(This blog post started with something a friend shared on Facebook. A blog link: “Baptist leader: Christians shouldn’t do yoga.” As you can see, my response is too long for the comment field on Facebook.)
A southern Baptist theologian, Albert Mohler, recently wrote a blog post decrying yoga as non-Christian and in fact dangerous for Christians.
It has drawn response from sources far and wide including USA Today and the Washington Post and now my humble blog.
I am not intending to throw fuel on the fire but offer my thinking on the connection between spirituality/religion and your yoga practice if you are thinking of exploring classes with Just B Yoga. I have had students ask me if they were violating their various beliefs by practicing yoga or participating in chanting OM or even using any Sanskrit words. So, why not talk about it now?
I share my thoughts based on my training as a yoga teacher and my own life experiences and spiritual path.
What saddens me most about Mohler’s blog post is after a lot of intelligent research and presentation his assessment appears shallow. He frames Christian faith as following the “word of Christ,” without offering any more depth than that.
His interpretation of yoga is shallow, referring to postures as mere body motions and referring to an ancient language as “incomprehensible syllables.”
Yoga is a life practice and philosophy – not a religion (read an excerpt from Georg Feurstein’s “Deeper Dimensions of Yoga” – which I highly recommend). It is rooted as a path for spiritual enlightenment but it isn’t a religion. We are encouraged to find our truest selves, not as it is dictated by any person, group or cultural or religious expectation.
That this practice – whether we focus on the one limb of asana (physical postures) or any of the other seven limbs (i.e. breath control, meditation, the ethical dos and donts) – can come under attack by someone waving the banner of Christianity is unfortunate. Yoga practice can help enhance one’s spiritual connection in my experience.
I had a motley Christian upbringing. My grandmother was Baptist. I was sent to Catholic schooling through ninth grade more or less. My connection to Christianity ranges from the Stations of the Cross to rote repetition of Hail Mary to fire and brimstone sermons, Easter baskets and Christmas dinner. I come from a family that read the Bible before bed and I got tested on that knowledge in Sunday school and later in theology class in high school. Even as my grandmother was aging with dementia she would ask me, “Do you know your Bible, baby?”
Enter my mom.
As I was struggling with whether I wanted to become Catholic by 7th grade she was sharing the teachings of the Tao, the Q’uran and Confucius with me. She is the first person I ever saw doing yoga postures (shoulderstand), setting my path into motion before I ever knew it. She was a spiritual explorer open to everything from sweat lodges to tent revivals and the I-ching. She never determined my spiritual path for me.
I eventually took vows of refuge in my 30s as a Tibetan Buddhist in the Mahayana tradition. This culminated after many years of feeling my way and listening to my spirit and my connection with what I feel is a bigger energy out there. I don’t call it God. But I could based on my experiences of life. I don’t call it Allah. Although I could. I feel more Taoist in this sense – that greater energy, that spirit is so great it’s nameless. It just is. (Hmm? Exodus 3:14 anyone? “I am that I am”)
My practice in life is to respect religious texts as words written by man to serve as vessels for an overall message. I interpret nothing literally. Danger lies in dogma. That’s why I love the Dharma and LaoTze’s Taodejing. You have to sit with a few lines and chew on them for a LONG time until some light is revealed to you.
When I roll out my mat I am presenting myself – not just my physical body but my barest self before this great expanse of energy. For my Trekkers out there, I feel like Odo stepping into the pool of his liquid-based planet of beings – changelings – for a shared oneness. Practicing all the limbs of yoga helps me focus my intention of being while I exist in this form on earth. I am not violating my vows as a Buddhist, I’m strengthening them. I’m not violating my upbringing even as a Christian, I’m honoring them.
Chanting and hymnals have been a part of Judeo-Christian ritual for centuries. I don’t believe a yoga sutra, chant or mantra is an abomination to God or Christ. I listen for the meaning and how it connects with my own practice.
One of my favorites is “Mana eva Manushyanam Karanam Bandha-mokshayoh”– “If you feel bound you are bound, if you feel free, you are free”.
Don’t get bound in dogma of any religion, group or establishment.
Be free to listen to your spirit and nurture that as you seek to connect it with something greater.
Mohler has received a massive wave of response since posting on his blog. Unfortunately a lot has been angry and disrespectful. I’ve even seen some nasty responses on blogs and Facebook walls.
Let us all find grace and compassion with one another.