my non-Hindu yoga practice

yoga on the beach

As I sit on my bed drinking tea this Saturday early afternoon, I am feeling unusually peaceful. I’m breathing full, pure breaths. I’m using my senses to perceive and experience what’s going on around me. Though there are various household tasks calling my name, I’m able to turn them off for a bit to relax, write, and just be. I think this is all because of my 11:15 yoga class this morning.

Being a motivated, over-committed person by nature, I’ve had to take steps to teach myself to chill out once in a while. Preferably, once a day.  I’ve found several ways of accomplishing this over the years: quiet times, running by the beach, warm baths, singing something I’m not working on for a particular reason. During college, I discovered yoga. Well, let’s be honest: so did the rest of the western world. Yoga is about as trendy these days as being a Beatles fan was during the sixties. I’d love to say I started yoga for other reasons than to check out this popular phenomenon; alas, I’m as susceptible as the next gal.

Something about it hit me in just the right spot, though. I started my on-again-off-again practice during a few months that were characterized by confusion, tension and busy-ness in my life. During these classes, I found myself able to focus entirely inwardly and pay attention to my body and my heart and mind in a way I wasn’t capable of before. What’s more, I found myself praying and talking to God in a new way. I’ve never been great at prayer; I get distracted very easily or fall asleep. But in the midst of poses, breathing intentionally and connecting body and mind, it seems my spirit is able to connect with God much more easily.

Which brings up my confusion about yoga. I realize that yoga originated as, and continues to be for most people a Hindu spiritual practice more so than a physical conditioning program. Many true Yogis attack the western trend as bring a mutilation of yoga. These poses, they argue, are not simply stretches: they are meant as poses of worship, of self-exploration and meditation. And not just any type of meditation: Hindu meditation, aimed at worshiping and calling on particular deities. The names of the poses reflect this fact, they say. To take these poses and secularize them, or turn them into ways of accessing other gods would be turning yoga into something it’s not.

Well, I don’t know a whole lot about Hinduism. I don’t really desire to.  To me, yoga poses simply can’t be worship in the same way it is for a Hindu. I take the yoga concept of achieving the highest level of self-awareness and make it a chance to commune with Christ. When my instructors talk about becoming aware of our inner light, I visualize the Holy Spirit. I have no problem participating in oms or savasana because for me, though it may not be so for anyone else in the room, this is a pathway to God.

Am I walking a line here? Maybe. I understand that aspects of yoga are rooted in pagan practices and I don’t want to treat that lightly. But I simply can’t believe that something that has helped me become more aware of myself, my body, and to be able to calm my mind and listen can be detrimental. I hope that I can continue to come to my practice with an open mind, but focusing on Christ alone.

What do you think? Do you have a yoga practice? How do you treat the eastern spiritual aspects of yoga?

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