If you’ve ever met me or followed any of my social media accounts, I’m sure you know at least two things about me – I love God and I love yoga! I don’t usually get a lot of questions on why I love God but I’ve fielded a lot of questions about how I can love yoga even though I’m a Christian. I think these questions stem from the idea that traditional yoga teachings are not from the Christian faith. This may turn some heads, but I can assure you, when I practice yoga, I’m not bowing or worshipping anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ. I promise, my practice of yoga coincides with my Christian faith. In fact, I use yoga as an extra opportunity to worship God.
What I’ve found is that most people think yoga is just a way to stretch muscles. Yes, most yoga poses stretch and lengthen muscles and tendons, but it also takes mental and physical stamina to be able to achieve and hold most yoga poses. In this regard, yoga is a form of exercise. Since exercise is an activity that requires physical or mental exertion (American Heritage Dictionary, 2021), it comes in all forms – running, walking, weight-lifting, interval training, dancing, etc. We are all taught from a young age (grade school) how important exercise is for our bodies – special shout out to all those supporting physical education in our school systems. In order for our bodies to physically function correctly we need regular exercise. I learned this the hard way when my neck and shoulders decided they’d had enough of me being hunched over at a computer all day. Our joints are designed to be moved and when we don’t move them enough they become stiff and are more susceptible to serious degenerative injuries. God expects us to take care of our bodies and cherish them for what they truly are, His temple for the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6: 19,20). It is our responsibility to care for them and keep them healthy, including through exercise. After all, we only get one body and it has to last us for however much longer we have here on earth. In this respect, exercise IS an act of worship and should be done regularly.
I’ve tried many different forms of exercise, from interval training to weight-lifting to ellipticals to walking (I’m not a runner, y’all 😅) but yoga has been the only one that seemed to fit my needs. I started practicing yoga in my home about 3 years ago. I had just started a new supplement routine to help me get out of the mombie stage. The new year was coming up and I knew I wanted to hop on the exercise bandwagon of new year’s resolutions, but I wanted something I was going to stick with. I’m going to be completely transparent here… I struggle with exercise. I needed something to give me a lot of instruction but that also allowed me to be accepting of my own limitations. I went to YouTube and typed “home exercise” in the search. I tried a few videos and didn’t really care for them. In mentioning this to my friend and co-worker, she told me she did yoga at home and I should try it. I tried a few different instructors on YouTube and found one that I felt instructed in a manner that I could follow, and so began my yoga journey!
Although I had been practicing yoga in my home for a over a year when the pandemic started, I don’t think I would have been as centered and stable through all of the chaos of remote learning, working in the medical field, drama, uncertainty and life in general without the time I carved out for yoga. I won’t lie and tell you I do yoga every day, although there have been times when I practiced twice a day for a whole month – exercise is a great way to relieve stress. In fact, regular exercise releases endorphins which helps with mental health. I’m sure 17 months into a pandemic it goes without saying that mental health is important. Thats why I want to point out that yoga isn’t designed to tear down but to build up. Build up strength. Build up endurance. Build up mental health. Build up spiritual focus.
Speaking of spiritual focus, I’d like to bring some attention to the main reason I felt this post was so warranted. When I field questions about yoga, the discussion always turns into a matter of religion and who I’m worshipping by practicing yoga. I believe there’s a stigma associated with yoga and it comes from our society being so close-minded. We try to fit everything into the boxes and pictures we have in our heads, but in reality, our expectations are extremely limited. Just because a friend of ours thinks one way, doesn’t mean we have the same thoughts. The same is true with everything, including yoga. Yoga maybe commonly thought of as a hindu tradition, but that doesn’t mean I have to have the same belief structure to practice yoga. I still use the time during yoga that’s carved out for inner reflection but my interpretation of inner reflection is much different than that of hinduism. My reflection time includes prayer (to Adonai, El Shaddai, Elohim, Yahweh, God, Creator of the Universe) and meditation on how I can best align my life with the path He lined out for me. In this way, I use my practice of yoga to worship God in spirit and truth. Spirit because when I move through my yoga flow, all else fades away. My phone is tucked away. My daily tasks are placed on hold. My thoughts of inadequacy are set aside. It’s just my body moving in ways that God designed it to move, while my spirit spends time basking in the presence of God. It’s liberating and grounding and provides me the time I need to refocus my attention on God and what He’s doing inside me.
I would like to point out a couple other yoga rituals that I think get a lot of unnecessary negativity. Let’s start with “namaste” since it seems to be something everyone links to yoga. In actuality, the word namaste is a traditional Hindu salutation. It can be used upon greeting or departure and literally translates as “I bow to you.” Yogis use this at the end of practice as a way of showing respect for one another. It is usually accompanied by the hands in prayer position at the heart and a slight or reverent bow. I personally do not participate in the bowing process. My belief is that I bow to one human (Jesus Christ) and one God (El Shaddai). I do, however, lower my chin and mutter the words “I respect you” usually under my breath. I do this because scripture tells me to respect others, and, of course, in response to the acknowledgement of respect being shown to me by my fellow yogis.
The other ritual that I, myself, was uncomfortable with at first is the reciting of a mantra or setting of an intention. My uncertainty was definitely due to lack of knowledge. I didn’t know what was being said and I didn’t fully understand the meaning of mantra. Now that I’ve done my own research, I love mantras! I’m sure we’re all aware of the power words can have. Mantras can be used to speak God’s truth and peace over your life and your yoga practice. What better way to declare your practice is off limits to evil than to say it at the beginning?
Like yoga, not everything fits into the box we prepared for it. May this message bring you clarity and an open minded perspective in all aspects of your life. May it also serve as a reminder to take time for yourself. Even if you have to get up an hour earlier, stay up an hour later or take your mat to work with you and do a short exercise routine over lunch, it’s so important to your physical, mental and spiritual health to carve out some time for movement. Don’t limit it to the gym or your home. You can do exercise anywhere! Did you peep the picture above? That’s from this morning when I did yoga in my front yard while my daughter was in the shower. You have time, it just takes a moment to identify what you can sacrifice for it. Most of my sacrifice was social media. What will yours be?
– Finding God’s Blessing and Working to Expand His Kingdom, 💜 Renee
PS – Be sure to comment with any ritual normally found in yoga that you would like me to address from a scriptural standpoint.