Yoga, Epiphany, & the Ajna Chakra

Yoga, Epiphany, & the Ajna Chakra

What do the practice of yoga, ajna chakra, and the season of Epiphany have in common?

The mystery of revelation.

During the season of Epiphany, Christians celebrate the revelation of Jesus as Messiah to the world. The God of the Bible is a God who reveals himself through his people, through his Word, and throughout Creation!  I love this season because it emphasizes the big-ness of God, and reminds me that I worship a God who desires to be known by all of humanity. One of my favorite illustrations of God revealing himself to the world is the story of the wise men visiting the newborn Jesus, found in the book of Matthew.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Matthew 2:1-6

On the surface this story might not sound terribly interesting, but it holds a great enigma. You see, the Magi were Gentiles, and it was the people of Israel, not the Gentiles, who were awaiting a Messiah. The Isarelites had been chosen by God to be in covenant with Him and to bring the message of God’s goodness to the world. For centuries Israel’s prophets had foretold the coming of a Messiah, pointing to the day when the God of Israel would come to earth, take on flesh, and become their Savior and Redeemer. The prophecy of Isaiah illustrates the hope for a Messiah that existed among the Israelites:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. Isaiah 9:6-7

Sadly, when the birth day arrived, the Israelites did not understand that these prophecies were being fulfilled in Jesus. Those awaiting the Messiah did not seek the newborn king.  They did not intend to worship him. In fact, they were troubled by his birth.

So who were these mysterious men who came to worship the Messiah?

Matthew tells us that the Magi came from the east after seeing a star in the sky.  Somehow they knew that this star signified that something critical was happening in the world. They believed that the star belonged to the newborn king of the Jews, and they brought him lavish gifts, intending to worship him. We don’t know much about these wise men from the east. Some scholars suggest that they were pagan astrologers who may have been familiar the Israelite’s prophecies because they lived in the Babylon Empire while the Jews were living there in captivity.

So why is it that astrologers from a distant land would seek the newborn king of the Jews? What prompted the Magi? How did these wise men understand the importance of Jesus’ birth? Why didn’t the Israelites recognize these signs and seek their long-awaited Messiah?

When I ponder these questions, I am reminded of the mystery of “inner-knowing” and can’t help but wonder how the concept of the ajna chakra, might intersect with this story.

Eastern philosophy holds a teaching on seven energy centers, or chakras, that run from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. These swirling wheels of energy correspond to massive nerve centers in the body. Each of the seven main chakras contains nerve bundles and major organs and is believed to affect our psychological, emotional, and spiritual states of being. Since energy is meant to move, it’s vital to our health that the seven main chakras stay open, aligned, and fluid. If there is a blockage, energy cannot flow which eventually will cause dis-ease.

The sixth chakra, or ajna chakra, is located in the brow, between the eyebrows. It is a part of the brain which can be strengthened, like a muscle, through meditation and other spiritual practices. It is commonly referred to as the “third-eye” and is known as our center of intuition, capable of seeing what is invisible to the physical eye and perceiving beyond ordinary sight. Perhaps this is what Jesus was referring to when he said:

Whoever has ears, let them hear.” The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” Matthew 13:9-16

The ajna chakra is often associated with religious visions. It is related to pineal gland which is located deep in brain center, between the two hemispheres. The primary function of the pineal gland is to produce melatonin which is stimulated by darkness and inhibited by light. In summary, the sixth chakra, is associated which religious visions, and is deeply affected by light. Interestingly, Scripture often uses the metaphor of light and darkness to teach us spiritual truths.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. Isaiah 9:2

The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned. Matthew 4:16

Open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. Acts 26:18

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

We do not need to fully understand the chakra system, to glean the underlying wisdom of the ajna chakra and to grasp how it might apply in this story. The Magi were given spiritual vision. The Israelites were blinded spiritually. The wise men saw the light in the sky, that the Israelites did not see. The wise men had a certain insight about the birth of the king of the Jews that the Israelites did not possess.

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! Matthew 6:22

The mystery of the revelation of Jesus as Messiah to the Magi both excites me and humbles me. Would I recognize the Messiah? How can we ensure that our “eyes” are healthy?

Jesus often refered to people as “blind” and knew that his followers would need help “seeing”. Jesus left his followers a helper when he gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit! We can further strengthen our spiritual vision by reading and meditating on the Word of God, confessing our sins, maintaining a humble and teachable heart, fasting and prayer remembering to take the time to get still and listen for the voice of God. But however hard we try, we simply cannot perceive and understand the things of God when our hearts and minds are not touched with the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.

I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. John 14:16-17

The season of Epiphany and the ajna chakra both point to revelation, realization, and illumination. The third-eye of yoga teaches that there is a certain “knowing” that we can receive from beyond our physical senses, pointing us to God.  It illustrates to us that we are created with an organ of perception intended to hear “the still small voice of God” and to see “things that cannot be seen” (1 Kings 19:11-13 & 2 Corinthians 4:18) Whether we refer to this part of our being as a chakra, or the eyes of our heart, one thing is for certain, we need to rely on the Holy Spirit in order to see, know, and understand the things of God. 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, our thoughts are not your thoughts and our ways are not your ways.  Lord, strengthen our spiritual eyes to help us to see what you see. Shine your heavenly light on us this day, let us see your radiance. Give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may know you better.

