The US movement PraiseMoves bills itself as the Christian alternative to yoga, appealing to those for whom yoga's Hindu origins are hard to stomach. Journalist Martin Drury talks to Laurette Willis, its creator.
The idea for PraiseMoves, the Christian alternative to yoga now sweeping parts of America, first occurred to Laurette Willis in February 2001.
A series of stretches that correlate with Bible verses, the practice is designed to provide exercise while moving Christians to praise God. Asanas include The Eagle, The Angel, The Rainbow and The Altar.
Despite the strong Christian message Willis insists anyone can benefit from her alternative to yoga.
Willis says: “In practising PraiseMoves, you are building strength and flexibility, renewing your mind and praising the Lord - all at the same time! After a workout people tell me they feel wonderful in spirit, soul and body”.
Willis was introduced to yoga as a child. She was a demonstration model for her Mother's yoga classes; now she tours the US speaking of ‘the dangers of yoga’.
She believes yoga cannot be separated from Hinduism and refers to it on her website as: “the missionary arm of Hinduism”, while dismissing Christian yoga as an oxymoron.
Mistrust of yoga
Her website warns darkly: “yoga’s breathing techniques may seem stress-relieving, yet they can be an open door to the psychic realms.” She then quotes Paul’s reference to Satan as “the prince of the power of the air”.
In an interview with Today’s Christian Woman magazine she said that surrendering to the “group mind” in yoga classes could lead to students being oppressed by demonic spirits such as depression, and fear.
Willis is not alone in her mistrust of yoga. Cardinal Ratzenberger (now Pope Benedict XVI) signed a Vatican document warning that yoga could ‘degenerate into a cult of the body’. Many Christians have long resisted yoga’s traditions, and its overtones of mysticism.
Yet yoga practitioners are quick to quash accusations of religious teaching in yoga classes. “We shouldn’t be using yoga to teach our students anything,” says Patricia Walden of the BKS Iyengar group – and it’s safe to say that most Western yoga enthusiasts simply practice for its physical and relaxation benefits.
PraiseMoves is taught in YWCAs, fitness centres and churches across the US by Certified Instructors. Willis may be the celebrity of the PraiseMoves movement – appearing regularly on American TV and in Christian magazines – but she credits God as the true creator.
“Numerous people have come to the Lord, recommitted their lives to Jesus Christ and deepened their relationship with God as a result of PraiseMoves”.
Image source: Rui Vale De Sousa - FOTOLIA