I'm A Christian Yoga Teacher: Here's How I Think The Practice Relates To Faith
I am a Christian who practices, teaches, and encourages others to do yoga. In the years since I began my practice, I have heard many times from the Christian world that a true Christian cannot have anything to do with yoga. In my opinion, this is not true at all. On the contrary, I believe that yoga can enhance people's spiritual practices—whatever those may be.
Yoga is a tool that can be used for whatever end you wish. You might come to a class hoping to relax, or maybe you want to relieve pain in some part of the physical body. Or, you might use yoga as a way to connect with a higher power.
I'll use a personal example as an illustration: My whole life, I've been high-energy. When I would begin a prayer, I would set out with the best intentions to speak with reverence to the Creator. But my mind always wandered. Sometimes, it was less than a minute or two and I was off, thinking about something completely unrelated. That's not how I want to address the Most High. But I'm human and had never been taught to meditate, so I drifted.
But yoga changed all that for me. Since practicing asana and meditation, I can now focus my mind for longer periods of time, showing the proper respect God deserves.
Let's look at some of the ideologies associated with yoga to evaluate how it can fit with any faith.
The most taught ethical standards of yoga revolve around the Yamas and Niyamas. These are ways of acting and abstaining, which create a moral life.
- Ahimsa = Nonviolence
- Satya = Truthfulness
- Asteya = Nonstealing
- Brahmacharya = Nonexcess
- Aparigraha = Nonpossessiveness
- Saucha = Purity
- Santosha = Contentment
- Tapas = Self-discipline
- Svadyaya = Self-study
- Ishvara Pranidhana = Surrender
Upon examination of these ethical standards, they follow closely the teachings of Christ. They are simple, moral codes that most would agree would lead us to a better life. They make up the first two limbs of the eight-limbed path set forth by Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras. He was not one of the first writers of yoga but one of the first to put together a codified system of practice.
Within his Sutras, Patanjali asserts that the practice of yoga consists of eight parts:
- Yama: Outward morality
- Niyama: Inward morality
- Asanas: Body postures
- Pranayama: Breathing exercises and control of prana (chi, or "life force")
- Pratyahara: Control of the senses
- Dharana: Concentration
- Dhyana: Devotion, meditation on God
- Samadhi: Union with God.
But here is where my path diverges slightly from Patanjali's. I believe that complete union with God can only come after one's physical death. But still, as a Christian I can practice yoga with a clean conscience because the main ideas of yoga are not about the nature of God or how to worship. They're simply ideals for living.
Different people bring in their own ideas, beliefs, and teachings and apply them to yoga, which gives each instructor their own unique flavor. At my studio, I request that our teachers honor all religious beliefs by keeping their teachings religiously neutral. We do not chant to Ganesha (a Hindu god). We do not have statues of Buddha, nor do we have Christian symbols displayed. I believe that none of these are necessary for a full, rich yoga practice.
Yoga is not a part of my theological beliefs, but it has enriched my spiritual practices. If you come to the mat, you can choose how much spirituality you want to infuse into your own practice. Yoga is about getting to know yourself and the causes of your suffering, in order to remove unnecessary suffering from your life and find healing.