Breath Prayer:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. Ephesians 1:17-19

Inhale: Enlighten the eyes of my heart

Exhale: that I might know the hope to which you have called me.

 

 

 

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Advent, Yoga, & Equanimity

Advent, Yoga, & Equanimity

Finally, the season of Advent is coming to a close and the Christmas season is around the corner. Over the past four weeks, we have explored how the practice of yoga can help draw back the veil of Maya, allowing us to see the world more clearly. We were reminded that the birth of Jesus, first coming of Christ, was the beginning of God’s ultimate plan to heal the world and reunite heaven and earth. We considered how the second coming of Christ, in this present moment, transforms our hearts and minds by purifying the kleshas and dismantling the power of sin in our lives. Here, we will consider the third and final coming of Christ and how it can help us to see the world rightly enabling us to move through our lives with equanimity.

In The Bhagavad Gita, Yoga is defined as “equanimity” and it tells us that equanimity allows us to face difficulty with a “steady and quiet” mind.  When we cultivate equanimity, we are moved by injustice in the world and motivated to make things better, but our deep inner serenity is not disturbed. Equanimity should not to be mistaken for indifference, but rather a state of even-minded openness that allows for a balanced, clear response to all situations, rather than a reaction born of emotion or defensiveness.

So how can we cultivate equanimity?

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra teaches that abhyasa, continuous applied effort, combined with vairagya, the willingness to observe an experience without reacting to it, will lead to equanimity. (Chapter 1:12-16) Calming breathing techniques, mantra meditation, and prayer for the happiness of all beings are prescribed to cultivate equanimity. While these techniques can be beneficial, their effects are temporary and hinge on the effort of the practitioner.

Advent allows us to cultivate equanimity that does not depend on human effort but on the power and promises of God.

 True, lasting, equanimity is a way of seeing correctly, a way of dealing with life, in which we are given a broader perspective of things. When in a state of equanimity, our attention is pointed to the bigger picture, which is the story God is telling in this world. When our attention from moment to moment, day to day, is pointed toward God, we are not affected as deeply by the lesser cares of this world. Through the story of Advent, we gain correct perspective, and our lives are re-ordered by God. Through the perspective that Advent offers us, believers can have equanimity in the face of adversity.

In the face of brokenness, our hope is in the final coming of Jesus Christ. He is our peace. We take comfort in the knowledge that through Jesus, God has defeated the power of darkness forever. As followers of Jesus, we are called to live as an “Advent people”. We are given a heavenly perspective and are enabled to view this world in light of eternity. We witness darkness, but are not overcome by it.  (John 1:5) We are: hard-pressed, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8)

Equanimity is remembering that you are part of the story but not the author. The season of Advent reminds us that the story is being told by God and invites us to observe ourselves as part of the story. The birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people, and the beginning of God’s ultimate plan to reunite heaven and earth. As we look back to the first coming of Christ, we are infused with HOPE for the future. God is faithful, his Word is true, and we are living in the midst of his story.  We are assured of Emmanuel, God with us, even in times of trouble and we can gaze into the darkness of this world with a BOLD HOPE.

That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens. All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. Romans 8:18-25 MSG

The transformation that started with the birth of Christ is not yet complete. We are living in a world that is still awaiting the final “coming of Christ” when Jesus will defeat the power of sin for all of eternity.  We long for the time when Jesus will shatter the chains of oppression, injustice, death, sickness, and sadness forever. We are desperate for the time when Jesus will split the darkness with his Light, obliterating it forever. True lasting equanimity is found through Jesus; He is our peace. The story God is telling in the world is not yet finished, however we know how the story the ends.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:1-5 

Advent does not deny the darkness; but boldly claims HOPE in the face of darkness. We can cultivate equanimity because we know the end of the story, Jesus will come again and shatter the chains of sin and oppression once and for all.  When that time comes the Light will overcome the darkness forever and Jesus will establish His reign of Justice and Peace for all eternity.  Until then, we are invited to look forward to the final coming of Christ and reflect:

  • How does knowing the story of God change your perception of what you see happening in the world?
  • Do you have an attitude of anticipation and expectancy for Jesus to come again?
  • Are you ready? How does Christ’s return convict you? Are there areas of your life that need to change?
  • Are you waiting? Do you long for Jesus to return? How does Christ’s return comfort you?
  • How can the darkness around you enlarge your HOPE in waiting and expectation?

 

Pranayama breath prayer for Equanimity this week from John 16:33: (Jesus says) “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Inhale: In this world you will have trouble.

Exhale: But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Heavenly Father, your word is eternal, your faithfulness endures forever, and all things serve you. We praise you Father for the story that you are telling. We are humbled that you invite us to be part of the story. Lord, we are yours; help us to see rightly and give us understanding that we may know your ways.  Teach us to be expectant with the hope of your promises. Show us how to wait with you for the time when Christ will come again to wipe every tear from our eyes, and when there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. Amen.

Advent, Yoga, & Awakening to the Living Christ

Advent, Yoga, & Awakening to the Living Christ

During the Advent season, Christians are invited to awaken to the coming of Christ by recalling the past, awakening to the present, and anticipating the future. We are reminded that there is a bigger story being told in this world, and we are living in the “time between”.

