Editor's blog: Christian yoga - missing the point

Tuesday 13 June, 2006

© Stephen Coburn - FOTOLIAThis week's article about PraiseMoves, the self-billed “Christian alternative to yoga”, puts a spotlight on the deep distrust of yoga from some quarters as a New Agey, mumbo-jumbo off-shoot of Hinduism. 


PraiseMoves, increasingly popular in the US as a Christian answer to yoga, is a prime example: yoga is inseparable from Hinduism, argues Laurette Willis, PariseMoves' founder, and represents “the missionary arm of Hinduism”.

Willis' website mutters darkly about yoga's emphasis on breathing opening the “door to the psychic realms” - and quotes a biblical reference to Satan as “the prince of the power of air”.

A milder distrust be seen by the increasing popularity of other forms of self-styled 'Christian yoga'. Some, like US yoga teacher Marylyn Mandeville, are spearheading a growing movement to reformulate yoga in a Christian context.

Reverent Thomas Ryan, a Catholic priest and author of Prayer of Heart and Body: Meditation, Yoga as a Christian Spiritual Practice, argues that the 15 million people engaging in yoga in the US “need assistance making the points of connection with their Christian faith.” At least half of these 15 million come to yoga from a Christian background, he says.

This deep-rooted suspicion of yoga's religious and sociological roots is more prevalent than most of us would like to think – and not only in the USA.

A BSY-accredited hatha teacher based in the north of England recently recounted her neighbours' distrust of her status as a yoga teacher, and she had even been referred to in some quarters as a witch.

There are several strands of – interlinked – argument here: firstly, the notion that yoga is sinister, New Agey and somehow irreverent; secondly, that alternative forms need to be developed so that happy-clappy Christians can come up with their own half-baked version; and lastly and more importantly perhaps, that yoga is fundamentally a religious practice.

The idea that most of us practice yoga because we like to revel in its historical and religious roots – and view it as an expression of religious belief – is frankly absurd. The vast majority of well-balanced men and women in the West practice yoga for its well-documented physical and emotional benefits.

The West is an increasingly secular place, and (sadly, some would say) for many of us, the role of religion has little or no place in our every day lives. But if it does, there are plenty of other outlets for expression: the church; living our lives in accordance to our beliefs.

But the growing right-wing religious fundamentalism movement in The States has embraced its own form and imbued it with a religious significance that takes yoga further away from its Hindu roots – and twists it to fit in with another belief system. 

This is not only faintly ridiculous; it's also disingenuous and potentially dangerous – any attempts by a strong-willed minority group to present yoga as esoteric and inaccessible can't be a good thing.

Plenty of us (me included!) would admit to enjoying the mildly spirtual aspects of practising yoga: the incense, the OMs, the Sanskrit names for postures. But often there's none of this in an average class and there's a strong argument that says none of this really matters anyway.

Any move to marry yoga strongly with relgion misses the point of its appeal: yoga's open, inclusive nature and the fact that virtually anyone can do it, regardless of their faith, age or background.


image source: © Stephen Coburn - FOTOLIA


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