I had an interesting conversation today regarding Christianity and yoga.
I met an Indian Catholic who was formally an avid yoga participant.
Until a few years ago, when he suffered an injury that forced him to retire from yoga, he was led by a yoga master who guided his training for years.
Christianity and yoga don’t always compliment each other in the United States. In fact, I find myself often defending yoga to close-minded Christians who believe the two can’t intertwine. But that’s why I loved this conversation.
This man, whom I met casually at an early Rotarian breakfast, absolutely proved that sometimes Christian folks in the United States are just overly sensitive and caught up in their own culture.
The Rotarian man explained that yoga in India is not a popular or trendy activity performed on Saturdays between episodes of “Real Housewives of Orange County.”
It’s a way of life here and part of the culture, like Indian saris or spicy food. India is the birthplace of yoga, which predates Jesus himself. It’s a meditation-based exercise that believes body mind and spirit become one as a person engages in various stretches.
Yoga masters also believe that we have complete control of our muscle movement – that all movement is voluntary. At least, it’s voluntary once you master yoga.
A non-Christian friend of mine introduced me to bikram yoga years ago, a specialized kind of yoga that requires the exercises be performed in rooms heated to more than 100 degrees. It’s a great way to sweat and release stress, I learned.
But when I started taking yoga, I received some negative kickback from church friends that warned me that my Christian faith would be compromised if I started attending eastern-minded exercise classes and uttering “namaste” at the end of each session.
I have always believed that a person grounded in their faith, like I am in mine, will not waver from God simply because they explore and participate in unfamiliar and cross-cultural traditions. In other words, I may be a crappy Christian some days, but if I waver from my faith because I use the word “namaste” after yoga class, then I wasn’t really a Christian to begin with.
Here in India, namaste, or namaskaram, is a proper greeting, nothing more. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Jews all use this greeting in India. And in India, yoga is exercise, not a conversion to Hindu spirituality. I asked the man at breakfast if he ever felt like his Christian faith was ever compromised because he participated in yoga. “Why?” he said. “It’s ancient Indian custom.”
It was so refreshing to get confirmation that many Indian-born Christians participate in yoga. It’s not sinful or confusing, it’s just part of the culture.
And it was also nice to realize I don’t have to be afraid or ashamed of my interest in yoga. It doesn’t make me a bad Christian. It makes me a more enlightened one.
Until tomorrow, Victoria.
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