In previous posts, we explored how the practice of yoga can help draw back the veil of Maya, allowing us to see the world more clearly and awakening us to the Advent, or coming, of Christ. We were reminded that the first coming of Christ, the birth of Jesus, was the fulfillment of God’s promises, and the beginning of God’s ultimate plan to heal the world; reuniting heaven and earth. Through Jesus, humankind was rescued from the power of darkness, and reconciled back to God as sons and daughters. Today, we will consider the second Advent of Christ.

The Advent season is a time of awakening to the present coming of Jesus Christ.

While we look back and rejoice over the first coming, the birth of Jesus Christ, the Light born in the darkness, we cannot deny that there is still much darkness in the world. There is brokenness all around us: death, disease, addiction, pain, and suffering. Even more, if we look close enough, we can recognize the darkness that exists within our own hearts; the brokenness which is knit into our very nature.  Though we were made in the image of God, this image was deeply marred and severely distorted by the Fall of mankind. The good news of Scripture and the central message of God’s revelation tells us that through Jesus Christ, we are being made new and we are the first fruits of a new creation. Through the life-long process of sanctification, the follower of Christ is shaped by God, and is moved to love what God loves, to live the way that God would have us live, and is transformed into the likeness of Christ.

In the Bible, Paul teaches, “that our old self was crucified with him (Jesus) so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” (Romans 6:6) and exhorts us to “examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

A traditional yoga practice outlines a process of self-examination in which the “kleshas” of the mind can be purified. Klesha is a term from Indian philosophy and yoga, meaning a “poison” or “affliction”. Like the biblical concept of sin, klesha is considered a negative mental state that clouds the mind and manifests itself in unwholesome actions. The kleshas are said to be the root cause of all suffering in the world. There are five kleshas which are explained in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra as:

  • avidya -ignorance of or misunderstanding of the true nature of reality
  • asmita -over-identifying with your ego, (worldly identity versus heavenly identity)
  • raga -desire, or attachment to pleasure
  • dvesha -avoidance of what is not pleasurable
  • abhinivesha -attachment to life and fear of death

By understanding sin-nature in light of the kleshas, we are able to clearly see the reality of the world and our own true nature. The Christian believes that Jesus came to set us free from the power of sin. Jesus has gifted us with the Holy Spirit who is with us, and dwells in us, continually working to transform our lives from the inside out.  Meditation, reflection, discipline, communion and surrender to God are the techniques that Yoga offers us to burn away the impurities of the kleshas and to help purify the mind.

Advent invites us to see Jesus, coming into the present moment, dismantling the power of sin and allowing him to reshape our lives.  Christ is coming today, even now, into our hearts and minds to reveal the dark places, where fear, hurt, and sin would like to fester and multiply. Jesus is asking us to trust him, to allow him to heal our brokenness with the love of God.

During Advent, we look back to remember what God has already done, but we also look inward, to see what God would like to do, and we prepare room for the birth of Christ in our lives here and now. Finally, next week, we will look forward with anticipation to when Christ returns to rule triumphantly over life in heaven and earth. Until then, we are invited to awaken to the present coming of Christ and reflect:

  • How do we heed Paul’s exhortation for self- examination and confession? (here is a great resource)
  • What circumstances, situations and relationships in our lives seem hopeless and desperate?
  • How would God like to birth his Light & Love in the dark and messy parts of our lives?

This Advent, we are reminded that we are not left alone to deal with our kleshas, or sins, on our own. The message of Advent is Emmanuel, God with us, bringing his Light here and now, even in the darkest times and the messiest places. Jesus invites us to call out to him and ask him to birth his Love in our lives.

Pranayama breath prayer for Transformation from Psalm 51:10:

Inhale: Create in me a clean heart, oh God,

Exhale: and renew a right spirit within me.

 

 

Advent: Looking Back to Remember

Advent: Looking Back to Remember

In last week’s post, Advent, Yoga, & Maya, we considered how the practice of yoga helps to draw back the veil of Maya, allowing us to see the world more clearly, perceiving the whole picture of what God is doing in the world.

During the Advent season, Christians are invited to recall the past, awaken to the present, and anticipate the future. We are reminded that there is a bigger story being told, and we are living in the “time between”.

The season of Advent can be traced back to the fifth and sixth century when Christians first began to establish a specific period of time to prepare themselves for the Christmas season.  Advent, throughout the universal Church, consisted of making preparations such as the use of special decorations, music, and readings, as well as implementing the disciplines of fasting and prayer to help “make room” in the hearts and minds of believers for what was to come. Interestingly, the word “advent” is derived from the Latin word “adventus” which literally translates as “coming”.

But what is coming?  Why do we count down the days?  For what are we making room? What are we preparing ourselves for? Why are we waiting?

Advent is the season of readying ourselves for Jesus Christ to come into the world.  

Past….Present….and Future.

Advent is a time of looking back to remember the first coming of Jesus Christ.

Throughout the Advent season, believers are encouraged to recollect what God has done throughout history. From the origins of Genesis, to the culmination of Jesus Christ, we are called to remember God’s graciousness to his people. Emmanuel, God with us…

During Advent, we are reminded that the Israelites were the original “Advent people”, waiting patiently and expectantly for the promised Messiah. The birth of Jesus was the fulfillment of this promises, and the beginning of God’s ultimate plan to heal the world; reuniting heaven and earth. Through Jesus, humankind was rescued from the power of darkness, and reconciled back to God as sons and daughters. In Christ, the Divine clothed itself with the flesh of humanity and established the first in the line of a restored humanity.  Through Jesus, we can see the original design for our hearts and the intended shape of our lives.

