Invocations of Jesus, images of the cross, and biblical scriptures are unlikely to be what we envision when we think of yoga.
Yoga is generally considered either as a Hindu practice or, more recently and more popularly, “witty but not religious” or, more commonly still, a form of The well-being Where aptitude.
As author of Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture” and scholar of contemporary spirituality and the history of modern yoga, however, I can say that yoga is far more complex than common understanding implies.
Christian yoga, in fact, is now a growing part of the yoga industry. The question then becomes – is it real yoga?
History of Christian Yoga
The Christianization of yoga is not new. For example, the nineteenth-century American social radical and the Protestant Christian Ida Craddock was one of the first sexologists who incorporated yogic elements into a system to improve sex for heterosexual married couples.
She viewed the Christian God as a third partner in the sexual life of a married man and woman. His efforts were not without controversy. In 1902, facing incarceration for obscenity, Craddock committed suicide. The attempt to silence Craddock was based, in part, on yogaphobia, a fear of yoga based on the assumption that it is incompatible with one’s own religious doctrines or moral codes. Over a hundred years after Craddock, yogaphobia is still alive and well.
Despite this, Christian yoga takes many forms in different parts of the world. Christian yoga entrepreneurs market products and services that claim to strengthen Christian identity and practice.
There are now Christian yoga brands founded by Protestant Christians, such as Yahweh Yoga and Christ centered yoga. The website for sacred yoga, based in Michigan, describes it as “a community of believers on a mission to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth through the modality of yoga.” Holy Yoga has an instructor training program, and there are hundreds of Holy Yoga classes each week in locations across the United States and Canada.
Yoga to draw closer to Christ
Many forms of Christian yoga assign Christian terms and prayers to certain yoga postures or sequences and replace South Asian imagery, such as the popular “Oh” symbol, with Christian imagery, such as the to cross. Other forms, such as AllFit and PraiseMovementsremove all explicitly yogic language and imagery, including the term yoga itself, to avoid associations with yoga’s historical ties to other religions.
Some Catholics also teach yoga as a Christian practice. Reverend Anthony Randazzo, a priest at Notre Dame Catholic Church in New Jersey and co-author of « Beatitudes, Christ and the practice of yoga”, has been teaching yoga for years. He insists that yoga has always brought him closer to Christ.
Christian yoga is not just an American thing. Indian Catholic priest Joseph Pereira wrote about Christian yoga and taught yoga for the practice of Christian meditation with an Indian public. by Pereira Kripa Foundation also uses yoga as part of recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction as well as a form of support for people living with HIV.
Claiming the tradition of yoga
But is all this really yoga?
Ever since yoga turned into several billion dollars industry, there has been a growing public movement suggesting that Christian yoga is not legitimate. The movement revolves around an attempt to define yoga by locating a “center” or monolithic essence, particularly one that ascribes a Hindu religious identity to yoga.
A public campaign is based on the argument that Christians have been duped into thinking that yoga is just a consumer product and warns that yoga is essentially Hindu. Yogaphobic critics have included Albert Mohler (president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Pat Robertson (television evangelist and founder of the Christian Coalition of America).
Recently, for example, Mohler suggested, “When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga stands for or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their adherence to yoga. Contradictions are not rare, nor peripheral. And Robertson warned in an episode of the Christian talk show “700 Club”:
“But with yoga, they have a mantra. And the mantra you say is in Hindu. You don’t know what the Hindu says, but actually it’s a prayer to a Hindu deity, and so it sounds like gibberish, and so you say, you know, ‘Kali, Kali, Kali’, whatever , but you’re praying to a Hindu deity… Stretching exercise is cool, praying to a Hindu deity isn’t too cool.
On the other hand, some Hindus criticize yoga consumers for not recognizing the Hindu origins of yoga. The American Hindu Foundationa Minneapolis-based organization that advocates for Hindus living in the United States, presented the Take up yoga again campaign in 2010, which advocates for authentic Hindu yoga. The Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also joined the debate through its many attempts to rebrand and reclaim yoga for India.
Why Yoga Cannot Be Claimed by Any Religion
The argument that Christian yoga is not the real yoga, in my view, assumes that yoga is or has been a static tradition that has always featured Hindu symbols, practices and ideas.
In fact, as research shows, yoga includes a variety of historical traditions but also alive and dynamic that have changed and evolved. The history of yoga is rooted in a vast array of South Asian religious movements dating back over 2,000 years. In India alone, yoga practitioners include Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Muslims.
Yoga has never had a single purpose for its seekers – be they philosophical ascetics seeking enlightenment, ecstatic devotees expressing the love of God, people seeking yogic superpowers , fitness enthusiasts looking for the perfect “yoga butt” or Christians wanting to “get closer”. to Christ.
In other words, yoga has never belonged to any particular religion, but has always been conditioned in different ways. That’s the problem with whether or not Christian yoga is real yoga – there never was real yoga.