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Yoga and Christian Faith: A Controversy Explained

Michelle Thielen
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More than 20 million people flock to yoga because it is a physical activity like no other. The ancient gift of yoga creates a space for holistic wellness; the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits of yoga are all-encompassing. There is truly no other exercise than yoga that is a mind, body and spirit practice. Let’s explore the profoundly deep practice of weaving your religious faith into your yoga practice.
 
Yoga is simply defined as a union, to unite or to yoke. Not only do we unite our postures with our breath and our practice with our lives, we also create a union with the community and those with whom we practice. Many practitioners choose to unite their faith with their yoga practice, just as you would include your core beliefs into anything you do.
 
In this case, a yoga practice can become a holistic experience where your life can truly be transformed, peaceful and harmonious, no matter what your belief system is. How a practitioner or a group chooses to use yoga is their business. It certainly is not up to others to judge how or why one practices or uses yoga. Our job as human beings is to honor, respect, and encourage one another.
 

Yoga + Faith

 
Yoga is nonsectarian – it has the ability to deepen anyone’s faith. For thousands of years, yoga techniques and philosophies have been incorporated into various organizations, including many religious organizations. However, yoga is not a religion in and of itself, nor do you have to be religious to practice yoga. To exclude anyone or any group from the practice of yoga would quite frankly be “unyogic.” Yoga should be an inclusive practice where all are welcome.
 
Yoga predates many of the religions that have incorporated yoga techniques. In the Middle Ages, numerous variations and practices stemmed from the common Hatha yoga practice. Bhakti yoga is one stem. It focuses on surrendering to God. Unlike other types of yoga, Bhakti is a spiritual journey and a devotion to the divine. Some have used the practice of yoga, meditation and times of stillness to reflect on self-enlightenment, a source they believe in, or as an act of worship. Combining your religious faith with your yoga practice can be a beautiful act of [your] worship.
 
No matter who or what you believe in, yoga will help you achieve tranquility. It will help you “check in” with yourself to confront or release unresolved issues. Your relationships will even benefit from yoga. Practice daily and you will become whole – mind, body, spirit and soul!
 

So . . . Can a Christian Practice Yoga?

 
The popularity of various religious groups practicing yoga creates a concern for some Christ followers. Some Christians think that yoga worships idols or gods that they don’t believe in. Again, how others use yoga is not up for judgment. Rather, as a Christian, what you set your intentions and meditations on while practicing yoga will be entirely different than someone else. In fact, the Bible speaks often about meditation. What are you setting your heart and mind toward at any given moment?
 

Tips to Incorporate Your Religious Faith into Your Yoga Practice

 
Meditation

Find a comfortable seated position, or perhaps take a Savasana (Corpse Pose).
• Feel the parts of you that are connected to the earth and the mat beneath you.
• Focus on your breath, and allow yourself to relax.
• Meditate on a belief, a mantra, affirmation, scripture or simply on all the good in your life.
 
Prayer

Come into Sukhasana (Easy Seated Pose).
• Place your hands at heart center.
• Silently or out loud, pray. Your conscious breathing can be your whispered prayers.
 
Worship

Practice a gentle moving sequence or Sun Salutation.
• Go through a gentle sequence: Child’s Pose, Table Top, Chaturanga Dandasana, Cobra, and repeat.
• Next, go through Sun Salutation A or B, and simply move as you meditate, pray and/or worship the God of your understanding.
 

 
Create Space
 
The three tips from above are also ways to help you create a sense of space in your life, in your mind, and in your yoga practice. When was the last time that you created a space and time to simply be still? You do not have to be a person of faith to know that in a loud and chaotic world, you need to decompress and let go of some things and perhaps some people. Yoga allows you the opportunity to find stillness, let go and completely surrender, rest and create space.
 
Your practice should be in a quiet, distraction-free zone. You may also schedule this time as you would any other appointment, so you are sure to “show up” for the most important appointment of your day. Enjoy your time of surrender. As you let go of things and people that no longer serve you, you will create space for new things and people. I have faith in you!
 

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Michelle Thielen

Michelle is the Founder of YogaFaith, an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance, and a Manduka Brand Ambassador. She is an International Speaker, Yoga Alliance and Yoga Festival Presenter. Michelle has taught over 20 Teacher Trainings and remains passionate about the gift of yoga bringing healing to the world. As a Shared Hope Ambassador, she travels to third world countries teaching Trauma Sensitive Yoga to human traffick survivors of all ages. Her first book Stretching Your Faith was published in the Spring of 2016.

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