Even more, when we look back to the manger, we are given insight into the nature of our Heavenly Father. He was satisfied to be born in the most desperate of situations, the most meager of places. Poor, powerless, hunted, humble, and cast-aside, these are the circumstances which the Creator of the Universe chose for his entry point into this world.  Our God does not look past, or avoid, dark and messy places.  It is in those exact circumstances that God chooses for his Love to be born in the world.  Advent calls us to remember the first “coming” of the Christ-child in the manger.

As we look back to the first coming of Christ, we are infused with HOPE for the future. God is faithful, his Word is true, and we are living in the midst of his story.  Through the first coming of Christ, we are assured that God is with us, even in times of trouble and He is on the move. We can gaze into the darkness of this world with a BOLD HOPE, for God’s presence is with us, and He is working out his story in this world.

Advent reminds us of that there is more to this world than meets the eye and asks us to see with eyes of our hearts. For the Christian, yoga fosters the ability to move the veil of Maya aside, encountering the present moment not only through our physical eyes, but in light of God’s promises for the future. Through the practice of yoga, we embrace our unique positioning of being physically grounded here on earth while already being established in eternity.

As we look back to what God has done, we can look forward to what God is doing and will do with new eyes. Preparing for the coming of Christ, we make room for the birth of Christ even now, which we will discuss in next week’s post. Until then,  we are invited to look back to the first coming of Christ and reflect:

  • How does the first coming of Christ change our perceptions of the messy places, relationships, and people in our lives?
  • Do we view the darkness around us as full of promise and light?
  • Are we open to be surprised by God? For God to be born in the most unlikely places in our lives?

Pranayama breath prayer for Peace this week from John 1:5:

           Inhale: The light shines in the darkness,

           Exhale: and the darkness has not overcome it.

Holy Spirit teach us to “see” that which is not seen, and to “hear” your still small voice. Move illusions aside to help us to see you more clearly. Awaken us to your presence in the dark places, right here, right now. Assure us of your promises. Emmanuel, God with us…

 

 

 

Advent, Yoga & Maya

Advent, Yoga & Maya

Advent is a time of new beginnings.  Not only does Advent mark the beginning of the liturgical year in the Church, but Advent, for me, also marks the beginning of my journey of teaching Christ-centered yoga classes.

I first began teaching these Scripture-based yoga classes during the Advent season in 2012. I was in a sweet phase of impromptu, middle-of-the-night Bible-study in which my eyes were being opened to new ways of understanding the nature of God and applying the Truth of his Word. It was during this time that I first felt God prompting me to use Scripture in my yoga classes. I had been teaching yoga for several years, but I had never attended any faith-based yoga class, let alone one that was centered on Jesus. Hesitantly, I approached my supervisor about the prospect of teaching a Christ-centered yoga class. I secretly hoped that she would say no! I did not feel comfortable teaching Scripture, as I was not raised in the church and felt ill-equipped.  I also worried about who would attend and how they would respond to the blending of biblical Scripture and the practice of yoga.  I was uncomfortable and unsure of myself to say the least.

I reasoned with God…

ME:  I am not qualified. I need to get trained to teach Scripture-based yoga.

GOD: Jesus is the one who qualifies you. He will lead the way. Follow Jesus.

ME: I need a certification.

GOD:  My Holy Spirit is the only certification that you need.

ME: How will others respond?

GOD: I will be pleased with your obedience despite what others may think.

I stopped arguing. My supervisor gave me permission to teach. It was settled. I was to teach a 4-week series of yoga classes for Advent. It was time for me to prepare.

Up to this point, my knowledge of Advent consisted mostly of chocolates and calendars and counting down the days until Santa would pack up his sleigh and travel the world with gifts to give. What I found in preparing myself to teach those first classes during Advent was pivotal for me, my faith-walk with Jesus, and my yoga journey.

Maya and Advent

The philosophy of traditional yoga teaches the concept of “Maya”, the notion that there is more to this world than meets the eye. Maya is the illusion that things are as they seem, as we perceive them with our physical senses. Maya is the veil which keeps us from seeing the world clearly; prevents us from seeing the whole picture. Maya is a very interesting concept when placed within the Christian worldview, and the season of Advent helps to move the veil of Maya aside, in order for us to see the world, ourselves, and each other correctly.

For the follower of Christ, the season of Advent reminds us that our lives are connected to a bigger story that God is telling in this world.  Our stories do not stand alone, but have been placed inside the greatest love story ever known to mankind. God is redeeming the world, making all things new, and bringing Light forth in the darkness. And get this, we already know the ending to the story! Love wins, darkness is defeated forever, and there will be a time when God “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4)

Entering into the season of Advent, Christians are invited to recall the past, awaken to the present, and anticipate the future. There is a bigger story being told, and we are reminded of our place in this story. We are currently living in the “time between” what has already happened through the birth of Jesus Christ, and what is still yet to happen when Jesus comes again to defeat darkness for all eternity. The Advent season assures us that there is a bigger story being told, and our lives are mere subplots in this story. When we are deceived by Maya, we cannot see and do not understand this as Truth.

How can we see beyond the illusion of Maya?

How do we see that which cannot be seen?  How do we perceive the Light beyond the darkness? How do we live with hope in the face of despair? How do we ground ourselves in the “now” while living on the promises of the future?

