homage to the deities, a yoga student must begin with salutations to the Sun God, who contains the rest of the pantheon.
In Sun Salutations, an individual brings both hands together in Anjali mudra above the head. The practice may begin and end with Anjali mudra in front of the heart, bowing the head and saying “Namaste”, which means “the Divine in me bows to the Divine in you.”
Ashtanga ends with Padasana (lotus) and Savasana (resting in the corpse) postures, which are conducive to meditation, enlightenment, and worship. In lotus, an individual forms jnana mudra by making circles with the thumbs and fingers. This shows one’s subordination of the individual spirit by the Universal Spirit.
What is Christian yoga?
Christian yoga is a practice that combines the aspects of the old practice of yoga and Christianity – specifically the meditation, breathing exercises, and the poses. Ever since yoga has gained popularity in the West, a lot of Christians have resisted. They rejected the practice because of its roots in Hinduism and Buddhism.
While others have embraced yoga because of its mental and physical benefits, Christian yogis go one step further by emphasizing and focusing on Christian principles. These principles are part of the practice to deepen the Christian faith.
The evolution of yoga and Christianity
One of the many concerns some Christians have is the spiritual component of yoga. They think yoga and Christianity can never go together – they believe that yoga is taught as a means to salvation in Hinduism. Because of this belief, yoga is considered off-limits to Christians.
Some people believe that the system of yoga was defined by a group of people and that this entire system cannot be evolved or redefined. But in reality, yoga in America has evolved.
Research shows that the intentional use of the mind, movement, and breath can create positive changes in the physical body. Through these scientific studies and research, the intention of yoga in the US began to evolve, from its traditional origins to be repacked and repurposed for a more mainstream appeal to fitness enthusiasts. Even those who face trauma and health challenges benefit from this mind-body modality.
America has a history of repackaging and repurposing activities that people didn’t necessarily discover. Here are a few examples of activities that were repurposed and repackaged, and are now accepted in the Christian world:
Decorating Christmas trees
Did you know that giving money and decorating trees were a part of worship to different Gods during the Egyptian times? They’re also a part of the Germanic pagan solstice tradition.
Exchanging of wedding rings
The exchange of wedding rings didn’t originate in the church. The oldest recorded exchange of wedding rings can be traced back from ancient Egypt, 4810 years ago. They used to twist and braid sedges, rushes, and reed, along with papyrus into rings to be worn by women in those days.
Did you know that fasting can be a religious practice for some, but for others, it can be used for weight loss or purge toxins from the body? Nobody has claimed fasting as their own because everyone is free to use the practice we see fit.
Can yoga and Christianity go together? The answer is yes. Just because the ancient practice of yoga incorporates Hinduism or Buddhism doesn’t mean that it cannot be repackaged or repurposed – just like the other practices Christians have today. Should you take your wedding ring off based on the original intent? Should you stop buying Christmas trees because ancient Egypt used them first? The goal of Christian yoga is to equip and empower Christians to fulfill God’s given purpose and destiny. It’s not a new concept, so it’s a great way to combine your love of yoga and your passion for God.
Yoga Faith is proud to be a registered Christian Yoga Association Master School, where the curriculum focuses on Jesus Christ and the word of God. Everyone is welcome at our Yoga Faith, and no experience is necessary. It’s an inclusive and multi-denominational community that caters to all people from different walks of life.