Love Jesus and Yoga?

Yoga

Recently, a Jesus-following friend expressed deep concern about my yoga practice. She believes I am in grave danger and felt compelled to warn me.

Isn’t that an amazing kindness?

For some of you, living in busy urban areas where yoga studios and coffee shops are equal in number, that’s crazy talk, but I live in the Bible belt where a lot of people consider yoga demonic.

I don’t. Let’s talk about it.

I am hardly the first to weigh in. In fact, if you Google Can Christians … “do yoga” autocompletes fourth after drink, eat pork and get tattoos. Opinions vary, but one article said by practicing yoga you’re unconsciously offering worship to Hindu gods.

Wait, what? Unconscious worship?

Maybe I don’t understand the meaning of those words, but I think that phrase is an oxymoron at best, fear mongering at worst. So I had an imaginary conversation with the writer.

Anti-Yoga Writer – “I don’t believe yoga can be separated from Buddhism, Hinduism and/or the occult. I think you’re wandering around in idol worshipping territory.”

Me – “Do you meditate?”

AYW – “Yes. The Bible tells us to meditate on scripture.”

Me – “Did you know Hindus meditate too?”

AYW – “Of course, but I don’t meditate on Hindu texts.”

Me – “So when you meditate, you choose the object of your focus, and meditation is the vehicle?”

AYW – “Basically.”

Me – “Interesting.”

SONY DSC

Survival is her focus right now. Photo: Robert Bejil


Yoga As Vehicle

A lot of yogis try to calm the fears of their Christian students by insisting yoga is nothing more than exercise, but that just isn’t true. We rob it of its power by promoting that. Oh oh. Yoga has power?

It does.

Yoga’s secret sauce lies in its ability to cultivate a calm, working relationship between our bodies and our minds. There is nothing in Western culture I know of that does that more efficiently than this 5,000 year-old Indian practice with its Hindu roots. Perhaps that’s why it is prescribed for sexual abuse survivors, traumatized refugee populations and soldiers with PTSD.

Done well, in good sequence, the poses demand a singular focus on breath and movement, which is why after a well-taught class you’ll be sweaty, breathing deeply, with a calm, quiet mind.

When was the last time you experienced those three things at once?


On Focus

I can spot the moment in my classes when people really start to focus.

Are they focusing on Buddha, Jesus, Hanuman, Shiva, nail polish on their toes? I have no idea. Their thoughts are their own, and how absurd would it be for me, a non-Hindu, to encourage some sort of Hindu observance? Asking them for long spines, soft hamstrings, quads on the edge, a level sacrum, and ujjayi breathing, while standing on one foot is plenty.

Yoga

“Ok but what about the giant Buddha on the wall,” says anti-yoga writer.

I know people will disagree with me here, but I’m open to that.

Thought #1 I feel about Buddha or Shiva statues exactly as I do about pink flamingoes in your yard. You like them, but they are meaningless to me. I love to shop at Pier 1 and there are a thousand Buddhas in there. Should I avoid that store? Am I really that suggestible? Do people follow Jesus because they saw a cross once? Come now.

I think the average Pier 1 shopper, (certainly not all, but many) who buy Buddha statues, exhibit the same dedication to Buddhism they do to Christianity – observing the easy parts, and ignoring the hard ones. I know some committed Buddhists, and they are remarkably disciplined. Spiritual devotion will cost you deeply. Statues at Pier 1 will cost you $12.95.

Photo: Ann Harkness

This costs something. Photo: Ann Harkness

Thought #2 –  My goal is to be so filled with the light and love of Jesus that you won’t see me anymore, you’ll only see him – certainly a lifelong and costly endeavor. Therefore, when I walk into a yoga studio, a medium security prison full of maximum security offenders, or down the street in Santa Cruz California, a town known for it’s tolerance of every possible spiritual practice, my aim is to be as light there as I am anywhere else. Same person. Different place.