The practice of yoga draws back the veil of Maya, helping us to see what truly is- the realest reality. Yoga is a powerful tool for recognizing our roles in God’s big story, establishing our identities in Christ, and cultivating our hearts as an “Advent people”.

The practice of yoga is the practice of getting still…yoking ourselves to this place and time. Slowing the mind down to become aware of what is actually happening in this moment. What do I feel? What do I hear? How is my spine aligned?  Can I feel the breath in my lungs? Where does my flesh touch my spirit? Where does my spirit encounter the Spirit of God? And ultimately, how do I abide- moving through my life in communion with the Holy Spirit?

In yoga, we are taught to sit on a mat, watching, waiting, and listening. We cultivate eyes to see, ears to hear, and we are awakened to the real-est reality.

Yoga also helps us to recognize the past and the future as separate from, yet connected to, the present moment.  For the Christian, yoga fosters our ability to see clearly, to gaze intently into the darkness with a bright and bold hope. We are taught to encounter the present moment in light of God’s promises for the future. We learn to embrace our unique positioning, physically grounded here in this moment on earth, while already established in eternity.

Through the practice of yoga, we are awakened to the three comings of Christ, past, present, and future, which we will discuss here over the next four weeks of Advent.

For now, ,yoga teaches us to “see” that which is not seen, to “hear” the still small voice of God, and awakens us to the very real presence of God right here, right now.

Emmanuel, God with us…

 

 

 

Stealing Yoga

Stealing Yoga

Dear India,

I would like to thank you for gifting the world with the beautiful practice of yoga. I would like to apologize for all of the ways that Christians (including myself), have intentionally or unintentionally, disregarded your religious and spiritual traditions and overlooked their contributions to the world for thousands of years. I would like to acknowledge our indebtedness to you India, for your rich philosophical traditions and practices. Thank you India, for sharing your gifts with the world.

My heart is broken over division within the yoga community. As a Christian practicing yoga, I have seen this division up close, hearing heated protests from both Christians, as well as those who hold a Hindu philosophy (referred to as Hindus in this post). I have discussed some of the concerns Christians may have with the practice of yoga in a previous blog post.

In the next several posts, I would like to discuss some of the concerns that I have heard from those who come from a Hindu background and worldview. My hope is to build understanding and to generate thoughtful and respectful conversation between seekers, both Hindu and Christian alike. May PEACE (shanti) and LOVE (maitri) and prevail…

Asteya and stealing yoga

In the Eight Limbs of Yoga, discussed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, a book compiling the theory and practice of yoga, the third yama, or ethical guideline, is Asteya, the practice of non-stealing. At first glance, this means abstaining from taking something that is not yours.  However, the wisdom of Asteya delves deeper to include abstaining from taking anything that is not offered to you, including material objects but also more abstract objects such as time, thoughts, energy, emotions, ideas, and perhaps even yoga.

One of the loudest Hindu arguments, or protests, that I have encountered about Christian’s practicing yoga is the way in which Christians have casually stolen many of the Indian spiritual practices of yoga with no acknowledgement or homage given to the culture through which these practices were birthed and nurtured for thousands of years. This “theft” has often been accompanied with attempts by Christians to purge these spiritual practices of their Hindu roots in order to suit a Christian audience. Christian organizations, often with good intentions, have “rebranded” yoga, renaming the postures and practices birthed in an Indian culture to fit into a Christian worldview.

Additionally, exclusivist beliefs and judgements that are sometimes expressed by those of the Christian faith have further widened the chasm between Christian and Hindu yogis. While many Christians have found the practice of yoga beneficial, it would seem that they do not value the philosophies, culture, or people through which the practice originated. With this perceived thievery, it is no wonder the people of India, and the Hindu faith, have a distaste for “Christian yoga” or any of its variant forms.

As Christian practitioners of yoga, we must ask “have we stolen yoga?” If so, what were our intentions? We must seriously consider how the eighth commandment, “Thou shall not steal” might apply in this situation.  (Exodus 20:15) Lastly, and maybe most importantly, how will we respond when confronted with the realization that we have inadvertently hurt our Hindu brothers and sisters in the efforts to bring yoga to the Christian community?

For the serious Christian yogi, we will be asked to examine our Christian dogmatic exclusivity and are required to remember that ALL truth is found in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the Truth. (John 14:6) Therefore, we can enter into the spiritual practices and philosophies of yoga searching for common Truth that was revealed in the Word of God and the person of Jesus Christ. We can enter and engage the culture with the intention of seeking where God is already revealing himself and prepared to speak Christ intelligibly into the conversation and culture. (Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:15)

Aparigraha and the gift of yoga

While it is true that those who are “stealing” yoga would do well to apply the truth and wisdom of Asteya, there is a flip side to this conversation. It is interesting to note that a criminal charge of theft, or larceny, requires that the specific intention of the theft permanently deprive another individual of his or her property. Thus the accusation of theft brings some interesting and thought provoking questions with it.

  • Can yoga be owned? If so, who owns yoga?
  • Is the gift of yoga meant only for those who hold a Hindu philosophy?
  • Can something be stolen if it was meant to be given away?
  • Do Christian yogis intend to deprive Hindus the practice of yoga?
  • Is there enough “yoga” to go around for everyone?

