By Kosta Vikasa
The concern or question, if yoga and Christian faith can be combined, is a long-standing one. Especially in the United States, where many different streams and new age churches of Christianity are at home.
The fact that yoga has its origin in the East, where Hindus are the largest group of people practicing yoga, is the root of the problem, it’s Hinduism people are afraid to tap into.
However, several Christian yoga teachers and communities have created new, adapted versions. They have different names and some are stricter than others about excluding certain traditional yoga elements that can divide them from their religion.
But let’s start with the question why Christians felt the need to come up with their own version of yoga. Can Yoga not be practiced by people of all faiths?
Yoga is, first of all, a philosophy and not a religion It has derived from nature. Yoga means union, which relates to the union of mind, body, and soul.
The main purpose of yoga is to reach self-realization and in the long term enlightenment. A traditional yoga practice contains the following elements: Meditation, Pranayama (breathing exercise), Asanas, Mantra Chanting, Relaxation.
However, many yoga postures have names of Hindu gods, like Lord Shiva Dancer’s Pose. We practice Sun Salutations: Worshipping the sun has always been an integral part of Hinduism
There is Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga (Worshiping of God, however, God can be anything) Rebirth and Enlightenment. Rebirth is an idea that very clearly contradicts the Christian view of the world.
While these elements of the yoga philosophy seem not to be strictly compatible with Christian faith, Patanjali, names the following 5 Yamas, as ethical and moral guidelines for yogis:
Sound familiar? Most of these rules are true for many religions, amongst them Christianity.
Because of the benefits of yoga, Christian Yoga is now a thing, but if you look for the keyword online, it seems to be quite a controversial topic amongst Christians themselves. There are different strands of Christian Yoga.
Holy Yoga is the brainchild of Brooke Boon. Holy Yoga is an institution that offers yoga classes and yoga teacher training for Christians. The founder has stripped yoga of mantra chanting, the mention of Namaste and other Sanskrit elements, and deeper meditation or visualization techniques. Plus in the Holy Yoga classes, Christian music is played in the background.
Although it’s not “authentic yoga”, there is no harm in focusing on some of the elements and leaving out others. Just look at all the power yoga classes. Little have they in common with the traditional way Hatha yoga was practiced 300 years ago. Teachers and yoga institutions like Bikram yoga omit certain elements of yoga to fit their ‘modern age’ yoga style as well. Meditation and pranayama practices are – unfortunately – the first ones that need to go.
One thing that yoga cannot and should not be lacking is its spiritual and moral aspect which brings us back to yoga sharing christian values.
So even if the execution of the yoga practice varies, there definitely is Christian Yoga out there. I would not go so far as calling it a yoga style, but maybe an adaption of a yoga practice to combine it with a belief system and makes it inclusive for religious yogis.
Yoga, no matter if the practitioner is Christian, Muslim or Atheist, helps people to listen to their inner voice and body, to practice stillness and to be compassionate with oneself and with others. In this state, a strong believer might even be able to deepen her of his faith in God.
Yoga creates love, and should not be judgmental. These guidelines are very much in line with any faith. As long as people follow these moral principles, it really shouldn’t matter what the name of the practice is.