Yoga: An Exercise in Discernment
About 16 million adults in the United States practice yoga—an increase of 85 percent from 2004 to 2008—and the Los Angeles Times reports that both Christian and Jewish groups are incorporating the Eastern meditation practice into their respective faith tradition. Explicitly Christian yoga classes, such as Laurette Willis's PraiseMoves, seek to "transform your workout into worship!" I've practiced yoga for over six years now, but haven't sought out a Christian class, instead being content to bring my faith to the class I attend. This exercise in Christian discernment has strengthened both my body and my spirit.
I had two reservations when I began practicing yoga. One, I don't like trying new things, and the thought of contorting my not-so-flexible body in front of others made me nervous. Two, I knew that yoga had Eastern origins, and didn't want to turn exercise into an unwitting endorsement of Hinduism. But the class was free, and I wanted to be more willing to try new things, and I figured my faith could withstand one yoga class. So I went.
And I loved it. As a Christian, the spiritual aspect of yoga both attracts me and concerns me. It's easy to affirm the goodness of taking care of my body. Even though "honor God with your body" (1 Cor. 6:20) was written to address sexual morality, it extends to the care we take in other areas as well. Christian theology insists that our bodies matter. God's physical creation is a good one. In contrast to the Greek idea that the body is corrupt, Christ's incarnation affirms the importance of physical existence. Moreover, Christian hope is built on the promise that our souls and our bodies will be resurrected as a part of God's new heaven and new earth. Again, Christian theology insists that our bodies matter—even though our spiritual practices, especially in private, are often devoid of physical expression.
Yoga offers a way to connect the physical and the spiritual. A posture of hands raised (a "sun salutation") can be an expression of worship to the God who made the sun. "Child pose," a posture of dependence, head to the ground, knees drawn into the body, can be a reminder of humility, reverence, and vulnerability before God. Yoga also emphasizes the significance of breathing. When I start a yoga class with breathing exercises, I think about God's Spirit—a word in Hebrew that can also be translated breath—hovering over the face of the waters, and breathing life into Adam. I think about Jesus on the cross, breathing his last that we might live.
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