WWJD – Yoga?
A national yoga leader responds to Christian vocal opposition.
By Eric Paskel
Yoga has allowed me to recover from addictions, to build a livelihood and a mission greater than a paycheck, and to have a satisfying, long-lasting marriage. I am not preaching on street corners nor banging Bibles. Yoga is not my religion, but it allows me to find faith and focus.
After hearing Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler’s objection to the physical practice of yoga, calling for Christians to not practice, I cannot stay silent.
“That’s just not Christianity,” Mohler told The Associated Press. He said, “Christians who practice yoga ‘must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga’”.
He is not the first to oppose this healing, powerful practice for millions of Americans and humans around the world. He will not be the last either.
Leaders from many major religions have charged their followers to avoid yoga, fearing it is a “false religion” or incompatible with their teachings. In this most recent outcry, Mohler said yoga is not a Christian pathway to God, objecting to “the idea that the body is a vehicle for reaching consciousness with the divine”.
I agree with his last statement. A physical practice cannot get you to a spiritual place. A yoga pose does not help you meet God.
But it does create a release and relieves the pressure, so those who practice are in a more conducive space to connect to something higher than their self-centered ego. The physical yoga he is talking about is just a beginning.
Nowhere in the coverage of Mohler’s statements did he mention that he tried a yoga class. Ignorance had Blacks as slaves, millions of Jews killed and Arabs dismissed as a race of terrorists. Ignorance creates fear and loathing of anything we do not know. Ignorance creates a reality that is not real. FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real. It is perhaps the oldest story.
Yoga is nothing more than a process for attaining Self-realization. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit yuj – which means to connect or to join. The word religion comes from the Latin religare – which means to join or to connect.
A physical yoga practice, known as Hatha Yoga, is nothing more than an exercise to cleanse and keep the body fit. The real practice of yoga is found in three parts: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Gnana Yoga.
In Karma Yoga, the body is used as a vehicle of service to help others and serve the world to make it a better place.
Bhakti Yoga, is when all emotion is directed toward a universal identification with all beings. It is where one sees the touch of God in everything.
Gnana Yoga is the practice of the intellect, where one studies scripture to stay focused on life’s highest principles. It was Jesus Christ who said “the Kingdom of God is within you”. Yoga positions a person to love all and serve the world.
If that conflicts with any religion, then those religious leaders must not be interested in helping others, in loving others, in studying universal teachings from great masters who have, frankly, spoken those identical words.
At the root of physical yoga is breath and movement. Go for a jog, ride your bike, spend time at the gym on the treadmill – breath and movement. Are those physical exercises not considered Christian, even if they give us the peace of mind needed to make a difference in the world? If these disciplines give us the clarity to focus on what is really important, the meaning behind the madness, are they not Christian?
Hatha Yoga has a ceiling. It is a great way to get started, to dip your toes into the philosophies of the other three streams. We are over-amped, overstimulated and undernourished. Physical yoga levels the playing field, bringing people to a starting point to figure out their higher purpose.
People are so out of control that when they breathe deliberately and move the body, it creates calmness, space and clarity. Positive energy to eliminate stress, tension and confusion.
Jesus Christ was perhaps the greatest yogi who ever lived. He embodied every value of yoga. Just as Christianity is misunderstood and misrepresented, so is yoga mistaken for a cultish belief system. In reality, yoga is nothing more than a path for clarity and peace.
The great Vedanta scholar, Swami Parthasarathy, says in his book, The Eternities, “There is enough bad in the best of us and enough good in the worst of us that it would behoove all of us not to judge any of us”.
I put that before Mohler. Jesus Christ said: “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world”.
Yoga brings you to the precipice of looking inward, so you can do the real work.
Eric Paskel, owner of Electric Soul Yoga. He is based in Los Angeles.