Spiritual Research Network

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Christians Find Connection To God Through Yoga

This is simply unbelievable, Christians connecting to God through Yoga (Hinduism)?

One would do well to remember that yoda in Star Wars was an occult yogi with a message from Hinduism...and that yoga for Westerner's goes along the same lines as Yoda's... "look within...the force is withing you." Yoga for Westerner's is a hodge-podge of worshipful poses - now called exercise - based on occult philosophy.

The article below was originally posted in May, 2006.
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Christians find connection to God through yoga
Saturday, May 27, 2006
By Juanita Westaby
The Grand Rapids Press

Flipping the remote, looking for a new way to exercise, Karen Palaszek came across a televised yoga class eight years ago.

"When I finished, I remember feeling like, 'Whoa, this feels pretty good.' Quiet. Centered," she said. "It gave me an opportunity to quiet my mind."

At the time, she had no idea she was launching into a new career as well as a new way to pray.

Palaszek has a yoga innovations company called Quiet Mountain and operates Yoga Force, a yoga services company that gives corporate yoga classes. She remains a committed Christian, however.

"When I'm in yoga, it's my chance to (connect) with my own personal relationship with Jesus," she said. Yoga "is about making the open spaces for God to come in."

There are 15 million people in the U.S. practicing yoga, according to Yoga Journal. Many of them are coming from the Christian faith; some are trying find a way to reformulate it.

As the number of Christians practicing yoga rises, so do the voices that condemn it.

"As Christians, you are instructed to 'be transformed by the renewing of your mind' (Romans 12:2), not the emptying of your mind," writes Laurette Willis, on her Web site, PraiseMoves. "Many believe that the transformation process occurs as we meditate and feed on the Word of God -- renewing our minds by filling them with God's thoughts, not emptying them or filling them with the prideful thoughts of man."

That's not the way Christians practicing yoga see it.

"So many Christians are fearful of yoga because they associate it with Hinduism or Buddhism. But it can be a wonderful adjunct to a Christian faith," said Jennifer Byrne, who teaches yoga at Trinity Lutheran Church.

"I try not to call it a Christian yoga class," Byrne said. "It's a yoga class for Christians."

Byrne laughed as she described herself as a "multitasking, distracted person" whose mind and heart were stilled by her four years of practicing yoga.

"I've found so much more stillness and focus and awareness that has enhanced my faith," Byrne said. "It seems like I have a deeper connection to God, because I have a deeper sense of connectedness to who I am in God."

In her class at Trinity, Byrne might play instrumental Christian music softly in the background. Her class might meditate on a Scripture passage as part of their intent, or use a holy word as a mantra.


Eyes are open

But most know what they're getting into when they come to class, she said.

"They're already coming for the spiritual benefits because they're coming to a sacred space," she said. "They're coming for that sense of relaxation, that calming down."

When Kat Heagberg ends one of her yoga classes at the downtown YMCA, she has her own ritual.

"Exhale, pouring water," she tells her class, taking her arms up over her head and bringing them down in a prayer position. She does that twice and the third time, she touches her forehead, her lips and her heart.

It's a gesture familiar to Catholics, who perform the same ritual just before the reading of the gospel at Mass. It's a reminder that God's word "be on my mind, my lips and my heart."

"I grew up Catholic and I thought of the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit," when she first saw it, she explained. The ritual has no basis in yoga -- Heagberg picked it up from a Pilates instructor --- but she uses the gesture without apology or explanation to her classes.

Now a member of Monroe Community Church, Heagberg has taught yoga through her church as well. She started yoga as a form of exercise, but she soon picked up on its spiritual benefits.

"For me, personally, I would begin to feel the Holy Spirit and feel God's peace come over me," in yoga, she said. "You can be more open to hearing that still, small voice. You're rid of all that old clutter. You can just hear God's voice and pay attention to that."

Mary Vaccaro, the pastoral associate at the Catholic Information Center, Chapel of St. Paul, practices yoga at the Y and at home with video tapes.

"I might do 20 minutes of yoga and then sit quietly and pray," Vaccaro said.

It's an easy jump from savasana to centering prayer or lectio divina, two contemplative forms of prayer, since yoga tends to quiet the mind and still the body.

Just don't call it Christian yoga.

"I don't like that term because it's not respectful to the Hindu tradition. It's like saying the Hindu rosary or the Hindu Mass. For Hindus, this is part of how they pray."


No deceptions

Still, Vaccaro doesn't worry that yoga deceptively leads people away from the faith.

"Vatican II rejects nothing that is true in other religions," Vaccaro said. "Truth is bigger than any religion."

Palaszek sharply disagrees that yoga represents a religion.

"People assume yoga is a religion. It is not a religion," she said. "Yoga provides a beautiful framework that you can bring any intention to. That's where you make it your own.

"If you want a rockin' bod, you can get that with yoga. If you want to connect with God, you can use the framework of yoga as well. You pick," Palaszek said. "But whatever you do, there should be no judgment" of others.

In her new book, "Yoga for Christians," author Susan Bordenkircher reasons that Christian hymns were sometimes adapted from bar songs that were popular in their times, and Christian rock has its roots in rock 'n' roll.

"The common thread in these creative ways that God reaches and uses us is intent," she writes.

There are Web sites devoted to Christian alternatives to yoga, because some hard-line Christians believe the openness of yoga, the emptying of the mind, allows room for Satan and deception to come in.

Palaszek has a much simpler, less sinister, explanation of what happens in yoga.

"For some people that quiet is appealing and attractive," she said. "But some people find that very scary. Things start to bubble up."

Palaszek said those unpleasant things appearing can be part of the path of yoga.

"Purusa," a term loosely translated as "clarity of spirit," and "avidya," which means a sort of "cloudiness of spirit," often are at work in yoga practice.

The goal is "not just clarity," Palaszek said, "but it's compassion for self and others. Maybe you become less reactive. You begin to notice things. The more you practice yoga the more you notice things."