While my son is not at all interested in playing organized sports, it was clear that he could benefit from an intentional physical activity in his life. So during his Kindergarten year we enrolled him in a children’s yoga class with his best friend.When I shared the shift we had made from ballet to yoga, my acquaintance immediately explained to me that yoga is wholly incompatible with Christian faith, and insisted that she would never let her own child practice yoga. I don’t want to go into the details of her arguments. You may have heard them (or made them) yourself before. Here is a link to a pretty standard critique of Christians practicing yoga.
Her argument was fierce enough to make me pause to wonder if I should have asked more questions before signing my son up for yoga classes. The reality that his uncle is a Theravada Buddhist monk further complicates matters. Though I am pretty sure that my brother doesn’t do much yoga anymore, introducing yoga to my son has been one way of connecting him to his uncle and to eastern culture and religions.
Two of the arguments that the above linked critique makes are a little misleading when it comes to the compatibility of yoga practice and Christianity. First, they claim that it is problematic to spend so much time focusing in on the breath/the life force/the chi, referencing a fairly ambiguous line from Ephesians about “the ruler of the power of the air” (2:2). But breath and wind are deeply rooted images in scripture. Most prominently, near the beginning of Genesis we read: “Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (2:7).Second, they express concern about any practice that attempts to empty the mind. Certainly then they would also be concerned about the ancient Christian spiritual practice of Centering Prayer, in which one attempts to empty the mind in order to listen for the spirit of God.
I am not really all that qualified to give a comparative study of the legitimacy of Christians practicing yoga, but I do know this: two boys who normally spend their time creating and destroying Legos, discussing bodily functions and driving their respective mothers crazy spent an hour together every week when they were five and six years old engaging in an ancient and spiritual physical practice that ended each week by bowing to each other and to their teacher, saying “Namaste.”
I asked them one afternoon as I was driving us home what the word “Namaste” meant. Cheerfully they replied, “The light within me greets the light within you.”In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world and that we are to let that light shine so that others might see it and be inspired. I like the idea that they remember that there is a light within them which they are called to present to the world, and especially to their friends.
They are eight years old now, and they do not take yoga together anymore. But they still sit one pew away from each other every Sunday morning, and every Sunday morning I watch them greet one another just as gleefully as they ended each yoga class. But instead of a bow and an ancient Sanskrit phrase they use English words translated from ancient Greek: May the peace of Christ be with you…
And then they embrace - the very best yoga position of all.