The benefit of yoga is twofold – increased health and unification of the spirit with the body. It is accomplished through the use of many different aspects, but mainly through the combination of Asanas, or postures, and breathing/meditation practices.
This raises many questions in the Christian community. In my research for this article, I was very surprised at the viewpoint of the Christian apologists, and their take on yoga and its practice. I have hesitated on writing this article because of that viewpoint. However, I feel that this question and the stance of the Christian community warrant reflection on the subject.
Yoga has a history dating back over five thousand years, to the beginning of the civilization of man. Little is really known about Yoga. it is believed to have originated in Mehrgarh, a Neolithic settlement in what is now Afghanistan. Scholars believe it has grown out of Stone Age Shamanism. In this early period of civilization’s beginnings, Yoga was a community resource, because of its attempts to determine cosmic order through inner vision, and apply it to daily living. In later years, yoga evolved into an inner dialogue through which the Yogis sought to develop their own salvation and enlightenment.
Archaeological evidence of the existence of Yoga first appeared in stone seals excavated from the Indus valley. It depicted figures in many Yogic Asanas, or postures, and officially put Yoga in the time period of approximately 3000 B.C. Of greater import, it also linked yoga to the great Indus-Sarasvati Civilization, a period in time that was considered modern and efficient.
From the Indus-Sarasvati civilization came the ancient texts known as the Vedas, the oldest scriptures in the world. The Vedas are a collection of hymns that praise a higher power and contain the oldest recorded history of Yoga teachings. The Vedas required the practitioner to transcend human limitations, and reach a higher spiritual plane. In later years, texts known as the Brahmans were written to explain the rituals and the hymns of the Vedas. Following this came the Aranyakas texts, which outlined the practice of Yogis living in the seclusion of the forest. This led to the beginning of India’s medical tradition, known as Ayurveda. All in all, Yoga transformed into a practice of health, harmony of the spirit, and a way of life.
The Christian viewpoint is thus – if one opens the mind to clearer thinking and inner vision, they open the spirit to demonic possession. It is felt that Yoga practice borders on occultism, and that opening one’s mind and spirit to the benefit of yoga is both dangerous and against everything Christianity preaches. Christians believe that studying yoga is akin to practicing Hinduism, and one cannot separate the philosophy of Hinduism from their Christian beliefs, regardless of the health benefit of yoga.
As a practicing Buddhist, I take issue with this viewpoint. To me, this smacks of tunnel vision and narrow mindedness. A Christian is expected to open their heart and minds to Jesus, and to give in to the spirit of the Lord. They are expected to rely on blind faith, and to accept the word of God as the only truth in the world. A thinking person would find this hypocritical, for on the one hand Christians preach that Yoga must be avoided because opening the mind to clearer vision encourages the possibility of demonic possession, yet on the other hand preaches that one must open the mind and heart to accept Jesus into their lives. Opening one’s heart and mind is exactly that – whether it is to look into one’s self, or to accept Jesus into their lives. If, as Christians preach, we are open to demonic possession if we look inside ourselves and open the mind to all the possibilities, how then can we safely open our hearts to the concept of Christianity? Is there a gatekeeper who makes this decision when we do so that determines what path we are to follow? I think not…
For the record, I was raised in a Christian household. My father was the deacon of a small Baptist church in the farming community where we lived. My mother, who taught us children to question everything, moved from the Baptist community to the Assembly of God churches, and was ostracized by my father. I think that to her dying day, she resented my father for this narrow mindedness. Life is a matter of choice, and my mother believed that we are not required to operate under the illusion of blind faith, but to do what is right to us as an individual. And it is why I walk the Noble 8 Folded Path. It is simply a matter of choice, and questioning everything in this universe.
I believe that the practice of yoga is a good thing. It provides us with great health benefits, clearer vision, and harmony in our souls. And in this day and age, what else is there? Whether we are Christians, Muslims, or Buddhists, we must not disrespect the feelings and thoughts of others, their rights to practice as they wish, or try to push our views down other people’s throats.