The fifth yama in Pantajali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, Aparigraha, translated as ‘non-greed’, ‘non-coveting’, or ‘non-hoarding’, urges us to let go of everything that we do not need; a practice easier said than done. Greed often stems from the belief that one does not have enough. Greed tells us that when someone else receives something, it takes away some of our own provision. Biblical teaching agrees with the yogic philosophy that worldly possessions cannot truly be possessed and will eventually be destroyed. (Matt. 6:19-20) The wisdom of Aparigraha teaches us to possess only as much as necessary, keep only what serves us in the moment, and to let go when the time is right.

I see a picture in my mind where the people of India are holding the gift of yoga.

In one scene, Christians take yoga away and India is scorned as ignorant, judged as heathen, and the spiritual discipline of yoga is renamed and rearranged to suit a Christian audience. In this situation, the practice of yoga is stolen, interfaith dialogue is stunted, and the division between Hindus and Christians increases.

In another scene, Christians take yoga away and acknowledge India, and the Hindu faith, for holding deep wisdom, sharing a particular revelation of God, and birthing a powerful spiritual discipline. In this situation, the practice of yoga is a gift freely given, interfaith dialogue is encouraged, and both Christians and Hindus have an opportunity to share and learn from one another.

The practice of yoga calls us down our own individual path of self-inquiry, inviting us to observe the unique “turnings and colorings” of our minds.  The discipline of yoga requires that we examine our thoughts and beliefs, cultivating discernment, awareness, self-regulation, and a higher consciousness. As yogis, we are each asked to do our own work.

Where are we stealing what doesn’t belong to us?

Where are we holding on to more than is necessary?  Where do we need to let go?

The study and application of Asteya and Aparigraha, might just be the balm needed to begin to heal the rift between Christian and Hindu yogis.  I pray that we would all be faithful to do our own work. In that spirit, I will finish where I began, with a sincere apology and the bright hope of walking the path of yoga authentically in the Love and humility of Jesus Christ.

Shanti & Maitri (Peace & Love)

Dear India,

I would like to thank you for gifting the world with the beautiful practice of yoga. I would like to apologize for all of the ways that Christians (including myself), have intentionally or unintentionally, disregarded your religious and spiritual traditions and overlooked their contributions to the world for thousands of years. I would like to acknowledge our indebtedness to you India, for your rich philosophical traditions and practices. Thank you India, for sharing your gifts with the world.

Jesus & yoga (part 1)

Jesus & yoga (part 1)

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:15-16

And so I begin the task of explaining how and why I have reconciled my practice of yoga with my Christian faith… My hope is to answer honestly and intelligently for all interested to know how a Christian can keep a clear conscience while practicing a spiritual discipline that was birthed in a culture that was predominately Hindu.  I recognize that this is a sensitive subject. I enter the conversation with care, gentleness, and respect.  I do not intend to argue or convince anyone to agree with my convictions.  I do, however, believe that I am responsible for being prepared to answer this question, and to give a researched account of how and why I believe yoga to be a biblically sound practice for a Christian.

The topic of Christians practicing yoga is controversial with arguments from both the Christian and Hindu perspectives. I will try my best to address the primary concerns as I understand them for both sides of the argument. This is the first in a two-part blog post where I will speak primarily to concerns from Christians using Christian texts. In my second of the two-part blog post I will try to address the concerns, as I understand them, from the Hindu perspective. To begin, we must first answer the basic question what is yoga by examining its purpose and practice?

What is the purpose of yoga?

To prepare the body and mind for meditation with the intention of encountering the presence of God within.

What does the practice of yoga involve?

The yoga of ancient times consisted of solely breath and meditation practices with the intention of communing with the Divine.  The postures were developed later as a means of enhancing the capacity of the body and mind so that a person could sit in meditation for long periods with as few distractions as possible. Thus, modern yoga is made up of three pillars: breathwork (pranayama), postures (asana), and meditation (dhyana).

Through these three pillars, one is able to cultivate the state of Samadhi (Communion with God). Though not the ultimate goal of a yoga practice, Samadhi is the primary tool used for the purpose of achieving Moshka or Kaivayla (freedom or liberation). Through Samadhi, one experiences communion with God and is given new perspective of the true nature of the universe enabling them to walk in freedom through life. (Chapters 1 & 4, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)

Some say that Kaivayla is Samadhi in action, I would translate this to “Freedom is a life lived through communion with God.”

So the practice of yoga, from a Christian viewpoint, is the practice of communing with God which can enable one to live free from the power of sin and death. (John 15:14; 2 John 1:9; 1 John 2:27-28; Galatians 2:20)

Is yoga a religion?

The short answer to this question is no. Yoga is not a religion; Yoga is a spiritual practice or discipline. However, much of the confusion that surrounds this question is due to the fact that the practice of yoga was birthed through a culture steeped in Hindu philosophy. The ancient yoga texts were influenced by the Hindu philosophy and often describe the discipline of yoga from a Hindu worldview. While it is true that a Hindu practicing yoga will understand the concept of “communing with God” differently than a Christian practicing yoga due to their differing points of view, one does not need to be a Hindu to practice yoga. Much like chanting, fasting, prayer, service, and the study of scripture, the discipline of yoga can be practiced within different worldviews and in varying belief systems.

Can the physical practices of yoga be separated from the spiritual aspect of yoga? 

