QUESTION: ISN’T YOGA HINDUISM?
The whole purpose of yoga is to ‘yoke’ or yog from the root in Sanskrit. To come together with God, to meet and to allow yourself to listen.
In traditional Yoga, asana’s purpose (the physical postures) are to prepare the body for meditation, to meet with God.
I believe with Yoga we have a ‘definition’ issue.
Before we delve into the discussion about Yoga, we first need to define what it is. I believe that this is THE major issue in the Yoga discussion today.
It must be highlighted, the separation that exists between ‘Yoga’ (the spiritual path) and the “Yoga Asanas.”
Yoga Asana is the physical postures that you see in the studios of the west and what you think of, when you think of Yoga.
‘Yoga’, as in the 8 limb path laid out in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, entails the philosophy of living that is centered mostly on meditation and enlightenment and only 1 limb, being devoted to Asana. In reading the Yoga Sutra’s you will quickly discover that there are no Asanas actually listed besides; “a comfortable seated position”.
It is here that our problem arises. It is the Yoga Sutra’s that delve into the spiritual aspect of yoga, and are the oldest texts that we have, and yet, there is not one single asana listed. So, if I go to a yoga class in the West, or even in India for that matter, is what I am doing, the Yoga Sutra’s? Asana? Yoga? or indeed something else?
The Birth of the Modern Postural ‘exercise’
I draw my findings from Dr. Mark Singleton, a Senior Research fellow in the department of languages and Cultures of South East Asia (SOAS) at the University of London and Dr. James Mallinson an Indologist, and ethnographer and Lecturer in Sanskrit and Classical and Indian Studies at SOAS, University of London. Dr. Mark Singleton’s work focuses mostly on the path of Ashtanga Yoga, (Patanjali’s stream) and Dr. James Mallinson on the path of Hatha Yoga (the Hatha Pradipika’s stream).
A deep and excellent book to read on this is Mark Singleton’s, ‘Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Yoga Practice”, however for the purpose of this short response, it will need to be brief. What follows is a lot of Copying and pasting from Mark Singletons article published in Yoga Journal and it can be found in full at https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/yoga-s-greater-truth. I encourage anyone who wants to seriously discover the roots of modern Yoga to read this.
Through Dr. Singletons study of “the "classical" traditions of yoga, particularly hatha yoga from which most Western practice was said to derive. He read a swath of commentaries on Patanjali's Yoga Sutra; the Upanishads and the later "Yoga Upanishads"; medieval hatha yoga texts like the Goraksasataka, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and others; and texts from the Tantric traditions, from which the less complex, and less exclusive, hatha yoga practices had arisen.
Scouring these primary texts, it was obvious that asana was rarely, if ever, the primary feature of the significant yoga traditions in India.”
In the early decades of the 20th century, India—like much of the rest of the world—was gripped by an unprecedented fervor for physical culture, which was closely linked to the struggle for national independence. Building better bodies, people reasoned, would make for a better nation and improve the chances of success in the event of a violent struggle against the colonizers. A wide variety of exercise systems arose that melded Western techniques with traditional Indian practices from disciplines like wrestling. Oftentimes, the name given to these strength-building regimes was "yoga." Out of those Western Techniques, Scandinavian Gymnastics was featured at the front and center. A Danish exercise system created in the early 20th century called “Primitive Gymnastics” heavily influenced India and brought about what we see today in ‘Yoga Asana’ practice.
One of the most well known figures in the early days of Yoga in the west was T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), who was deeply Hindu and began teaching physical postures to physical culture enthusiast Krishnarajendra Wodeyar, the maharajah (The King) of Mysore, It was, a marriage of hatha yoga, wrestling exercises, and modern Western gymnastic movement. The philosophical and esoteric frameworks of premodern hatha yoga, and the status of asanas as "seats" for meditation and pranayama, have been sidelined in favor of systems that foreground gymnastic movement, health and fitness, and the spiritual concerns of the modern West.
So here is where it gets interesting. Yoga by definition is a spiritual and lifestyle path, however there is NO physical movements, stretches or postures seen in any Yogic texts, besides seated postures that were used in order to allow the body to sit in meditation and practice breath work for a long period of time.
The Physical movements and Asana’s that we see in Studios around the world today are NOT an ancient Hindu practice as many have claimed throughout the years but are instead a relatively new practice (created within the past 200 years) and mostly stem from Scandinavian gymnastics and Military Drills used throughout India during the British Raj era. Having said that;
The purpose of the modern Yoga Asana practice is about preparing the mind and body to sit quietly in Meditation. It is indeed a very helpful (and I believe beautiful) way to quieten the mind, to bring the breath and the body into alignment, and then to sit and be with the scriptures and with God. A practice that can help one to worship God with their WHOLE Self, not only their mind.
