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.

Advertisements

Of Altars and Egos

Of Altars and Egos

Not long ago, I was approached by popular yoga website and asked if I would like to have them review my Postures of Prayer yoga card deck.  Initially, I shrugged it off and figured that this yoga site had made a mistake and didn’t realize that my yoga deck was centered around the Christian faith.  When I received the second email asking if I would consider submitting my yoga deck for review, I was confronted with the question, “What is holding me back?”

I searched my heart, and I found several stones hidden there. The first stone I uncovered was fear.  I was afraid of submitting my card deck to a yoga organization that did not share my same worldview.  More specifically, I feared rejection and humiliation. I feared others would judge me for my beliefs.

I’m not sure if you are aware that being a Christian yogi is kind of a controversial role.  Both Christians and Hindus alike have voiced strong opinions about the idea of Christians practicing yoga. (blog posts to follow)  I was afraid that I would be caught in the middle of this controversy.  I realized that by not submitting my yoga cards, I was operating from a place of fear, otherwise known as ego, self, inauthentic self, or sin.  As I placed the stone of fear on the altar of God, I was reminded that in Christ, I am held by the Love of God. I am safe. There is nothing to fear.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

The next stone I unturned was the stone of pessimism. My quick dismissal of the opportunity to share the Postures of Prayer was due entirely to my assumptions of how a Christian yoga deck might be received by other yogis. I was convinced that the editors would not take a Christian yoga deck seriously, and was sure that they would be turned off by a yoga practice centered around Jesus Christ.

This stone of pessimism was a particularly complex and heavy stone. Wasn’t this a form of reverse discrimination?  Who was I to presume what God  would do in this situation? How could I possibly grasp how God was revealing himself? Why was I so convinced that the gospel of Jesus would be rejected? Lord have mercy, I am embarrassed by my audacity!

As I labored bringing this stone to the altar of God, I was reminded that as a followers of Christ, we are meant to be a people of hope. We have been given a message of hope and are called to embody this hope, recognizing that in Christ all things are possible.  God is on the move in this world, reconciling heaven and earth. Where men may fail, God is ABLE. Stories like Joshua leading the Israelites into the promised land, and Gideon leading an undersized army to victory teach us that all God requires is a surrendered heart willing to trust in his power.

My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. Romans 11:12

Was I withholding the gospel story?  Was I standing in God’s way? It was clear that my fear, pessimism, and lack of trust were holding me back from submitting my card deck.  Unintentionally, I was minimizing the power of God. It all came down to the question “what could potentially bring God the most glory?” I decided to put my heart on the altar and to trust in God.

If their purpose or endeavor is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God. Acts 5:38

I submitted the cards for review. I wrapped them up all pretty and hand delivered them, trying to make a good impression. I was very nervous.  I was facing my fear and you know what?  It was good. While the review of the Postures of Prayer yoga deck was not extravagant or glowing, it was fair and accurate. I felt humbled and grateful to the editors of yogabasics.com for their spirit of openness and willingness to embrace true diversity of thought. Through this experience I was reminded that we are all pursuers and seekers of Truth. I am comforted by the words of Jesus “…ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Luke 11:9-10

My favorite part of the whole experience was the picture that appeared at the top of the blog post. (see above)   In the picture, there is an altar with candles, crystals, and statues of the Buddha. The cards on the altar range from Magic and Light affirmation cards to Dark Days tarot cards, and there placed on the altar are The Postures of Prayer: A Christian yoga deck. I was surprised and thankful to see Jesus represented on that altar. I was embarrassed that I almost kept him from being there. If you look closely on the altar you might just see the stones that I left there.

Namaste & Imago Dei

Namaste & Imago Dei

As a follower of Christ, I have spent much time in study and prayer over my yoga practice.  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 love of yoga on the altar of God for him to take from me if it did not bring him Glory.

