Yoga For Christians
This article was published in the 2017 MegaFest edition of the eMotions Magazine:
As a Christian, I am always questioned about my yoga practice and its connection to my Christian faith. The question recently posed to me was “As a person of faith, are there aspects of yoga that you omit from your practice?” Currently, the answer is yes, simply because there are so many aspects of yoga that I am still learning and applying to my Christian faith. Yoga goes beyond the physical practice (asana) as stated in the yoga sutras, with the ultimate goal being self –realization. To me, self-realization is realizing that I, alone, can do nothing without God’s divine intervention on my life.
As I continually grow in my personal practice, I enjoy challenging my students to take the principles of yoga and apply them to their daily lives. I regularly teach healing and restorative yoga in forms of cardio, meditative, and gentle yoga flows. I believe that yoga is a form of body prayer, which allows us to express gratitude and thankfulness to God through physical movements, and meditation (prayer). My genre of yoga allows students to practice surrendering their bodies to Jesus Christ, knowing that because of Him, we are able to move, breath, flow, and live.
My entrance into yoga was quite interesting, yet simple. Since I was young, my parents have always been strong advocates of education, and health/ wellness. I was an increasingly active young lady, being involved in gymnastics, acrobatics, swimming, and taekwondo. During and after college, I attended the gym regularly. One day, however, I participated in a yoga class at my local gym. I instantly fell in love with it, having enjoyed the challenge and began to develop a passion for the practice. I immediately began the search for a great yoga studio. I joined Gaia Flow Yoga studio and have been practicing there for years. It was later that something occurred to me. I realized that yoga is so much more than a physical practice; there is a huge spiritual component that is so much more important. It was then that I finally decided to pursue my yoga teacher training certification in order for me to teach what I love!
But, I already hear your protests. Trust me. It’s not the first time I’ve found myself in the middle of conversations with people who try to attribute practicing yoga to some type of divorce from my faith in Christ. Actually, it’s quite the contrary.
There are many questions surrounding the origin of yoga. Many believe that yoga began in Africa (specifically Egypt), was adopted by the Hindu religion, and later incorporated into their spiritual practice. One thing to keep in mind is that no religious group can claim to own the way we move our body, let alone how we “move our bodies to worship God”. The simple truth is that yoga does not “belong” to one religion any more than prayer can belong to a single religion. Therefore, yoga is neutral and takes on the quality of the student. Each student should set their own intention and establish a purpose for their personal practice.
There are yoga principles that can be directly applied to the Christian yogi. The outer disciplines of yoga are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation, and non-attachment, while the inner disciplines of yoga are purity, contentment, self-discipline, study of scripture (self-study), and surrender. The exterior disciplines dictate how we should interact with the outside world, while the interior disciplines represent the inner spiritual aspects of the practice.
One of the most important disciplines within my personal practice is surrender. Many people surrender to God when life’s challenges become harder and more difficult to bear. Bearing that in mind, surrender can also be applied on the yoga mat. In the yoga practice, the more a student resists, the longer it takes to accomplish the full expression of a pose. If a student begins a practice without setting their intention to that of surrender and God-Awareness, they become easily frustrated when they are unable to accomplish a physical challenge. Similarly, when the practice and life grow tough, that’s when God shows up and shows out. We are to give our best in every aspect of our life and, then, surrender the rest to Him.
When a student surrenders into the pose, letting go of resistance and tension, they are able to accomplish more and deepen into the pose and, in the end, deepen their practice. A student has to go into their personal practice knowing that they, themselves, did not create their own strength and build their own endurance, but that it is all a gift from God. It is through the strength of Jesus Christ that we are able to accomplish anything in this life. When we lean on ourselves, we fall short and do not aspire to our highest purpose. Surrender keeps us humble and grounded, knowing that we need Jesus Christ in all aspects of our lives, no matter if it’s on and off our mat.
I can wholeheartedly tell you that my practice has strengthened my spiritual walk with God. I am stronger mentally, physically, and spiritually. I am a full-time Industrial Engineer in the healthcare industry, and practicing yoga has benefitted me in my corporate life as well. When challenges arise, I slow and steady my breath and maintain a constant spirit of surrender, knowing that I can lean on Him. God spoke our lives into existence and breathed into us the Breath of Life (Genesis 2:7). Therefore, breathing techniques are crucial to a yoga practice. Our bodies were created in the perfect image of God, but sin initially affected the spirit, soul, and as a result, impacted the body, causing our physical bodies to become imperfect. Although our bodies are imperfect, there are signs that indicate that our bodies were created to live much longer than they do today. Our bodies were uniquely engineered to fight off disease, heal itself, and renew. Therefore, God is the only authentic path to true wellness. I will continue with my yoga practice, and continue to teach others the mental, physical, and spiritual benefits of yoga.
Love and Blessings,
Brittney L. Hall