A while ago I saw a newspaper article about a Catholic Yoga class being held somewhere near where I live. At the time I wondered why they needed a special class for Catholics. I could imagine that Catholics jesus a gospel of love, but I seldom find chanting to Hindu gods in mainstream or beginner yoga classes. So I was left wondering why, if Christians see a value in practicing yoga, that some feel it necessary to customize this non-religious practice to their religion.
ustin O’Brien made the first point most eloquently in his book A Meeting of Mystic Paths, Christianity and Yoga when he said, “To put Christian minds at ease, it is important to remember that yoga does not displace religion. Yoga can no more threaten genuine religious beliefs than can a basic course in animal husbandry.”
The main reason that Christians should not have any misgivings about practicing yoga is the idea of intent. If Christians practice yoga with good, Christian intent, then no evil can come of it. Beyond that, there are some parallels that can be drawn between yoga practices and Christian ideals. If you are interested you can read more about those on your own.
As for the second and third points, anyone that has practiced any yoga with any regularity understands that yoga works by connecting the body, mind and soul, and there lies its spiritual value to people of any religion. Nancy Roth, in An Invitation to Christian Yoga, says simply that yoga offers people ways “of expressing with their bodies the prayer that is within them.”
So I don’t oversimplify, I’ll admit that there are certainly sensitivities to be aware of as a Christian exploring yoga or a teacher wishing to teach yoga in a Christian-friendly way.
In the use of Sanskrit words, a teacher should be prepared to define and explain “Om,” “Namaste,” and other terms, and a student should feel free to ask questions. Teachers should be sensitive about presenting spiritual ideas in a non-religious context so that they are accessible and non-offensive to all students.
All in all, I hope that the perceived barriers to practicing yoga for Christians, or people of any other religion, become fewer and farther between as common knowledge of yoga increases. As our world becomes more open and we learn to see ourselves in the context of a global community, I hope we will all continue to open our minds and learn from one another. There is so much wisdom that can be shared.