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Holy Yoga! Religious Yoga Hybrids Are a Godsend

in YD News

christian-yoga‘It allows us to blur the line between the physical and the spiritual.’

Damn it, is yoga religious or what? It’s been a major bone of contention, especially in the Western world, for as long as we can imagine and while there are plenty of teachers and practitioners out there trying to keep yoga and religion separate, here come the many religious groups who say to hell with trying define it, let’s just merge the two! The LA Times had an article earlier this week about Jewish and Christian congregations forming their own hybrids of the spiritual and physical practice.

Incorporating prayer and readings from the Bible, [instructor Bryan] Brock urged his class of about 20 students to find strength in their connection to their creator through yoga’s deep, controlled breathing. “The goal of Christian yoga is to open ourselves up to God,” he said. “It allows us to blur the line between the physical and the spiritual.”

The instructor then recited the Lord’s Prayer while his students moved slowly through a series of postures known as the sun salutation.

We couldn’t help but giggle at the “breathe down Jesus” quote. Spread your arms from your collar bones like you’re parting the red sea! Seriously though we can totally see how yoga can fit right into religious theories and teachings – and we’ve definitely conjured up Jesus, Mary AND Joseph holding some extra long Warrior III’s! Is the theocracizing of yoga a positive in making the practice more accessible to everyone? Or does it start to blur the line and freak everyone out (who isn’t looking for a religious practice)?

Says author of “Holy Yoga,” Brooke Boon, “Christ is my guru. Yoga is a spiritual discipline much like prayer, meditation and fasting,” Boon said in a telephone interview. “No one religion can claim ownership.”

There’s spiritual, and then there’s religious. But even that gets pretty damn confusing.

As for Muslims, yoga is still not very well received, and teachers (and students) in Muslim regions work hard to separate the practice from religion in order to continue, though that may change (most likely in the US before anywhere else). Remember all that fatwa jazz?

What’s your say?

EarlierJewish Yoga

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Bits of the Day: Jewish Yoga; Mumbai Yoga Museum; Yoga to be Mandatory in India Schools

Bikram Responds to Fatwa, ‘Yoga has absolutely nothing to do with religion’

19 comments… add one
  • Each to their own and live and let live I say. Just keep the dogma out of yoga 🙂

  • whatever brings people to yoga is fine. but what gets my chakra panties in a knot is when Christians say that yoga is “bad” merely because it comes from an Eastern wisdom tradition and then suddenly it’s “good” because some Christian verbiage is thrown in. only then is it OK and “safe” thing to do.

    gee…is that what fear smells like?

    funny how I’ve never met a Buddhist or a Hindu who has tried to convert me….

    • I’m a Christian and a registered yoga teacher, and it irritates the Hell out of me! It’s yoga and I don’t need to call it Bible Yoga or Christan Yoga to make me feel better. So I agree.

      However, because there is a lot of fear within the church about yoga, I guess “Holy Yoga” is one way to bring yoga to those who are fearful. Everyone can benefit from practicing yoga.

      Blessings and Namaste!

  • I read this article too. Shoulda known it would end up here on YD! I’m with Linda – I’ve heard quotes where religious leaders are talking about the “evils” of yoga, and how chanting Sanskrit is “dangerous”!!

    And as long as they’re getting their yoga on, who cares if they’re chanting the Lord’s Prayer, as long as they’re getting a few rounds of sun salutes in, too.

  • kripalu has workshops on yoga and judaism, christianity.. i think buddhism (although maybe not a religion?) is in there too. as noted, if it works for you, rock on. we all got our own path, right?

  • “we all got our own path, right?”

    as long as it doesn’t denigrates the paths of others.

    I’ve been told that I’m going to hell because I teach yoga. really.

  • Whatever, Christian communities host all sorts of activities like theatre and choirs and spaghetti suppers. Why not yoga? Just keep the Jesus talk out of the actual yoga studios and I think we’re all set.

  • what I think is interesting, is our reactions to Christian Yoga. While we don’t blink an eye at talking about Hindu dieties during yoga class, making reference to the “stories” (or allegories) behind the asanas and chanting kirtan in sanskrit to Krishna, switch this to something more familiar and we flinch. “Keep it out of the studios” is fine, except I don’t really see how speaking about Kali is any less of a religious-speak than referring to Jesus during a yoga class.
    They’re both religious figures.

    Personally, I agree that for my own spiritual beliefs (not Christian), talking about Jesus would be jarring during a yoga class. At the same time I wonder if we, as Westerners, can more easily dismiss eastern religious references as they are less familiar and thus less “religious”…?

    • Chris

      Yoga is an ancient Hindu Science. When you step on your Yoga Mat, you are already dipping your toes into the deep pool of Hinduism ! Yoga is inseparable from Hinduism, and any Yoga class is naturally boud to be replete with Sanskrit terminology and references to Hinduism ! ( like a Taekwando class uses Korean terminology ).

  • Chris

    I see yoga as a tool, method, and process to use on our spiritual journey. If that journey works with a dogmatic context like christianity, judaism, or other than that’s cool – I think each can work in concert with one another as a sort of check and balance system leading to powerful life interpretation and spiritual growth. With regard to chanting or religiousprayer during yoga, all have the power of choice so pick the studio, teacher, and strain of yoga that fits you best. When all is said and done, yoga will help keep your body a more powerful recipient and practicioner of happiness, bliss, or whatever word best describes peace.

