As the author of “Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture” and a scholar of contemporary spirituality and the history of modern yoga, however, I can say that yoga is far more complex than common understandings imply.
Christian yoga, in fact, is now a growing part of the yoga industry. The question then becomes – is this real yoga? […]
In reality, as research shows, yoga includes a variety of historical as well as living, dynamic traditions that have changed and evolved. Yoga’s history is rooted in a vast array of South Asian religious movements going back over 2,000 years ago. In India alone, yoga practitioners have included Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Muslims.
Yoga has never had a single purpose for its seekers – whether it is philosopher-ascetics seeking enlightenment, ecstatic devotees expressing love of God, people in pursuit of yogic superpowers, fitness buffs seeking the perfect “yoga butt” or Christians wanting to get “closer to Christ.”
In other words, yoga has never belonged to any one religion, but it has always been packaged in a variety of ways. This is the problem with the question of whether or not Christian yoga is real yoga – there has never been one real yoga.
– Source: Andrea Jain, Can Yoga be Christian? The Conversation, June 21, 2017
If one removes the core aspects of Yoga to make it into something acceptable to Christians, then the breathing techniques and asanas need to be removed, which means there is then little or no Yoga at all. Changing the terms does not change Yoga, either. Just as there is no Christian Ouija board and no Christian astrology, so there is no Christian Yoga that is either truly Yoga or truly Christian.
The bottom line is that it is disingenuous and disrespectful to real Yoga practitioners to pretend Yoga is just a physical activity, and it is deceptive to market it that way to anyone else.
Does yoga conflict with my religion? You betcha. Anything that tells people that God cannot bring them ultimate happiness (as Robert Thurman
argued) conflicts with my belief that the chief end of human beings is to love God and enjoy him forever. Anything that encourages people to worship their yoga master (as David Life attested) conflicts with my belief that the Lord is God and there is no other. Anything that encourages people to believe that spiritual fulfillment can be attained in any religion (as Alan Reder claims) conflicts with my belief that without Jesus Christ people of all religions (even Christianity!) are lost.
Scientists have been studying the psycho-physiological results of sensory deprivation for many years. Many reports indicate that as sensory deprivation deepens, the hallucinations experienced by the subjects of such induced experiments become more significant, consisting in visual, auditory, tactile hallucinations, out-of-body experiences, visions of other worlds, and even encounters with spirits (Hillstrom, p. 60-63). Similar distortions of perception can be the result of performing extreme austerities (mentioned in the Yoga Sutra 4,1 as tapas), known long before Patanjali. These experiences seem to be very real because of the psycho-physiological conditions in which they appear, and also because of the expectations induced by the guru. Given the severe side effects of meditation, it is far from being an infallible way of grasping supernatural realities or ultimate truth.
The nation of India is almost manically syncretistic, blending worldviews over and over again. But, in more recent times, America has developed its own obsession with syncretism, mixing elements of worldviews with little or no attention to what each mix means. Americans have turned yoga into an exercise ritual, a means of focusing attention, and an avenue to longer life and greater health. Many Americans attempt to deny or minimize the spiritual aspects of yoga — to the great consternation of many in India.
When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga. The contradictions are not few, nor are they peripheral. The bare fact is that yoga is a spiritual discipline by which the adherent is trained to use the body as a vehicle for achieving consciousness of the divine. Christians are called to look to Christ for all that we need and to obey Christ through obeying his Word. We are not called to escape the consciousness of this world by achieving an elevated state of consciousness, but to follow Christ in the way of faithfulness.
Yoga, an ancient meditative practice that traces its philosophical and spiritual roots to Hinduism in India, is no stranger to controversy in the United States. Ever since it emerged as the “wellness practice-of-choice” for aging baby-boomers and work-stressed yuppies, critics have cited the high number of injuries sustained by yoga students as a sign that the practice, for all its therapeutic potential, may not be the healing balm it’s cracked up to be.
And that’s not all: in recent years, there are growing charges that some self-styled yoga organizations and their high-profile teachers are preying on their students – replacing spiritual enlightenment with psychological manipulation, New Age “hucksterism,” and even cultic worship.
These charges … have led to calls from public authorities to impose new business regulations on the nation’s estimated 5,000 yoga “studios.”
Thus far, the new regulatory movement has focused on yoga “teacher training” programs – programs offered by some of the larger studios that give their advanced yoga students an opportunity to become full-time instructors and help propagate the yoga “faith.”
