Yoga is a Stretch
Yoga is hot, and the number of practitioners is growingeven in Christian churches. Some 16.5 million Americans currently practice yoga, up 43 percent from 2002. And many of the recent converts are flexing at church. Some Christians are touting yoga's spiritual as well as physical benefits. Others fear naïve participants will be led into Eastern mysticism.
Jessica Beaubien is the instructor for SoulStretch.org, a Christian yoga ministry started at Royal Oak (Michigan) United Methodist Church. "Christ-centered yoga gives me time to 'Be still' before God," she says. "It helps me listen for his quiet voice and become aware of his awesome presence within me."
"The postures and the presence in the body can itself be a prayer," instructor Carolyn Blueml says, "whether of praise or gratitude or need."
DeAnna Smothers is co-founder of Yahweh Yoga, a Christ-based yoga studio located in Chandler, Arizona. She believes that the ancient practice can help Christians better understand Paul's concept of the body as the temple of God. "Christian yoga helps us draw closer to God by meditating on his word and keeping our temple clean and healthy."
Still, many observers maintain that yoga is inextricably linked to Hinduism. Laurette Willis of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, is one of them. Introduced to yoga as a child, Willis was a faithful adherent of a variety of New Age practices until she became a Christian almost 20 years ago. She calls yoga "the missionary arm of Hinduism and the New Age movement." "Christian yoga is an oxymoron," Willis told Time magazine. She is the creator of PraiseMoves, an alternative set of stretches and poses for Christians.
For Catholics, there is an even more formidable opponent to Christians practicing yoga. In 1989, the Vatican issued a document saying the practice of Eastern traditions like yoga "can degenerate into a cult of the body." It was signed by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzingernow Pope Benedict XVI.
For Christian yoga instructors like Smothers, such objections are understandable, but not the final word. "Many Christians come to the studio because they've enjoyed the physical practice of yoga, but have been turned off by the suggestions of Eastern religion in secular venues. Yahweh Yoga is exactly what they've been looking for."
But do you have to call it yoga? "Although not our main focus," Smothers responds, "we do get people who don't know Jesus and come to the studio simply because they like yoga and are willing to listen to Scripture and Christian music in order to practice. We believe God is in that."