First and foremost, Yoga is a process of spiritual unfoldment. Yoga is a 5000 year old system of self-knowledge and God-realization, the aim of which is unleashing the full hidden potential of every aspect of the human . . . Yoga teaches us how to harmonize our own personal existence, as well as to harmonize our individual consciousness with the greater Self that is God.
[From “What Is The Purpose Of Yoga?” By Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D.
(Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya)]
Can Yoga Be “Christian?”
What is Yoga? Yoga, a word tossed about so casually today in the West, is an umbrella term for many types of Yoga, and is an integral part of Hindu belief and practice. All forms of Yoga are part of a serious systematic spiritual path in Hinduism designed to lead one to realization of the self as divine, and to bypass the mind in order to yoke with Brahman, the Absolute.
The Yoga most practiced by Christians is Hatha Yoga. The poses themselves are often depictions of Hindu deities, and the hand positions mimic the hand positions seen on the statues of Hindu gods. These hand positions are called mudras and are thought to help manipulate and channel prana, a supposed divine force or breath of the universe.
The purpose of Hatha Yoga is not physical and it is not to relax; it is part of a complex spiritual path to prepare the student for more advanced meditative states and also to lead the practitioner to the realization that the true self is divine (the
Atman). The goal is to dis-identify with the body and self as one’s real identity in order to reach a state of Self-realization; that is, to realize the divine nature of Self.
Many Yoga classes do not use the Eastern terms when teaching Yoga, but disguise these with other terms that sound innocuous, such as “breathing techniques” for pranayama; “energy points” or “energy centers” for chakras; “center” for meditation; “poses” for asanas, etc.
It is not as if there are no other forms of exercise; and Yoga is not really exercise anyway – it is a spiritual practice with a spiritual purpose. The spirituality of Yoga is only temporarily hidden when it’s marketed as an exercise. Here are several ways that reveal its core spiritual nature:
a)The first issue of Yoga Journal in 2000 devoted itself to the theme that marketing Yoga as an exercise has been obscuring its spiritual roots and purpose. Yoga Journal had interviews with Yoga teachers who were beginning to regret this, saying that it is wrong to leave out the spirituality.
b) Marketing Yoga as a physical practice in gyms and health clubs serves as a hook to bring some into the Yoga studios where the Yoga teaching is more serious and spiritual.
c) Many Hindu Yoga masters have been more critical of Yoga as it is taught in the West, offended that it is being taught as a physical exercise or way to de-stress, and upset that the spiritual aspect is being hidden or minimized.
d) Yoga Journal articles have become more spiritual in nature, since now Yoga has taken hold in the culture, having been marketed successfully as a path to health, fitness, and peace.
e) The state of Virginia has been attempting to regulate Yoga training schools (most schools are regulated but Yoga schools that train teachers had escaped this). The Yoga teachers opposed this by defending Yoga as a spiritual practice, saying that one reason Yoga training schools cannot be regulated is due to Yoga’s spiritual and non-physical nature. As of October 1, 2014, yoga studios in Washington, D.C., are subject to a 5.75 percent tax on yoga classes, viewing them as a “fitness club, fitness center, or gym the purpose of which is physical exercise.” What was the response of the Yoga Alliance, a Yoga teacher training organization, to this tax? It was this:
“While some practitioners use yoga for fitness, the majority use it to combat stress and anxiety, to improve mental health or for spiritual reasons. At Yoga Alliance, we believe taxing yoga classes in the same category as fitness classes demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose and history of yoga. And in the long run, taxing yoga, health and wellness services hurts citizens and the city.” (Source: https://www.yogaalliance.org/benefits/advocacy#Virginia)
f) Additionally, Yoga was not a practice common to everyone in India; it was an esoteric practice for devoted followers under the guidance of gurus, and aspects of Yoga were (and still are) considered dangerous by serious Yoga masters. This is because the goal is a spiritual one that supposedly opens one up to more kundalini (the serpent power allegedly coiled at the base of the spine and which is supposed to pass up through the seven invisible chakras) and advanced meditative states (for which hatha Yoga is the training ground) which, students are told, can cause insanity or death. I heard some of this myself when involved with Yoga and Eastern beliefs as a New Ager. It doesn’t matter whether these terms are used or not, or whether these goals are stated or not. Yoga is an esoteric occult practice that in the West has been associated with youth, health, beauty, and peace as a marketable package. To sell Yoga in mainstream culture while divulging its true origins, associations, and purposes would make it a marketing failure.
“Christian Yoga” is an oxymoron. If one removes the core aspects of Yoga to make it into something acceptable to Christians, then the breathing techniques and asanas need to be removed, which means there is then little or no Yoga at all. Changing the terms does not change Yoga, either. Just as there is no Christian Ouija board and no Christian astrology, so there is no Christian Yoga that is either truly Yoga or truly Christian.
The bottom line is that it is disingenuous and disrespectful to real Yoga practitioners to pretend Yoga is just a physical activity, and it is deceptive to market it that way to anyone else.
These two CANA articles show the strong spiritual roots of Yoga and support the statements above:
“The sitting postures [asanas] act as natural ‘tranquillizers’ for the body, and when the physical vehicle is still, the mind soon follows.” Yoga for Dummies (p. 39)
“Our tradition holds that if you meditate deeply enough, hatha Yoga will emerge from the inside out . . . That’s what happened to Swami Kripalu. At age 38, his evolutionary kundalini energy awoke, and his body spontaneously performed all of these postures.” Richard Faulds, a senior Yoga teacher at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Mass. (Yoga Journal, November 2008, p. 118).
“Pranayama is considered as a fast way to awaken the kundalini. But if one is not prepared to take on this high level energy awakening then this may have negative effects on mind and body. So Pranayama is always practiced under the guidance of Guru.” According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, “one of the most authentic text books on Hatha Yoga, written in 1200 AD by Swami Swatmarama, a great Yoga Guru who formulated the principles of Hatha Yoga and systematically explained various techniques, its effects on body, mind and states of consciousness.” From http://www.Yogapoint.com/info/article11.htm
“The word hatha is itself an indication of the goals and objectives of this practice: ha means “sun,” and tha means “moon.” Thus, “hatha yoga” is the practice that enables a practitioner to balance his or her solar and lunar energies.” (From Yoga Journal article “What is the Purpose of Asana?”)
“Let us see the meaning of word Hatha, it is made up of Ha + Tha. ‘Ha’ means Pingala Nadi (sun principle) or right nostril and ‘tha’ means Ida nadi, (moon principle) or left nostril. Nadi means psychic passage of energy which can be compared with nerves in physical body. Hatha means balance of Ida and Pingala Nadis, or balancing of mental energy of Ida and Vital / physical energy of Pingala Nadi. . . . The basic purpose of Hatha Yoga is to purify the Ida and Pingala Nadis and then uniting these 2 forces with the third Psychic Nadi Sushumna, which carries Kundalini at Ajna Chakra (eyebrow center).” According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. From http://www.Yogapoint.com/info/article11.htm
“Exercising postures or Asanas in Hatha Yoga has two essential objectives. The first is that to practice any real meditation, one needs at the least one posture in which one can be perfectly comfortable for a longer period of time. The more such postures one can master, the better the basis for developing the inner meditation techniques. The second objective of exercising asanas in Hatha Yoga is to bring health and energy to body and mind by opening the nadis.” (“Hatha Yoga”)
*”Maya” is a term for illusion, a belief in nondualistic Hinduism that the reality we perceive is actually an illusion, and we must awaken to true reality.