Week 15: Yoga – Worship in an Active, Healthy Lifestyle

I recently started taking Yoga classes at LifeTime Fitness in downtown Minneapolis and upon entering my first class, I was questioning what I was about to get myself into. Would they be requiring that I recite all of the mantras I had read about and pay homage to a Hindu god? If so, I would be out the door in no time flat. I belong to Someone else.

But that didn’t happen. The lights had been dimmed, there was soft music playing in the background and the heat had been turned up. I rolled out my new mat, grabbed a towel off the stand and reached for a blanket and a block to help deepen some of the poses that my unpracticed body wouldn’t be able to reach.

The others in the room had started stretching out and lying on the floor. I proceeded to do what had been suggested during a one on one session with the head yoga instructor prior to the class. I sat on the floor, worked the kinks out of my knees and low back and then lay back. I immediately felt my body begin to relax as I focused on my breathing and cleared my mind of everything that I had been dealing with prior to class. Then I felt Him…breathing into my soul and removing the crud that had built up since the last time we truly talked with each breath I released.

Scriptures I had long ago memorized started flowing into my mind and seeping into my heart and I relaxed even further. Then, class began.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

In…  Out…

It was 6:00 a.m. on a Thursday and for the first time that week, I made myself slow down. Breathing this way does wonders for the body and the mind!

Along with 15 other people in that darkened studio, I used that rhythmic breathing technique to lull my muscles and joints into full body stretches and daring positions…positions I didn’t even think I was flexible enough to complete at the “ripe, good old age” of 26. My body became a table. A cow. A cat. An eagle. A warrior. A dancer. A pigeon. A downward facing dog. A cobra. A happy baby. Finally, my favorite pose that comes with the end of each class, a corpse, during which I lay flat out and just relax every ounce of my body, letting it melt into the mat beneath me.

I am also an evangelical Christian – a proud one. Proud of Christ and the way the Bible cuts through all cultures and all times and all hearts. And because of that pride, I decided to do a little digging. Is taking a yoga class a sin?

No. I don’t think so.

I read in Today’s Christian Woman an article by Laurette Willis, who believes yoga is pretty much of the devil. “Yoga’s breathing techniques (pranayama) may seem stress-relieving, yet they can be an open door to psychic influences,” Willis says.

Willis used to be a yoga instructor and she now believes that the practice opened her mind to New Age spirituality and led to her depression and alcoholism. After she converted, she remade herself into a PraiseMoves instructor.

In watching a video clip of this Christian exercise regimen, the moves are the same as are the breathing techniques. They’ve just been revamped with biblical-sounding names and explanations for each pose.

Now, don’t get me wrong. She and those who agree with her have good reasons to feel uneasy about yoga. She converted from the New Age practice to Christianity. I can see why it would be hard to continue taking yoga classes. But that doesn’t mean that all Christians should abstain from it.

To dispel this stereotype on yoga at hand, let me state that yoga has never had a negative influence on me and it doesn’t trigger any harmful religious impulses. In fact, just the opposite is true.  The two hours a week I spend in that studio not only ease the pain in my lower back, make me more flexible, tone my muscles and relax me. They also draw me closer to Christ; through prayer, focus, recitation of scripture; all while flowing from pose to pose and allowing myself to relax and forget about the world for sixty minutes.

After all, God created oxygen, our bodies (and their stretching capabilities) and music, didn’t He?

My natural response to taking a deep breath is the emotionally deep love I have for God (other than relaxing and letting go). Isn’t that what it’s all about? Letting go and letting God? Give me five minutes of yoga and my mind will be focused on Him.

Don’t get me wrong. My enthusiasm for yoga doesn’t mean I’m in denial about its roots in Hinduism. Yoga in the western world isn’t like the yoga practices of the Middle East. Hard-core yogis believe that yoga is more than exercise or a relaxation technique. It’s a religious ritual. And those hard core yogis do not lead classes at mainstream American gyms. No one makes me repeat any mantras. The only utterance in class is Namaste at the end, which, translated, literally means “The soul in me honors the soul in your” or “The image of God in me honors the image of God in you.”

It bothers me that people like Willis demonize a healthful exercise regimen, and engage in fear among evangelicals. I would like to point out a point in scripture where Paul speaks to the people of Corinth about the food served to idols (1 Corinthians 8):

Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols. Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes.

So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life.

However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.

In a sense…yoga is like the meat that was offered to pagan gods. The early believers in Corinth questioned whether they could eat that meat or not. Paul answered them by stating “We all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God.” Food “does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.”

Paul also mentions that there are those who are “are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated.” Willis falls under that category when it comes to yoga.

Paul also points out that we “must be careful that” our “freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.” I wouldn’t do something that would make my fellow sister or brother fall into temptation. But since I currently do not know anyone who struggles with this, I’m content to continue taking yoga.

Breathe in.

Out…

Christ in.

The world out.

Holy Spirit in.

Fear out.

God the Father in.

Everything out.

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