It is this type of Yoga that I believe is an incredible gift to someone living their life in devotion to Jesus. In a world and in a ‘religion’ in which we have largely lost the ability to be silent, to ‘be still’ and how to wait on the Divine in the silence, this practice can prove to be a wonderful corrective and benefit to the people of God.
QUESTION: CULTURAL APPROPRIATION AND HONORING THE INDIAN ROOTS
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a rich and deep spiritual philosophy which many choose to take, in their quest for enlightenment. Personally as a follower of Christ whilst some of Patanjali’s writings are rich and beautiful, I do not choose to follow. I do however have, as Barbara Brown Taylor would say “holy envy.”
There are many things of beauty within the Yogic texts and I respect and honour them. The Niyamas and Yama’s in particular are beautiful and even bear some similarities with Christian values.
It is important however, to acknowledge the differences. As a devotee of Christ, all is grace. It is not about what I can do, but what Christ has done. The path of Christ is about surrender to something bigger and more beautiful than ourselves, found in Jesus. I can not earn it, I can not work for it, I can not attain it in and of myself. It is a beautiful and profound gift.
Many will tell you “Yoga is not a religion but a spiritual philosophy”. I believe this to be truth. Philosophy is not an absolute, philosophy is the searching for wisdom, it is ideas and theories of which have beauty and value.
Yoga’s roots are in India, and it was through the Indian people that the Yoga Asana practice was brought to the West in its current form, even if it was compiled through many different traditions on a global scale, both western and eastern.
It is important to honor India and the roots that brought it to the west.
Having spent many years living in India, I have picked up many incredibly beautiful practices from my brothers and sisters there. I want to honour the original purpose of ‘Asana’ practice, to move and stretch and prepare the body to meet with God in quiet meditation. Asana is not about fitness for me, Asana is not about attaining a beautiful body. It only ever was, and only ever is about meeting with God. To stretch the body so that it is able to be still. To connect with the breathe enough to quieten the mind to allow it to hear Christ in the silence.
Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, one of the prominent leaders of modern day Yoga, believes that “just because the sun touches Indian shores before it touches Dohar, can we claim that the sun is Indian? Yoga is just like that. It is a certain a light that rose here first, this does not mean that it is Indian in any sense...Yoga does not belong to a Political identity”
Whilst people have and do raise the issue of Cultural Appropriation, I believe that Christ can redeem all things, that he is boundless out of the confines of culture. The modern Asana practice did not arise out of India alone, and whilst I believe we should respect its roots, and honor the incredible country and richness of India we also need to listen to prominent Indian yogi’s who seem to believe that if something is for the betterment of health and society, we can not say that we are unable to practice it because we are not Indian.
I personally will never use Yoga to “make money”. I believe part of the Cultural appropriation issue is that Yoga has become a multi billion dollar industry and in doing so, has made Yoga inaccessible for the poor, and for the disadvantaged or those with different ‘abilities’. My intention is only to share the beauty and the joy that this practice has given to me - a way that so beautifully allows me to connect with Jesus.
AREN’T YOU CONFUSING PEOPLE AND LEADING PEOPLE AWAY FROM CHRIST?
Written by Rachel Ford
”In the beginning the Word (LOGOS) already existed.
The Word (Logos) was with God,
and the Word (Logos) was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word (Logos) gave life to everything that was created,[a]
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it” - John 1:1 (NLT)
We need to go as far back as the New Testament Church. They lived in an interesting and tricky situation: New faith and supernatural salvations, the Holy Spirit, and two great big cultures that had Pantheons of Gods (similar to India) who were rapidly coming to faith and trying to learn how to believe from a group of Jewish followers of Jesus. So their issues are very much our issues, and I do not believe that we take our example of how to be in the world from the Jews of the old Testament, who (pre-Jesus) showed their faith almost exclusively by showing that they were separate (circumcision, diet, dress).
We are more like the believers in the New Testament, trying to understand how to worship God in this new law of Love, among people who worshiped temples, who worshiped other gods and came from long histories and philosophies that were not aligned with Judaism. How to bring them in? How to explain Jesus and what it means to follow him?
It is interesting right away that John used Logos, because Logos was a concept much like Aum for Hindus.
“Later, the Stoics, philosophers who followed the teachings of the thinker Zeno of Citium (4th–3rd century BC), defined the logos as an active rational and spiritual principle that permeated all reality. They called the logos providence, nature, god, and the soul of the universe, which is composed of many seminal logos that are contained in the universal logos” ... (Speaking about John) The Evangelist interprets the logos as inseparable from the person of Jesus and does not simply imply that the logos is the revelation that Jesus proclaims. -Britannica
The Stoics believed the following:
• Man must conform himself entirely to the natural law; nature/creation itself being comprehensive; from the One
• At the heart of all things was the universal principle, the “artistic fire” or Word known as LOGOS, which was closely tied to fate. It existed at the beginning of the universe, and it would bring all things back together in the end, perfecting all through the LOGOS (see below for various understandings of LOGOS).
