Friday, October 11, 2013

Yoga: More than Meets the Eyes? HIRD

Ed Hird by tree

By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird

Over 68,000 people have read this article since April 2013.  I was amazed by the remarkable interest.  You may find this a stretching article in body, mind and spirit.  I have intentionally avoided writing this article for years, because I knew that it might be unavoidably controversial.  To be honest, I have been waiting for someone else to write this article instead of me.  Like most pastors, I want people to like me.   With genuine reluctance, I eventually faced my conflict avoidance, obeyed the Lord and read hundreds of yoga books in our local public libraries.  In preparing this article, I have not read one book which warns against yoga.  All book citations in this article are from yoga advocates and practitioners.

               To many people, yoga is just the hottest new exercise fad for younger women.  Twenty million North Americans are now doing yoga, including around four million men.  These twenty million people are currently being trained by over 70,000 yoga practitioners in at least 20,000 North American locations.[1]  Many people confuse yoga with simple stretching.  Stretching and calisthenics are good things which I participate in weekly at the local gym.  Yoga has not cornered the market on healthy stretching and calisthenics.  Physical fitness does not begin and end on a yoga mat.  I am convinced 

Science of Yoga Book

that we do well when we take care of our bodies as part of our Christian stewardship.  God wants us to be healthier in body, mind, and spirit. We all need to get back to the gym on a regular basis, whatever our views of yoga.  Your body will  thank you.

I unknowingly participated in yoga, in the form of martial arts, for twenty years before renouncing it.[2]  After much prayer, I reluctantly gave it up because I didn’t want any gray area in my Christian life.   It is not an easy or light thing for someone to renounce this, even as a Christian.  For many, it is absolutely unthinkable.  To even imagine giving it up may leave some feeling threatened or even angry.  In hindsight, I realized that the ritual motions and postures (asanas or katas) had gotten very deep into my psyche, shaping my very identity.[3]  Somehow over twenty years, they had become ingrained in me and even became part of me.  Without intending it, I was to some degree serving two masters.  This was a hard truth for me to accept.  I have heard of one Christian who is so entrenched in yoga that they have vowed to never give up yoga even if God himself told them to stop.  It makes you wonder sometimes who is in charge of our lives.

              Historically yoga was only taught in secret to high-caste male Brahmins.[4]  It was very much a guy thing for the wealthy and powerful.   In recent years, North American yoga has largely stripped itself of its more obvious Eastern trappings: gurus, incense, Sanskrit, and loin cloths.[5]  It has gone through a remarkable image makeover in a relatively short time period.  Yoga classes and paraphernalia have become a ten-billion+ dollar consumer-driven industry, involving designer spandex, yoga mats, and DVDs.[6]  Old-time Yoga purists have called this new development the yoga industrial complex.  In some parts of North America, yoga moms are replacing the demographic of soccer moms.  Yoga has become such a strongly entrenched cultural fad that in some parts of North America it is being taught to children, often using tax-payers’ money, in otherwise strictly secular public school systems.  Spiritually speaking, yoga has replaced the Lord’s Prayer which, you will remember, was bounced from our children’s classrooms for being too religious.

             This North American yoga industry has registered thousands of copyrights, patents and trademarks, sometimes resulting in threatening lawsuits.[7]  The Indian Government is so concerned about the yoga copyrighting that they have set up their own taskforce to protect yoga from being pirated by Westerners:

“Yoga piracy is becoming very common, and we are moving to do something about it,” says Vinod Gupta, the head of a recently established Indian government task force on traditional knowledge and intellectual-property theft.

‘We know of at least 150 asanas [yoga positions] that have been pirated in the U.S., the UK, Germany and Japan,’ he says. ‘These were developed in India long ago and no one can claim them as their own.’ In an effort to protect India’s heritage, the task force has begun documenting 1,500 yoga postures drawn from classical yoga texts — including the writings of the Indian sage, Patanjali, the first man to codify the art of yoga.”[8]

Bhagavita                 There are seven main kinds of yoga: Hatha Yoga, Bhakti Yoga (devotion), Karma Yoga (action), Jnana Yoga (wisdom), Mantra Yoga, Tantra Yoga, and Raja Yoga (royal).   In the 15th Century AD Hatha Yoga Pradipika, its first three verses teach that the ignorant masses are not yet ready for the lofty Raja Yoga, and so Hatha Yoga has been developed as a “staircase” to lead them to Raja Yoga.  [9]   The most popular yoga offered in one’s local Recreation Center is Hatha Yoga, so-called physical yoga involving numerous yoga techniques called asanas.  These yogic asanas appear to the uninitiated as if they are just stretching exercises.  The more fully initiated realize that yogic asanas are worship postures to Hindu deities.   The yoga insiders all know the real scoop.  They also know that North Americans are not quite ready yet for the full truth about the religious identity of yoga.  My question is this: Is it really honest and respectful to pretend yoga is just a physical activity without any spiritual implications?[10]  More importantly, should people get themselves bent out of shape over Christians doing yoga?  

To read the rest of the article, click on:


Peter Black said...

Thank you for this informative and instructional post, Ed. I followed the link and had a quick read of the rest of the article.
Illuminating! ~~+~~

Ed Hird+ said...

Thanks so much for your words of encouragement, Peter. It is most appreciated.

Ed Hird+ said...

Of all my posting on 'Canadian Christians who are Writers', this has had the most traffic with 289 people reading it. Thanks.

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