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Why Not Yoga?
by Michal Russo
Most people in the world are familiar with, or have at least heard of, “yoga”. Whether it’s simply wearing yoga pants, or actually practicing and teaching, the notion is widespread and accepted as a pillar of wellness and spirituality. A practice that is often referred to as uniting the mind, body, and soul through asana (poses) and pranayama (breathing techniques) has evolved widely over the centuries. Beginning with ancient times and pre-classical yoga, all the way through modern day westernized schools of “yoga”. However, one thing remains the same, and that is: it’s all deeply rooted in connecting your spirit to other spirits.
First let’s make sure we fully understand, and agree, on what yoga truly is.
What is yoga?
The origin and the name of the word “yoga” dates back to roughly 5,000 years ago and comes from two sanskrit roots: (1) yujir and (2) yuj, with its first mention coming in the Rig Veda, an ancient and sacred text used by the Brahmans, or Vedic Priests. The Veda used the word ‘yoga’ with the meaning of ‘yoking’, ‘joining’, ‘coming together’ and ‘connection’. These priests were considered mystic seers, and they documented their beliefs in a collection of hundreds of scriptures called The Upanishads, culminating in the Bhagavad-Gîtâ around 500 B.C.E. They went on to become the very foundations for Hinduism, and Yoga.
Now, many will argue that over time, and most especially in the Western World, Yoga has lost this yoke, or connection, to the religion, or spirituality.
B.K.S. Iyengar (one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world and founder of Iyengar Yoga) wrote about it quite succinctly in the preface to his book, “The Illustrated Light on Yoga” by stating:
“Yoga is a timeless pragmatic science evolved over thoughts of years dealing with the physical, moral, mental and spiritual well-being of a man as a whole.
The first book to systematize this practice was the classic treatise The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali dating from 200 BC. Unfortunately most of the books published on yoga have been unworthy of both the subject and its first great exponent, as they are superficial, popular and at times misleading.
The Western reader may be surprised at the recurring reference to the Universal Spirit, to mythology and even some philosophical and moral principles. He must not forget that in ancient times all the higher achievements of man, and knowledge, art, and power, were part of religion and were seen to belong to God and to his priestly servants on Earth. The Catholic Pope is the last such embodiment of divine knowledge and power in the West.
But formerly, even in the Western World, music, painting, architecture, philosophy and medicine, as well as wars, were always in the service of God. It is only very recently in India that these arts and sciences have begun to shake off the Divine – but with due respect, for the emancipation of man’s will, as this thing from the Divine will, we in India continue to value the purity of purpose, the humility of discipline and the selflessness that are the legacy of our long bondage to God. I consider it important as well as interesting that the reader should know the origin of asanas, and I have, therefore, included legends handed down by practicing Yogis and Sages. All the ancient commentaries on yoga have stressed that it is essential to work under the direction of a guru (Master), and although my experience proves the wisdom of this rule, I have endeavoured with all humility in this book to guide the reader – both to teacher and student – to a correct and safe method of mastering these asanas and pranayamas.“
Can I Break The Yoke and Still Practice Yoga?
So, I ask you, is it still possible to practice yoga but not submit to this “yoke” or “connection”, which is the very name and essence of this ancient “science”, “art”, “ritual”, “practice” or whatever name chosen to describe it?
Does it not raise the very question as to what you are yoking to at the very least? If the answer is ambiguous, does that not alone irk your very soul? The answer seen most often to this question: You are connecting to whatever belief, power, or God you have (if you ask a Westernized teacher). Clearly, Iyengar had different feelings.
Further, the very nature of a practice is to make it become a ritual, so routine that it is automatic.
Perhaps that sounds like offering ourselves wholly to something, while “opening our mind, our body, and our soul”. You are commiting to serve something.
Perhaps that means becoming a bondservant, or slave.
What Does The Word Say?
To prepare this answer I prayed for the Holy Spirit to coat me in the armor of God and grant me the wisdom to discern and learn the Word, not with eisegesis (not to read it out of context or read into it my own cultural biases), but with evangelistic power, and the wisdom of apologetics.
Notice Iyengar’s direct usage of the term “bondage to God”, and understanding that “yoga” means to connect or to yoke, and a bondslave, or a bondservant, is one that makes a long lasting and permanent commitment as a slave.
In the Book of James, chapter 2, we see James the Just use the Greek word for “bondservant” – doulos- to describe his relationship to Jesus. While this may have been a gesture of humility coming from the very brother of Jesus himself, I am sure, there is no humility in shrugging off the clear and defined yoke and connection to any other god, or actively practicing a bondage to a god other than the One and Holy God of Israel.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
My Personal Journey
Through practicing and teaching yoga, I thought I was contributing to the overall positive well-being of myself and others. I was in pursuit of calm and peace and tranquility. This was the way, I thought.
So I began to study it, and not just any form – I began in the College of India School of Bikram where the whole theory was that 90 minutes in this heated room was better than an eternity in hell. My emancipation and salvation would come after Savasana, or the final resting “dead man’s pose”, and I thought nothing more of this, even then, even as a believer.
Ten years passed and I traveled across the world to get my yoga teacher training. I sought out more than a teacher. Now, I wanted a guru. I got my teaching certificate and Yoga Alliance membership and started offering classes. Again, I thought I was helping people. Helping them relieve pain, stress, tension. I thought that when I put a Buddha in my home, it was harmless. We had them in the studio and so I thought it was a harmless symbol that represents peace, but it was an idol.
I eventually even built a small altar in my basement with my yogic books, chakra stones, guides and incense. Again, every studio I worked in had these at the front of the room so I thought that it wasn’t wrong. When I led chants, mantras and Ohms I thought they were harmless, even though they directly called out auspicious goodness, or Shiva, or other gods by name.
When I wore “yoga pants” I never thought twice about what I was truly calling them or adorning my body in. When I bowed down on my yoga mat, I never considered myself bowing down to other gods or submitting myself in connection by yoking to anything at all. I was just breathing and stretching… right?
Again, this wasn’t and isn’t an easy assignment, answering this call to renounce and repent from the practice of yoga entirely. The further I pursued my faith in Jesus Christ, the block came. It was like a spiritual stop sign that no longer allowed me to continue practicing yoga, and definitely to stop teaching it.
Like any ritual, especially one that involves the body, mind, and even my soul, I longed for that time where I could flow but now I knew it needed to be clear and intentionally in His mercy and grace. I can worship Him safely and without unintentionally leading others into the very slippery slope I found myself in by teaching and practicing yoga.
Now, all I want is to practice Christianity with my entire heart, mind, and soul: free and uncompromised by deceptive practices.
Michal Russo is a wife and mother of two teens, a toddler, and one baby on the way. She moved back to her small hometown in Ohio after she renounced her life as a yoga teacher, and founded a ministry called WorshipFlow, bringing the message of Christ and His healing deliverance to those who may have fallen into the snares of Yoga and New Age mysticism. Follow her on Instagram.
If you’d like to know more about yoga and why Christians shouldn’t practice it, please click here.