• The various Greek gods represent simple names or manifestations of different aspects of the One; the Stoics understood each as an allegory or a myth, not as a reality in and of itself. “Zeno is reported as according the status of gods to the law of nature, the aether, reason, the stars, the years, months, and season; and as depriving, in his interpretation of Hesiod’s Theogony, Jupiter, Juno, and Vesta of their divinity insisting that their names allegorically signify divine entities of a material nature. . . . The Hellenic polis had been conquered, but the Stoics developed the myth o the cosmos as the common habitat and polis of gods and men, a symbolism that satisfied the needs of an ecumenic society after a fashion . . . . into the myth of the cosmos as the megalopolis which comprises all nations.”
• We know the meaning of life through the empirical observation of nature and through the logic of the soul The history of Philosophy by Frederick Copleston
Similar concepts are found in non-western traditions, such as Dao (Tao), the Vedic notion of rta, and the Hindu and Buddhist conception of dharma and Aum. These concepts in diverse traditions are based upon the common insight that certain principles regulate the orders of existence in both the universe and human reason.
Heraclitus also used the term Logos to mean the undifferentiated material substrate from which all things came: "Listening not to me but to the Logos it is wise to agree that all [things] are one."
- New World Encyclopedia.
Into this Greek set of philosophies comes Jesus in all his aliveness and beauty, and how does John explain him? He calls him Logos. In the beginning was Logos, and Logos was with God and Logos was God.
In this he is repeating Greek ideas so he can help Greeks understand who Jesus is by offering an understanding of Jesus that can align from a philosophy within Greek culture: namely that there is a Divine Order to the universe, that there is that something, that spark that started it all.
And it is the same Greek culture that worshiped many gods, gods that represented different aspects of this Logos. But John did not shy away from using Logos, even in its original intention in John 1, because he wanted to show the fulfillment of the longing for Logos in their culture.
In the years between then and now, we have experienced great huge upheavals in Christian History, from the inquisitions to the birth of protestantism, from colonialism to puritanism, all fighting for some understanding of what Christianity is, whether it can be controlled by power and money, whether it is a system or a faith, whether it is a set of rules or a heart change, whether we follow Jesus or a conservative ruler.
The New Age came on the heels of conservatism, so it felt new, but I believe the ideas contained within were not new in the slightest, I believe that we are in fact in a time very similar to the new believers, (and I take great comfort in that fact.)
So how were they told to live in the nexus between the Roman and Greek religions? They were told to do what they could do with faith, as in 1 Corinthians 8 or Colossians 2. (As regarding meat sacrificed to idols or pagan festivals or Jewish holy days.) The point Paul is making is that doing these things in and of themselves is not wrong and is no danger. He uses the words “so-called gods.”... and “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
The things we are told to avoid over and over again are sexual immorality, lack of love, strife and these:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy,d drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. Galatians 5: 20 and 2
I feel that we are to show with our lives and our love who we serve, and besides that, we have freedom to call people to direct attention to Jesus in ways that speak to the cultural longing in their hearts.
Every practice has evil associated with it when we use an idol in the place of Jesus, whether it is singing or giving devotion, meditation, or dancing. Our people almost all practice yoga. I think the possiblity of directing heart attention to Jesus through the practice of yoga is beautiful. And I don’t think it is bad to think of using the body as a way to solidify the message. I use art and writing to tell myself the truth over and over again. I could also use those things to tell lies. Using our bodies in a form of meditation is a beautiful way to practice faith.
As for it being biblical, we practice our faith in many ways that aren’t seen in the exact same way in the Bible. I feel that yoga has moved into a realm of cultural saturation and that it can be a beautiful way to practice devotion to Christ. I am not worried about confusing people. People are confused by our appearance, by our meditation, by what we are and what we do. Confusion gives room for conversation, for clearing things up. We are devoted only to Christ. That is the difference, the stumbling block, the tree on which we finally find ourselves in surrender. We are crucified with him.
FAQ About Jesus Devotional Yoga
Over the years I have had many folks express concern on whether Jesus and Yoga can go together. Concerns on whether I am honoring Christ, or on the flip side, if I am honoring Yoga, and it’s country of origin.
Here you will find my opinion on those questions. Please know I have not come to it lightly. I am aware.
The beauty of Christ, breaks down barriers and walls, and there is freedom here. Jesus is for every culture and came to bring light to the whole world, in every language, to every people. Grace and the ‘Table’ is far bigger and more expansive than we realise.