on practicing yoga

Yoga is so in vogue.

All the cool kids pretty, lithe women are doing it.

When I joined a gym last spring, I wasn’t looking to learn yoga. But a friend told me about this Geneva woman, whose singsong voice would make my horrific lack of flexibility all okay. At her behest, I went.

It was love at first child’s pose. Mostly.

It is a traditional vinyasa flow yoga practice. They do the connecting body and spirit, they do the namaste. I do not. When Geneva talks about quieting ourselves to connect with our spirits, I pray–generally, a prayer of thanksgiving to God, for a body that is slowly but surely learning how to move, for the quiet at the end of the day. When she thanks the “teacher and student in each one of us” and leads into namaste, I disengage, sidle off my mat, and begin to make my quiet exit. I leave relaxed, peaceful, and often, sleepy.

The thing is? This works for me. I don’t feel spiritually convicted for being present. I don’t feel susceptible to the new age elements. I am not engaging in yoga as a spiritual discipline. In fact, I bring my spirituality–the Holy Spirit–with me, his discernment in me, to each yoga class I attend. My plumb line is true, friends. As though I needed to defend myself.

But then again, maybe I do.

On November 2, Mark Driscoll, pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, a man whose radical preaching I often agree with, published an article called “Christian Yoga? It’s a Stretch.”

It’s bullying semantics and I cannot abide it.

When I say I “go to yoga,” I do not mean I’m going to a temple of new age spirituality where I will actively engage in the spiritual, physical, and mental discipline which originated in India. When I say I “go to yoga,” I mean I’m about to stretch out my quads and my calves while perched in a strange inverted V position some people call downward-facing dog. End of story.

In his article, Driscoll defines yoga (the religion), gives the history of yoga (the religion), outlines the various forms of yoga (the religion), and evaluates Christian consumption of yoga (the religion). Of course we’d want to reject yoga if our only working definition of the word refers to the religion in which I’m supposed to become one with the universe by voiding my mind.

The fact is, the word “yoga” is used to mean a variety of things. In his 4,000+ words on yoga, Driscoll devotes only 33 to this issue of semantics:

I’d also go so far as to say you should reject the term “yoga,” as it is impossible to divorce it from its historical and spiritual context without much explanation and linguistic gymnastics.

Impossible to divorce? I do. Every Monday night from 8-9pm. With my friend Marie. Who’s a youth pastor.

I bristled, too, at Driscoll’s rejection of Holy Yoga, not least because my father-in-law was part of its creation. By Driscoll’s own standards, Christians are to engage with culture by receiving, rejecting, or redeeming. He argues that Christians cannot redeem yoga because

going to a yoga studio to practice yoga as a Christian is a bit like going into a mosque to practice Islam as a Christian…Complicating the issue even more is that, as explained above, yoga is often not overt in its teachings but rather weaves them through seemingly harmless practices such as stretching. Without a discerning spirit, one can find oneself naively participating in spiritual activities that are not Christian.

And what if the yoga stretches happen in a church? Taught by a Christian who introduces scripture at the outset? Who prays over the attendees? That would start to sound a whole lot like a group of Christians who just redeemed yoga.

But then, of course, it’s not yoga. At least not by Driscoll’s definition. Then it’s something else entirely. Something even Driscoll encourages:

Instead, feel free in Christian liberty to stretch however you’d like, participate in exercise, calm your nerves through breathing, and even contemplate the Scriptures in silence.

That sounds exactly like Holy Yoga, Mark. And if we’re to reject the term “yoga” altogether, then what would you have us call it?

After yoga last night, I came home excited to tell my husband I had mastered, for the first time, both dancer’s and tree pose (one-legged balancing poses). My body is doing things it couldn’t previously. That is an amazing thing, not altogether disconnected from discovering what it means to love God with my body. Whether I do that through Holy Yoga or regular yoga stretches or running or swimming or lifting weights should not matter. If it leads me deeper into the complexity of my relationship with God, I will continue, because it is a good thing.

One thought on “on practicing yoga

  1. Maggie, you might want to check out my pastoral colleague and her company, http://www.yogadevotion.com which teaches a Christan form of yoga in St. Paul area churches. Her company was once featured in Time magazine and the article even included a quote form me. My twenty milli-seconds of fame! Various prayer postures are good things.

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