Technically, the answer to this question is yes, the use of Mantra, prayer, and meditation techniques can be omitted from a yoga practice. However, I would quickly follow up with the question “why would you want to do that?”  Asana, the physical practice of yoga, was expressly designed to prepare the body and mind to experience the presence of God. When practiced within a Christian worldview, practitioners are seeking communion with the Holy Spirit who dwells within. In this state of communion (referred to as Samadhi) the practitioner is no longer consumed by external realities (“the world”) but instead is absorbed by the presence of God (the things that are above). (Colossians 3:1-3)

Separating physical and spiritual aspects of a yoga practice could be likened to separating the physical and spiritual aspects of kneeling down to pray.  While you may be strengthening and stretching the muscles of the lower body while getting up and down from the kneeling position, without the spiritual aspect of the practice, you would miss out on the sweet and powerful benefit, of actually entering into a conversation with God through prayer.

Can Christians practice secular yoga?

In any learning situation, I believe it is important for the student to be aware of who their teachers are and what beliefs they hold.

This does not mean that Christians should not receive instruction from non-Christians, (or vice versa) but that as Christians, we must cultivate discerning minds. To practice discernment, we must first be knowledgeable about our own faith and sacred text, the Bible. Only when we are knowledgeable about what we believe to be true, are we able to recognize something as untrue. Aristotle says, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Believers are to have “educated minds”. We are to learn with eagerness and to examine the Scriptures to see if what we are being taught is true. (Acts 17:11)

All truth is GOD’s truth, and God is in the business of revealing his truth in the world. Christians are meant to practice discerning God’s Truth at all times as part of our witness in the world. Paul demonstrates this skill of discernment in his sermon on Mars Hill. He had carefully observed the Greek religion and examined their worship. He was familiar with Greek literature and was able to quote Greek poetry containing God’s Truth to the people of Athens at the Council of the Areopagus.  It is through Paul’s discernment and his ability to speak Christ into the Greek culture that “some joined Paul and believed.” (Acts 17:22-34)

As Christians, I believe that we are to follow Paul’s example when encountering other beliefs and faith traditions. It is my great delight when I hear biblical Truth- regardless of the source. It is the voice of the Good Shepherd reminding me of the wonderful and surprising ways that He is working in this world. I see it as my great joy and privilege to be able to speak Christ into the philosophies & psychologies that accompany a traditional yoga practice!

When practicing in a non-Christ centered yoga class, I start by setting my intention and saying a prayer that my yoga practice would be honoring and acceptable in God’s sight. I pray that God would make himself known to all that are truly seeking. I ask God to reveal his love to my teacher, my classmates, and/or my students. I ask Him to show me opportunities where I may share the love of God as demonstrated in Jesus Christ with those who are seeking.  While listening for God’s truth, I am careful not to participate in chanting of scriptures or mantras that I believe might conflict with my Christian faith. Instead, I might quietly meditate on a bible verse or the lyrics of my favorite hymn.

For me, practicing yoga in a secular context becomes a form of intercession, or moving prayer, asking that God’s love would be revealed in Christ and that His kingdom would come and his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.

By practicing yoga postures am I worshipping Hindu gods?

No. True, authentic, worship entails much more than physical posture alone. Worship is a state of the heart. Only as we turn our hearts towards Jesus in Spirit and Truth may we truly worship our Father in heaven. (John 4) While physical posture may enhance our worship (i.e. kneeling in prayer, lifting our hands in praise), one cannot enter into worship through physical posture alone.

Repeatedly, scripture shows us that true worship is not mere outward action but requires the proper intention of the heart. In the Old testament, Isaiah warns the Israelites about their meaningless and empty sacrifices, worship, festivals & feasts, prayers, and fasts. God considers the Israelite’s worship an abomination and accuses them of trampling in His courts. (Isaiah 1:10-17; 58) Similarly, in the New Testament, Jesus warns his followers that being consumed only with keeping God’s commands and studying His word is not “true” worship; something is still lacking. (Matthew 15:1-20) King David points us to the missing piece in Psalm 51:

Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

The outward action of worship is only righteous when the inward state of the heart is in its proper place. It is not through the posture of the body that one enters into worship, but through the posture of the heart. Entering into a yoga posture will not automatically cause you to worship the Hindu mythological character that the pose was named after, just as kneeling down in prayer will not cause you to worship the biblical God. It is only through a fully penitent heart, broken with sorrow over sin that our worship becomes true and acceptable in God’s sight.

So why is there confusion?

As previously stated, the practice of yoga was originally comprised of breath and meditation with the intention of communing with the Divine.  The postures were later developed solely for the purpose of preparing the body and mind for meditation. In fact, the Sanskrit word Asana, literally means “to find a firm and steady seat” illustrating that the purpose of these postures was to enhance meditation by helping the mind and body to get still. The physical postures were never intended to be postures of worship.

Still, some Christians fear that by practicing yoga postures, they may unknowingly be worshipping Hindu gods and breaking God’s command to have “no other god before Him”. (Deuteronomy 5:6-7)

While we have already addressed the nature of true, authentic, worship above, we can (and should) investigate further into the postures and the meaning of their names, to discern if there is anything that may conflict, or converge, with Biblical truth.

Most postures were named after animals and objects and often broken down further into numbers (one, two and three) and characteristics of the pose (upward, downward). However, there are a handful of postures that were named after mythological sages and deities of the Hindu faith. What are we to make of the names of each posture?

When we enter into the warrior poses (Virabhdrasana I, II, & III) are we worshipping the Hindu warrior Virabhadra, whom the poses are named after? When we enter into mountain pose (Tadasana) are we worshipping the mountains?