Instead, what I have found is that God has given me innumerable opportunities to talk about the Love of God, which is Christ, from my yoga mat.  He has shown me that he is El Elyon, the most High God, and that he is in the business of revealing himself in this world (Genesis 14).  In fact, I have even found God’s truth woven throughout many of the teachings and the sacred texts of ancient yoga philosophy.

One such example is the greeting “Namaste” used frequently at the beginning and end of a yoga practice. In this gesture, hands are held in prayer position at the heart center, eyes are closed, and the head is bowed as a sign of mutual respect between teacher and student.  The Sanskrit word, Namaste, broken down into its roots means: Namah (bow) as (I) te (you). It literally means “I bow to you.”  and is also translated as ‘the divine Light in me honors the divine Light in you’.

Some Christians find this greeting to be controversial because, when taken literally, this might imply that we are bowing and worshipping each other as gods. It is not my intention to argue or talk others out of their personal convictions, however, I do want to share why I have found Namaste to be a beautiful and biblically sound practice which reflects the second most important command as described by Jesus.

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him (Jesus) with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:35-40.

For me, Namaste is a reminder of several of God’s beautiful truths.

To begin, God is the Creator of all. Scripture says that humans were created Imago Dei, Latin for ‘in the image of God’. Each person we meet, whether they have accepted Jesus as their personal savior or not, is made in the image of God.  When I use the greeting Namaste in a general sense (to nonbelievers),  I am proclaiming God as our Creator and bowing to the beauty of his creation, his image reflected in each person I meet- believer and nonbeliever alike. Namaste calls me deep into the command to love others as I love myself. I do not bow to them as gods. I bow to them in deep respect for, and adoration of the One who created us all.  I bow because their Creator loves them and invites me to join him!

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:26-27

Furthermore, when greeting a follower of Christ, the word Namaste takes on yet a deeper meaning.  As Christians, we believe that Jesus has done the work to reconcile God and humankind. When we believe and trust that Jesus has restored our relationship with God, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, transforming our lives from the inside out. Believers then, both individually and corporately, become the dwelling place of God on the earth. When using the greeting Namaste with fellow believers, I am recognizing that the Holy Spirit dwells within each of us. To be clear, I am not saying that we are gods; I am saying that God lives in us.

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16

Additionally, in the Gospel of John, the imagery of light and darkness is used to describe the birth of Jesus into this world. Christ is introduced as the “the true light, which gives light to everyone” born into the darkness of the world. When using the gesture Namaste in a Christian context, I am reminded that Jesus is the true Light and that his followers are meant to be a reflection of this light in a dark and hurting world.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5

I am thrilled when I hear the truth of El Elyon, the most High God, being revealed throughout cultures, history, and time.  Our God is a big God! It is an honor for me to recognize that truth and to have the opportunity to introduce the person of Jesus into the story that God is already telling. I find this kind of truth being revealed in the Eastern greeting, Namaste.  My choice to use this gesture in my yoga classes is beautiful reminder to me that all of humans are made in the image of God, and we are meant to love each other as we love ourselves, as image bearers. At times, I use the greeting Namaste in humble gratitude, remembering that through faith in Christ, the Spirit of the Divine has chosen to live in his followers and to reflect His Light through us into the world.

The truth held in the greeting Namaste is a truth that contains the power to heal many of the great divisions in this world.  The power to unite people regardless of their cultural, racial, religious, social, political, or personal differences. In viewing ourselves, and each other, as smaller parts making up the whole of God’s great creation, we can come to realize that we need each other and perhaps develop a deep respect for each other in spite of our differences.

In closing, I pray that God would be glorified on earth as it is in heaven. Lord, help us to look for your image in each person we encounter, and enable us to live out the beauty and truth held in Namaste in light of Imago Dei.

