The decision to pursue Yoga Teachers’ Training was not an easy one. After all, I have been told about how Yoga contradicts my religious beliefs and that my faith didn’t support it. To be sure I consulted the right people on the issue, I had even written to priests regarding the acceptability of Yoga in my faith. It was a subject I treaded carefully, because I love Yoga, and I love my faith, both very much. I have had thoughts about fusing them! Apparently, some like-minded individuals have done so. Currently, a style known as ‘Christian Yoga’ is becoming very popular in the United States. A typical session is just like any other Yoga class, the only difference being that the meditation is based either on scriptural readings or on the teachings from the Bible.
The reasons for its popularity are clear. Firstly, many devout Christians are uncomfortable with the seemingly association of Yoga and Hinduism, due to the use of Sanskrit terminology and the devotional chants. Secondly, many look upon yoga as a meditation-in-action, so as to better prepare the mind to seek a deeper relationship with their Christian faith during meditation. Religious purists, on the other hand, are protesting against such a combination. Fundamentalists argue for Yoga to be kept separate from religion.
What about you? What is your stand on this matter?
The book Exodus in the Old Testament records the Ten Commandments, which is a central pillar in the Christian faith. The Ten Commandments speak of the ideal Christian behaviour. God speaks to his followers (Exodus 20: 1-17):
- I am the Lord your God. You shall not have any other gods except me. You shall not make for yourself an idol.
- You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.
- You shall remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.
- You shall honour your father and mother.
- You shall not kill.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
- You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.
- You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbour.
It should be emphasized hereby that the Christian definition of “neighbour” extends beyond the current English language definition of “somebody living next door/ nearby”. In the Bible, the neighbour takes on a more generic definition of being ‘everybody’. Hence, you and I are neighbours, in that sense.
Reflecting on the Yama, which is one of the eight limbs of Yoga, I found a close parallel between Yoga Philosophy and these commandments. Specifically, Yama talks about the restraints of the Yogi, which in my opinion, is somewhat like a code of conduct. It includes Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Brahmacharya (sublimation of sexual energy), Asteya (non-covetedness) and Aparigraha (non-accepting of bribes).
Comparing the two:
|Yama||Corresponding to Commandment:|
|Ahimsa – Non-violence||(5) You shall not kill.
|Satya – Truthfulness||(8) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.|
|Brahmacharya – sublimation of sexual energy||(6) You shall not commit adultery.
(9) You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.
|Asteya – Non-stealing||(7) You shall not steal.
|Aparigraha – non-accepting of bribes||(10) You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbour.|
There is hence no basis for the argument that Yoga contradicts the Christian faith.
Personally, I dedicate the practice to God before I begin. That way, I consciously practise Ishwara-pranidha by letting God lead me through my practice. There is no ego at work, only contentment (Santosha) in where I can be. The way I see it, the asanas are but a means of stilling the mind, so that I will have an increased capacity for concentration and hence God-centred meditation.
The truth is, I really don’t see why Yoga can’t be incorporated into my faith, especially when there is a conscious effort to involve God in the practice, as what the apostle Paul says in the Bible: “Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received him from God. You are not your own property; you have been bought and paid for. That is why you should use your body for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 6: 19-20).