“The myths behind the asanas are intended to serve as inspirational guides that can enhance our yoga practice, fueling it with a deeper, meditative quality.”  (Myths of the Asana, 2010)

The stories and myths that accompany each posture carry symbolic meaning enabling a yoga practice to not only work the body, but also to work on the mind or psyche. Much like the parables of Jesus, the wisdom found in these myths are meant to teach a deeper truth, illustrating a moral or spiritual lesson that helps us to have a deeper understanding of ourselves and our connection to the world in which we live. However, one does not need to engage with Hindu mythology to benefit from the symbolic nature of yoga postures.

For example, when entering Tadasana (mountain pose), Christians can meditate on Jesus as the firm foundation of God that supports and holds them. We are reminded that those who trust in God cannot be shaken. We can reflect and ask ourselves if we are building every part of our lives on the love of God that is Christ.

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 125:1-2 ESV

When entering the warrior postures, named after the Hindu warrior Virabhadra, Christians can meditate on the strength of God and remember that their true strength comes from Him alone. (Isaiah 40:28-31 & 41:10) We become mindful that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13) and can draw on this strength to battle our own sinful thoughts and actions. As Christians,  we become aware that we harbor a spiritual warrior within, the Holy Spirit, who is ready to help us to fight the temptations of this world and enable us to surrender our imperfect wills to the perfect will of God. (Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42, John 6:38)

When we look at the meanings and symbolism behind each asana, Christians may find that these myths complement biblical truth and give us a fresh perspective on God’s Word. (For more ideas, I have created the Postures of Prayer: a Christian yoga deck to help Christians to find meaning in the some common yoga postures.)

Is the practice of yoga beneficial to the Christian? Will yoga clearly help me in my walk with Christ? Is yoga an active good?

I do not believe the practice of yoga to be inherently good or evil. A better question might be “Can God be glorified through the practice of yoga?”

I believe this question can be answered individually for Christians in different settings as God convicts the heart of each believer according to the works that He has prepared in advance for them. For example, a believer in India practicing yoga taught by an instructor who is teaching a Hindu mantra in Sanskrit may be convicted by the Holy Spirit differently than a believer in the United States practicing yoga postures, breath, and meditation techniques at a local, studio, gym, or YMCA.

When we look to Scripture, we can find some similar situations concerning circumcision (Acts 15) and the consumption of meat which had been sacrificed to idols. (1 Corinthians 8 & 10) The early church was divided regarding how to handle these issues while under the new covenant of God, which is faith in Christ.

In the case of circumcision, Paul denounced the practice for Gentile Christians, claiming that every man who accepts circumcision is… severed from Christ and has fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:3-4) But, interestingly, it is Paul who personally circumcises Timothy, whose mother was Jewish and whose father was Greek. In this single instance, Paul was convinced that circumcision would be beneficial and would help further the kingdom by removing a stumbling block that could impede the Jews ability to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Acts 15 & Romans 3:1-2) Here we see that believers can be convicted differently in various situations according to God’s specific purpose.

Similarly, Paul establishes that there is nothing inherently sinful about eating meat that has previously been involved in a feast ceremony, although he emphasizes that Christians should be careful to avoid participating in the feasts themselves. Paul also warns the early Christians that they should never violate their conscience, nor should they encourage an activity that may cause another Christian to stumble. (Romans 14:1-23) In essence, Paul is making it clear that, in Christ, we are free from the law to glorify God and grow His kingdom by carrying out the work that He has prepared for us in advance.

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

My journey with Jesus (and yoga)

It is not my intention to convince others to share my conviction. I wish to simply share my story and encourage others to seek God’s Word and godly counsel on the subject of practicing yoga as a Christian.

Personally, I have spent much time in study and prayer over my yoga practice as a follower of Christ.  I have sought the counsel of my pastor, my elders, my accountability group, and my husband. I have not glazed over the controversy that surrounds Christians practicing yoga.  I have put my practice of yoga on the altar of God. I believe that God has given yoga back to me for the purposes of deepening my relationship with Jesus and showing me what it means to truly ABIDE in Christ.

Furthermore, I believe that God has given me innumerable opportunities to talk about the Love of God, which is Christ, from my yoga mat.  Here are some examples of how God is using my practice of yoga to bring him glory and to build his Kingdom.

  • God opened the doors for me to teach Christ based yoga classes at Cheshire fitness
  • He gave me the opportunity to teach “yoga through the lens of Christ” as a PE credit at Montreat college
  • He enabled me to teach and write curriculum for YogaFaith, a Christ- based yoga teacher training recognized by the Yoga Alliance
  • He inspired me to create The Postures of Prayer: a Christian yoga deck
  • He has given me a passion for creating Getting Still Studios, a website for Christian prayer beads and a small Christ-centered yoga studio

I have enjoyed sweet communion with the Holy Spirit in my yoga practice, and I have been given the privilege of sharing the love of Jesus in my yoga classes. God has entrusted me with the gift of teaching other Christians what it means to ABIDE in Christ and move with the Holy Spirit. He has drawn me deeper into study and meditation on His Word. He has opened my eyes to just how amazing our God is and how big His plans are for blessing all nations! Through my study of the ancient philosophies and teachings of yoga, God has shown me over and over again that He truly is, El Elyon, the most High God, and that He is in the business of revealing himself in this world! (Genesis 22:18 & 14)

Soli Deo Gloria! (To God alone be the glory)

Amen