 

Love the Creator, Love His Creation…

Love the Creator, Love His Creation…

Today is Earth day, and I am passionate about God’s Creation.  As part of the Evangelical Church, I have been surprised, and saddened, at the lack of concern that fellow believers have for the environment. The Church, as God’s representatives on earth, should not be indifferent to the state of His Creation.  The Church, of all people, should care for God’s Creation, because we know that God is revealing himself through His Creation!

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world. Psalm 19:1-4

What does the Bible say regarding Creation care?  In Genesis, God made the earth, He calls it “very good”, and then He gives humans “dominion” over Creation. (Genesis 1:28)

As God’s image bearers in Creation, we were intended to act as His representatives; to show the world what God is like. So when God gave humans dominion over the earth, we are meant to do that in a way that the character of God is reflected. This in no way means that we are to be indifferent or abuse nature, but instead, we are meant to be stewards of God’s Creation. Remember, Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden to tend it, and to care for it, not to exploit it.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Genesis 2:15

So on Earth Day…who better to celebrate the goodness and beauty of God’s Earth than God’s children? We, as ambassadors of Christ to the watching world, should enjoy a day in which we celebrate the good gift of God’s creation. Christians can, and should, take the lead to educate ourselves, and others, in ways that we can be better stewards of the world that God entrusted to us.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20

Harnessing Love

Harnessing Love

The day will come when, after harnessing the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of Love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire. -Teilhard De Chardin

Do not underestimate the energies of Love. Love holds the power to accomplish great good, however, if handled incorrectly, it also has the potential for great destruction.

What does it mean to Love well?  

We have been given the perfect picture of LOVE embodied in the person Jesus Christ. Study the life of Jesus, and you will become a better Lover.  Let us be students of Love.  Jesus teaches us to:

  • Love God with all that you are. Love God with all of your being. (Matthew 22:37-38)
  • Love others as you love yourself. Love the same. Love equally. (Matthew 22: 39)
  • Love when it doesn’t make sense. Love your enemies. Love those who have hurt you. Love those who you don’t like. Love those who don’t like you.  (Matthew 5:43-48)

Heavenly Father, You are LOVE. Abide in us; and perfect your Love in us. Holy Spirit, teach us how to rightly love you, ourselves, and others. Show us where and how to harness the power of Love in our lives.  Shape our hearts to reflect your Divine Love in our homes, workplaces, and relationships. Amen.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:7-12

Lessons in Loving

Lessons in Loving

I recently had a revelation when reading in Mark 12 where Jesus is teaching his followers about the most important of all of the commandments.  Mark reads:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

First and foremost, we are made to love God with all that we are; heart, soul, mind, and strength. The Message translation reads, “love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy”. I find the practice of yoga to be beneficial in the Christian life because it addresses the person as a whole: body, mind and spirit.  Yoga, Sanskrit for union, serves to unite the mind with the body in the quest to unite the soul to God. For the follower of Christ, we are reminded that we have been united with God through Jesus Christ and that the Holy Spirit lives in us. Ultimately, we are to love God with all of our being, and we can only love God as much as we have received his love for us. This is the first step and most important step in learning to love well.

However, it is the follow up to this most important commandment that recently caught my attention.  It states that we are to “love our neighbor AS we love ourselves” (emphasis mine).  You see, there is an underlying assumption in this directive that we know how to love ourselves well; thus, by knowing how to love ourselves well, we will know how to love others well. Do you hear the relationship?

Unfortunately, I believe that most of us are confused by what it means to love ourselves well. We are either caught up in: the pride of who we think we are; the shame of who we wished we could be; or the guilt of who others want us to be. But can we love ourselves because God loves us?  Is that enough? The truth is, when we learn to love ourselves rightly, because God loves us, we will be better able to love others!

We are to meant live in the balance, the tension, if you will, between loving ourselves and loving others.  For some, it is easier to love others than it is to love themselves; others are prone to love themselves better than they love others.  It would do us all well to examine our hearts, honestly, and become familiar with our individual leanings.  Jesus is clear, we are not to love ourselves more than others; and likewise, we are not to love others more than ourselves, we are to love others AS we love ourselves.