    Spread the word through fearless practice 🙂

  • Bryan Brock

    Since I am mentioned as one of the instructors in this article, I thought I would take a moment to reply. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to be able to teach Vinyasa Flow style yoga in both secular and religious contexts.
    In the religious context, I teach a free class every week at a non-denominational Christian church. In that setting I incorporate teachings from the Bible that relate directly to my own experiences as a Christian and a dedicated yoga practitioner. I don’t proselytize and I personally don’t use phrases like “breathe down Jesus” simply because that is not my teaching style. My goal is simply to introduce people to the beauty of pranayama, asana, and meditation within the context of Judeo-Christian teachings about breath, humility, peace, the body as a temple, loving God with all of our heart, soul, and strength, and loving others as we love ourselves.
    In the secular context, I teach and sub classes at yoga studios in the Los Angeles area. My goal in this setting is to create an environment that is spiritually open-ended in the sense that my students are free to set intentions that are a product of their own worldviews and spiritual goals within the context of a strong vinyasa flow class.
    As I said at the beginning of my post, I consider myself fortunate to be able to teach yoga in both settings. In the religious setting, I am free to share my love of yoga and how it has deepened my Christian faith. In the secular setting, I hope to encourage a deeper awareness of the transformative power of yoga and equip my students with tools to enhance their personal pursuits, both physical and spiritual. As a teacher, however, I feel that I have a strong responsibility not to blur the lines between teaching yoga in a religious setting and teaching yoga in a secular setting.

  • Thank you Bryan. I enjoy how you tailor your yoga instruction to the setting and audience. I do the same. When I volunteer teach in a Christian church the context of my comments reflects that. When I teach in the public school setting the religious subtext is absent but the core values of yoga remain. See http://yogainmyschool.com/2010/04/05/yoga-is-against-my-religion/

    Regardless of where you are coming from finding a class that reflects what you want/need from your yoga practice is up to each practioner. We are all on a personal yoga path – celebrate the differences with respect.

  • Well said, Bryan. It sounds like you have found a great expression of your spirituality in yoga. I don’t understand why that unity of practice should be limited to a select few approved paths.

    I think that there are some really negative misconceptions out there coming from both extremes. I, too, have met the Christians who say the Yoga is “dangerous” and that Meditation is anti-Christian. As a Catholic, I often run in to more “New Age” types who deride practices like the Rosary as meaningless. Ironically, those Rosary chanting ladies are actually doing a multi-layered mantra-based meditation! Personally, I think we all should celebrate the universality of the Spirit…I mean, isn’t it a profound and wonderful thing that so many faiths value mercy, kindness, peace and love?

    And, EcoYogini has some wonderful points as well. Why is Kali welcome but Jesus not? Westerners, in particular should be conscious of fetishising Eastern faiths. My own opinion is that we are called to respect all spiritual paths, be they familiar or unfamiliar.

  • I think it’s pretty simple: I would no more find myself in a Christian-oriented yoga class/school than I would a Christian church. I have so many options for yoga schools with a traditional focus on the principles of the Yoga Sutras, it doesn’t even effect me that someone else might be holding their hands in Añjali Mudrā and attaching a different meaning to it than I do in some other studio across town.

    I do find it amusing though, at times, when people say that something like Yoga is an “Eastern” tradition when the origins of Christianity weren’t *that* far away, geographically.

  • The first line of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika praises Shiva, the father of yoga according to the Shaivites, and goes on to say that the practice of Hatha yoga is a stairway for those who wish to ascend to the highest stages of yoga, raja or Classical yoga.

    Although westerners, following the lead of B.K.S., have been careful to extract yoga from its spiritual underpinnings – it was previous intimately entwined in deity worship. It’s really just in the past 60 years or so that its universalism has been extracted. Before most yogis were hard core tantric Shaivites or Vaishnavites.

    I think it’s great that we’ve extracted it from Vedanta in the west and can use it regardless of our spiritual dispositions. Nevertheless Hatha Yoga’s origins are blissfully bhakti oriented.

  • Mark LP

    YOGA, as you know, means UNION.
    RE-LIGIO[n] means TIE-BACK, rejoin.
    Yoga isn’t a religion, yoga IS religion. A religious practice, a way of life, “come down whole”, transcending origin or language or age or health.
    I’ve had my experiences with orthodox church people of all stripes — one of whom called it “diabolic” — and I’ve transcended that, too.
    Yoga is part of my life and my liberty: Study, service, and devotion.
    I have had deep and enriching spiritual experiences related to yoga — and other things — that I have had the blessing to carry on into other realms of my life. (The very fact that I have a memory of these events and that I have grown with them and been changed by them speaks of holiness.)

    As a doctor, I WISH people would take the time to really get to know what they are made of . Yoga has shown me the errors of my ways in “healthcare” and made it impossible for me to go back, once having seen.

    BTW: “Church” descends from Gk. “kouryon”, community.
    And I remain CONVINCED that Cat-holic means “come down whole”.

    And I believe -BELIEVE– that Jesus was a yogi, Mahatma.
    HEALTH, Heal, WHOLE, HOLY, all descend from Sanskrit — UNITY.

    Only divinity can do this. When I practice yoga –all 8 limbs — I think of it as asking the God of my understanding — ONE , LOVE — to align me with his will, including showing me how to surrender. So, MIND, BODY, and ATMA are made ONE.

    The LORD be with you – and also with YOUR spirit.

    Good article, even with the context of prejudice so near and words so hard to use.

  • Mark LP

    PS>> Religion, but certainly NOT as in “denomination”.

  • You actually make it appear really easy along with your presentation however I in finding this matter to be actually something that I think I might never understand. It sort of feels too complicated and extremely large for me. I am looking forward on your next put up, I will attempt to get the hold of it!

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