Sister Mary Yogi
I wore the plaid skirt for twelve years. That’s my way of saying my family was quite Catholic. I continue to think of myself as Catholic and to participate accordingly, which bothers some people when they find out that I do yoga. Like most of you, I don’t just do yoga; I do it a lot. And then I talk about it. And then I do it again, and try to get you to do it, and your sister, and her husband. And then I do it some more. And talk about it some more. And… you get the picture.
So, since everyone knows that our asana practice has roots in the east, and all sorts of (peaceful, positive, healing) references to the forces of the Universe, and ahimsa (do no harm), and since (gasp!) the music some of us yogis practice to repeats mantras like “om shanti shanti shanti,” some people feel that this practice is anti-Christian or anti-Catholic. People get worried because of the obvious ties to Hinduism, Buddhism and whatever other –ism may offend. I’ve even heard that some priests warn against practicing yoga, that it is a sin.
So, how does a Christian deal with this? I’m no authority on Christianity. But what I do know is that my daily yoga practice has brought me closer to God, drawn me to be more involved in my religion, and made me a better person. I’m not in a position to defend yoga against those who are concerned by this quandary; instead, let me reassure anyone wanting to practice yoga to whom such criticism gives pause that you control your mind and your thoughts during your yoga practice! When you struggle to remain stable in your tree pose, or when you try to get right up to your edge by lifting your gaze skyward, you have every right to say something like I do: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”
When your yoga teacher asks you to set an intention for your practice, that can be your prayer, too. That intention, that gratitude, that rendering which you leave on your mat can be your offering to God, just as surely as the next person may be offering it to the Universe or the Moon or Shiva. In my own faith, God is the Universe and the Moon and Shiva. He is everything, the one true God. Who can argue with the sentiment of “the Divine light in me honors the Divine light in you?” Every Christian learns to not hide their light under a bushel (Matthew 5:15, roughly “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house”) and that each of us is made in the image of God. What could be more supportive of those concepts than “Namaste,” a term which acknowledges the divinity in self and all others?
As for the “third eye,” which wigs many skeptics out: you are just raising prayer hands towards the center of your highest source – just like when you made your First Communion! No worries, Christians… the precepts of yoga, in any language, in any words, involve peace, forgiveness, positivity, gentleness, generosity, perseverance, support, mindfulness and love. My intention here is not to be glib. I am not rolling my eyes at those Christians who criticize or who wonder. Instead, I’m telling you that I am one of those, or was one of those, and this is what I have found out: God has blessed me with my yoga practice, and He works through my yoga practice, just as He does everywhere else.
I know who my Highest Source is… do you??