Tuesday, 09 November 2010
Just recently, I did a fitness shoot with a photographer. I posted this particular picture on my Facebook and my friend commented on it stating, "Yoga's no good Kat!" I then asked her why and she sent me an article on yoga and its conflicting views with Christianity. Normally, I would appreciate such things because I'm very open minded to my faith and what others have to say about this, but I got upset at this article.
As a Christian or more so, a Catholic, I am very stern with my views and how I go about by doing things in my life. I have always put God first and foremost and I do not stray away from that. With my values, I take pride in doing all the things I do. I'm an avid gym goer and I always make sure to work out in any way possible. My ultimate goal is to become a class A personal trainer and a physical therapist. I'm a fitness geek. I've always found ways to keep myself in shape, especially a few particular exercise techniques. This includes cardio kickboxing, Zumba, pilates, and yoga. I've been practicing yoga ever since I was in 10th grade and I did it in order to increase flexibility within myself and find a way to relax after a long day of stress-oriented work. I've never really thought into yoga as being more of a Spiritual ritual in order to worship Hindu Gods, but apparently, this is the case for most Christians.
There are obviously many forms of yoga out there:
- Bikram (hot) yoga: Stretching practiced in a 95-100 degree room, used to loosen tight muscles and inhibit profuse sweating
- Kundalini: this particular style allows the energy in the lower body to move upwards and you learn to control your breathing while doing physical movement
- Iyengar: this is more concerned with bodily alignment. You must move precisely to avoid injury
- Ashtanga: a very intense, physically demanding style where all poses are performed in the same order
- Vinyasa: breath-synchronized movement where you start with "Sun Salutations" in order to warm up the body and increase the intensity of stretching poses throughout the class (usually taught in gyms)
- Hatha: very slow-paced basic yoga (taught in gyms also)
Yoga in and of itself is very oriented with its roots in Hinduism. It uses different terminology and is very closely associated with spiritualism and gaining a sense of euphoria and and empty mind after intense stretching and meditation. The argument Christians have with this is that yoga is a practice that is non-Biblical, first and foremost. Yoga has dated back to the roots of India over 5000 years. It was used as a way to develop spiritual awareness within oneself and peace. About 2000 years ago, a man named Patanjali became the "father of yoga" because he introduced a yoga tradition known as the "Ashtang Yog." This was an eight limb system used in order to achieve "salvation." Controlling the activities within the mind was a way to reach God. Upon reaching this particular "nirvana," or so to speak, one will be able to find a way to be with God in their mind and spirit. Christians say this power achieved from within will lower their inhibitions to a greater entity, which may or may not be God.
Another issue Christians have with this particular sense of spiritualism is the fact that yoga's poses are used in order to offer one up to the Hindu gods. There are particular breathing techniques used (as in every exercise you do) and postures (in order to not hurt yourself) to gain the right form. According to this article, doing such things will enable you to be accepted by a god, but not our God. Apparently, the issue with breathing in yoga is known as a way to manipulate life energy. The constant practice of yoga may also be thought of as a mind control in order to subconsciously convert one into Hinduism. Yoga does help the body, however. It is less stressful to all the muscles and it really gives one the workout they need in order to be more confident and happy with themselves. Many doctors have actually advised their patients to practice yoga in order to increase flexibility. It can also be used as a safe alternative to taking medications, which may be detrimental for them in the long run.
To find an alternative to yoga, Christians have decided to use Pilates as another stretching method, though Pilates is a little more cardio and core oriented. They have also created something called PraiseMoves, which to me seems like yoga without the name. This program does not make sense and aggravates me because it just seems like a way for someone to make money off the hype about yoga and its taboos on Christianity. PraiseMoves states that you can become spiritually in tune with yourself and within Jesus Christ and God because you have scriptures to help you while you do these poses. These poses are essentially the same poses in yoga, without the background to it... which is fine, but it just looks like one is trying to imitate something that's already been established for thousands of years. In a sense, the woman named Loretta from the article is right - "Christian yoga is an oxymoron."
Let's take a closer look at the benefits of yoga. We all know yoga is practiced by millions of people in order to increase flexibility and gain a sense of calm. Practicing yoga will increase the range of motion in your joints, as well as release lactic acid buildup in your body. I can vouch for this because I always have lactic acid buildup due to my intense training sessions at the gym, so I use yoga in order to help my body. The buildup of lactic acid in the body causes sharp pains and aches in certain places that may have been overworked. They can also become "knots," which is a term used by massage therapists when finding certain sore spots on their clients. Pressure in that area usually releases the buildup, just as stretching does. Static stretching is always good for the body and it's a great way to loosen up "tight" muscles, as well as tissues in the body, such as tendons, ligaments, and the fascia surrounding the muscles.
Not only will your flexibility increase, but strength will increase as well. The plank position is a favorite of many instructors because it uses not only upper body strength to keep you lifted, but you use your core muscle strength as well. Increasing core muscle strength is the foundation of creating a great body because having that type of strength will allow you do be more versatile in the long run with your workouts. I say this through experience. Gaining core muscle strength has helped me gain more stamina through my exercises, maintain balance, gain strength for more repetitions for weight lifting, ball conditioning exercises, etc. The list can go on. Your posture will greatly improve and you will be able to sit up tall. Some yoga poses require balance, such as the "Tree." On top of gaining core strength, learning proper balance is another benefit from yoga. They will also gain strength in the lower extremities, especially in the quads, the hamstrings, and even in the glutes. One who practices yoga will also become more aware of their body.
We can go into the spiritual and mental aspect of yoga. Recent clinical studies have shown yoga to be very effective in alleviating symptoms of depression due to the increased amount of oxygen to the brain and the amount of focus one will have during their practice. Heart rate will also gradually slow down, which may benefit those with hypertension. Stress and tension within both the mind and body will decrease, which will relax the individual. Since I've been practicing yoga for quite some time, I've learned how to meditate and relax, especially during stressful times. Deep breathing exercises always help stabilize the body and the mind. However, this is not only practiced in yoga, but in pilates as well. Once one tries yoga, their mood is uplifted after the first class because of the sense of calm you gain. You develop peace of mind.
As a future fitness instructor, I can not and probably will not continue to stop my practice with yoga. Yoga has many health benefits that will help me live longer and remain more active. If I ever have a problem with my body and muscle tightening, I will most likely turn to yoga for relief, rather than taking medications such as Soma or pain killers. God knows where I stand and where my heart lies, so I know He will not condemn me for practicing a Hindu tradition. I also know my views will not change or stray away from Him. I practice yoga for a sense of peace and calming. I enjoy the stretching because it helps with my aches and pains from a hard workout. In this day and age, one will always find something to counter argue a subject, especially when it comes to religion and beliefs. For instance, the Bible says not to eat pork because it is a "dirty animal," but Christians eat it anyway because it is part of their diet. My culture uses pork in almost every single meal, so there's no way to avoid it. I don't believe just because I eat pork makes me a sinner. Just because I practice a form of mild or secular yoga doesn't mean I'm going to go against my beliefs with God. I'm sure God knows all the health benefits to yoga as well.
This earth was made by God, as well as everything around it. God knows who I am, what I aspire to be, and what I want to do. He sets things in its place properly. Yoga is something that can be practiced through a spiritual aspect and you can still achieve peace through God, even though there are underlying Hindu beliefs.
What do you think? Is yoga really that terrible for a Christian to practice? What is the difference between PraiseMoves and Yoga?