That brings me to this New Year. Many new people will be finding their way into the gym where I work in an attempt to fulfill the most commonly made (and broken) resolution in the United States- to lose weight.  Unfortunately, most will not carry their new found health habits beyond March.

But what if we reframed our resolutions this year to look differently? What if we took the opportunity to love ourselves better; and examined how we might love others as we are loving ourselves?

Instead of dieting, what if we began eating to nourish our bodies, and what if we desired that others would be able to eat to nourish their bodies?

Loving ourselves as we love others.

Instead trying to lose weight, what if we began to care for and steward our bodies as God’s handiwork, his masterpiece,  and what if we desired that others would know and care for their bodies as God’s masterpiece?

Loving ourselves as we love others.

Instead of viewing our bodies as an object to be manipulated,  what if we chose healthy habits for our bodies and our minds knowing that we are God’s dwelling place on earth-God’s temple- and what if we desired that others would know and love their bodies because because God lives in them ? (1 Corinthians 6:19)

Loving ourselves as we love others.

The list could (and does) go on for ever. Go ahead and try it… Desiring good things for the right reasons and pursuing them for ourselves as well as for others.

It is important to note that this “loving” works both ways. I have sometimes found myself operating out of “Christian guilt”, after all Jesus gave his life for me, shouldn’t I give my life for others?  While this is true, the concept needs to be held within the tension of LOVE.

For me, this has looked something like:

  • Looking for the best in others; as I look for the best in myself.
  • Caring of others; as I care for myself.
  • Protecting others; as I protect myself.
  • Trusting in others; as I trust in myself.
  • Helping others; as I help myself.
  • Giving to others; as I give to myself.
  • Being truthful with others; as I am truthful with myself.
  • Praying for others; as I pray for myself.
  • Wanting for others; as I want for myself.

I am reminded of the relationship within the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit each acting to glorify the other; loving each other in sacrifice and humility. What would happen if mankind learned to love like this?  I imagine this is why Jesus declared these two commandments to be the more important than any other, and I am inclined to think that this what Jesus had in mind when he taught us to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

 

 

 

 

Yahweh (Hebrew) transliterated as Jehovah- the existing One; to exist/ to be (past, present & future); to become known

Rophe/ Rapha (Hebrew)- to heal; to restore; to make healthful

Jehovah Rophe– The God who has healed, is in the process of healing, and will heal and restore to health (Exodus 15:26)

Many times we think of healing solely on the physical level, however,  Jehovah Rophe is the God that heals on all levels- mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, relationally,  and environmentally, just to name a few.  Jehovah Rophe knows the specific healing that is needed much better than we could ever know ourselves.

Questions to “till the soil” of our hearts:

  • When you experience “dis-ease” what is your response to God? Praising or cursing? Pulling close or pushing away?
  • Do you believe Jehovah Rophe is your healer and restorer?
  • Do you trust Jehovah Rophe with your wounds? Will you allow God to comfort you?
  • Do you look to Jehovah Rophe for healing? Will you allow God to be involved in your healing process or do you insist on fixing it yourself?  (What we, as humans, use to fix our own pain, we will become addicted to.)

Prayer for Healing

Jehovah Rophe, You are the Lord that heals our wounds and restores our health, Holy is your name. We confess that we are quick to try to fix our own hurts and the hurts of others. We forget to look to you, the Ultimate Healer.  We have fallen short of your perfect ways, in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have inflicted injury upon ourselves, upon others, and upon our land. Heal us, Jehovah Rophe, on all levels, that we may be agents of healing in a hurting world. Amen

Disclaimer: This blog post is not making a statement about the role of physicians, therapists, and medicine in the process of healing.  This post is meant to ask the greater question, “Where does our trust lie?” Do we trust more in ourselves, in others, or in Jehovah Rophe-the God who has healed, is in the process of healing,