Health Benefits of Yoga Convincing Skeptics in Many Churches
Like many Christians who practice yoga, I am hardly a purist. You could even call me a “cafeteria yogi.” I pick and choose among the various yoga practices that fit my overall lifestyle, level of fitness and religious beliefs. Fortunately, at every single yoga school where I have studied, without exception, the other students are exactly the same.
They are typical Canadian and American suburban professional types: harried moms, latte-swilling office workers, students, retired folk. The music is funky New Age chanting music, which, quite frankly, I find very relaxing and enjoy immensely. The teachers invariably say “Namaste” after class — which, despite all the hullabaloo among fundamentalists about its alleged polytheistic meanings, is just the ordinary Hindi way of saying “hello” (as my Indian relatives inform me). But beyond that, my yoga classes are about as pagan as an aerobics class down at the YMCA.
More and more people are awakening to this fact. Yoga is not the be all and end all of health. My doctor informs me that, while yoga is great for flexibility and stress-reduction, I still must hit the treadmill or swim for aerobics. If the yoga workout is particularly intense, it may qualify for the strength training that doctors now add to the list. (When are we supposed to do all this stuff, by the way?)
I find that two formal yoga classes a week are just about right for me — combined with brief but intense sessions when I wake up and right before I go to sleep. Yoga gives me something that no other activity does. It provides a systematic stretching and what I can only describe as “liberation” of muscle groups ignored by all my other sports (Aikido, tennis, swimming) and activities (walking on the beach with my wife).
It also quiets me down, physically and mentally, and harmonizes very well with a lifelong meditation practice. For Christians who find little time for prayer and contemplation in the hectic modern world, regular yoga practices literally forces them to quiet down. It relaxes you unlike anything else — and then quiets your mind.
Yoga (or Buddhist) meditation is not the same thing as Christian or Jewish prayer, but they can be a necessary preparation for prayer — even a prerequisite. Without the quiet, stillness and relaxation that yoga provides, many people find it almost impossible to pray. But Christian yogis, blessed with such islands of silence and stillness, inevitably find themselves spontaneously giving thanks and lifting their minds and hearts to God.
So, the bottom line is this: If you’ve been thinking about trying out yoga but are concerned about the alleged “spiritual dangers,” forget about it. The people who prattle on about that have rarely stepped inside a yoga studio in their lives. What you’ll find is probably people exactly like yourself — stiff, overworked, semi-arthritic, stressed-out modern men and women — who are trying to ease the kinks out of their tired bodies and souls. And that is a good thing. Namaste!