But other movements are afoot to ban yoga from being taught in public schools, or on any publically financed property, on the assumption that yoga constitutes a de facto religious view – and teaching it there would violate the principle of separation of church from state.
The basic premise of yoga theory is the fundamental unity of all existence: God, man, and all of creation are ultimately one divine reality. An editorial in the “Yoga Journal” declares this basic premise:We are all aware that yoga means “union”and that the practice of yoga unites body, breath, and mind, lower and higher energy centers and, ultimately, self and God, or higher Self. But more broadly, yoga directs our attention to the unity or oneness that underlies our fragmented experiences and equally fragmented word. Family, friends, the Druze guerrilla in Lebanon, the great whale migrating north – all share the same essential [divine] nature (594:4) .
This is why physical yoga and Eastern philosophy are mutually interdependent; ultimately, you cannot have one without the other
Yoga is definitely big business these days. A 2008 poll, commissioned by Yoga Journal, concluded that the number of people doing yoga had declined from 16.5 million in 2004 to 15.8 million almost four years later. But the poll also estimated that the actual spending on yoga classes and products had almost doubled in that same period, from $2.95 billion to $5.7 billion.
“The irony is that yoga, and spiritual ideals for which it stands, have become the ultimate commodity,” Mark Singleton, the author of “Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice,” wrote in an e-mail message this week. “Spirituality is a style, and the ‘rock star’ yoga teachers are the style gurus.”
Well, maybe it is the recession, but some yogis are now saying “Peace out” to all that. There’s a brewing resistance to the expense, the cult of personality, the membership fees. At the forefront of the movement is Yoga to the People, which opened its first studio in 2006 in the East Village on St. Marks Place, with a contribution-only, pay-what-you-can fee structure. The manifesto is on the opening page of its Web site, yogatothepeople.com: “There will be no correct clothes, There will be no proper payment, There will be no right answers … No ego no script no pedestals.”
One more thing: There are no “glorified” teachers or star yogis. You can’t even find out who is teaching which class when, or reserve a spot with a specific instructor. And that’s exactly the way that Greg Gumucio wants it.
Yoga has become so well packaged as an exercise that people even believe this was the original intent of yoga, often calling yoga “stretching exercises.” People in the U.S. and other Western countries often do not realize that the yoga they call an exercise, actually hatha yoga (“ha” means “sun” and “tha” means “moon”), is just one of many forms of yoga designed for specific spiritual purposes.
Hatha yoga, as explained in CANA article, “Yoga: Yokes Snakes, and Gods,” uses the body as a ground for spiritual techniques to prepare the practitioner to unite with the Absolute. The body is merely a tool in this process. Although one may become more fit and flexible from doing yoga, that is not the goal of yoga, which is part of a complex spiritual system. Pranayama (breathing techniques) and the asanas (specific positions) are designed to enhance and induce meditative states in which one can transcend mental fluctuations and bypass rational thinking. Hatha yoga teaches how to control the body and the senses so that the yogin (yoga student) can control the mind (Raja Yoga). Gradually, the body and mind are filled by the Atman (Pure or Supreme Universal Self) and “through the death of the body, as it were, is the resurrection of the Higher Self accomplished,” (J. F. C. Fuller, Yoga for All [Bombay, India: D. B. Taraporevala Sons & Co. Private Ltd., 1993], 51).
[Y]oga wasn’t always mainstream, as Robert Love informs us in “The Great Oom,” his rollicking and well-researched history of yoga’s early days in America. The spiritual discipline that has colonized America’s gyms and trendy loft spaces was once a fringe practice, its advocates treated as charlatans and, occasionally, criminals. Yoga’s cultural rise is a story of scandal, financial shenanigans, bodily discipline, oversize egos and bizarre love triangles, with a few performing elephants thrown in for good measure. […]
Mr. Love has the gift of the good biographer: He has sympathy for his subject’s “flamboyant weirdness” but the rigor to present him for what he was. Although yoga was an import, Pierre Bernard was an example of a fascinating American type: the spiritual entrepreneur. His life reminds us that the appeal of spiritual cures that promise practical results is not a new phenomenon; it is an enduring part of our country’s history.
– Source: Life in an Awkward Position, [Book Review] Christine Rose, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 23, 2010