So do I teach “Christian yoga?” No. I teach yoga. Square your hips, engage your locks, drop your tailbone and hold for five breaths. Modify if you like, but dismiss the voices saying you can’t. And if you can hold hanumanasana and smile – rock on!

hanuman

Hanumanasana

The funny thing is, I work for a Christian NGO that sends me to Africa a couple times a year. Often, my yoga students, who may or may not be Christians, ask me about that, and I happily tell them about my job and my Jesus.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 1Peter 3:15

These conversations happen under a big picture of a silent Buddha. I have nothing against Buddha, in fact, my childhood nickname is Booda, but I follow Jesus because I need God to tell me, in real time, when to open my mouth and when to shut it, and that he loves me.

Jesus does that regularly.

yoga

Who is she worshipping? Maybe no one. Maybe she’s just holding Warrior I.

There are countless out of shape, stressed out, pharma-dependent Christians, whom yoga could help, but I think many are afraid to show up in a random class in case someone is bowing to Shiva, which they sometimes do.

But millions of Indians bow to Shiva every day, does that mean you should never go to India? What a pity. The Taj Mahal is awesome. Devotion is an act of will, into which nobody can trick or force you. Use your holy discernment.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.

II Timothy 1:7

Your polite, thoughtful comments are most welcome.

*As ever, my thoughts are my own, not those of my employer.

Advertisements

How to Quit Comparing

What's that to you

I read an article the other day about a spike in suicide rates among students at top US universities.

“Effortless perfection,” the article states, has become the unspoken goal of many young, high-achieving co-eds. Anything short of it in academic, curricular and social endeavors is a shameful and unmanageable failure. At Stanford it even has a name –  the Duck Syndrome – because as the duck glides calmly across the water,  it paddles frantically below.

While posting the perfect selfie of course.

The story is sad on so many levels, but this post isn’t about why people take their lives, it’s about the  fantasy of “effortless perfection.”

Even though that is the dumbest oxymoron in history, it tricks me all the time. I space out and scroll while Sam feeds the cows, letting the propaganda wash over me like green slime.

“Maybe I should decorate the living room like that, or do more side planks like Gillian, or drink coconut water and cleanse.” Then of course, I do none of those things and my subconscious whips me like a rented mule.

I know the behavior is absurd and so do you.

But when your face breaks out and your double chin shows, do you put that on Facebook? There’s no Instagram filter that can hide your muffin tops in a cute group photo, so you delete it.  And when you’re at the county jail visiting your kid for the 22nd time, do you check in?  Who does that?

Nobody.

That everybody crafts an online image is hardly news, but to blame Facebook for being a big, fat liar is like blaming Budweiser for your hangover – it contributed certainly, but it isn’t the problem.

The problem is we’re insecure, jealous, a little bit lost and looking for someone to lead us out of the woods.

Jesus’ friends had the same problem.

One morning while making breakfast on the beach, Jesus was talking to Peter about how hard Peter’s life was about to become. Just then, John appeared. John, as you may recall, referred to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved.” Doesn’t that sound just like your friend who gags you with her “perfect child” posts, especially when yours is being a jerk?

What about that guy, Peter asked Jesus. How’s it going to go for him?

How about you mind your own biscuits Peter, Jesus answered, kind of.  Not really, here’s the real scripture.

“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

If you’re wandering around lost in the woods, it’s natural to get bent out of shape with people who don’t seem lost at all.  But since you have no idea what my real life looks like, lamenting your condition, even subconsciously, in the light of what I show you on Facebook, is foolishness. It’s a distraction from the one who can actually lead you out of the woods.

And why not follow someone who describes himself as all-knowing?

If you’re not a Jesus-guy, I get that, but who do you follow when you’re lost? Yourself? Your friends? Hipsters on Instagram? Your cousin’s pastor on Facebook? How do you know they aren’t just as lost as you, frantically paddling like the young women at Stanford and Penn State?

11703150_1620251631549334_6345790506019789908_n

What John got right about Jesus is this: He was as deep in the woods as Peter. He didn’t know how it was going to end, but he laid back, right against Jesus’ chest and rested in the midst of it. Never a bad idea.

I think a lot of people would like Jesus better if they quit following his followers and just followed him instead. Jesus explains how to do that in the gospels a lot better than your friends do on Facebook.

Don’t go to bed mad, shut your mouth, forgive people when they don’t deserve it, don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff, learn what mercy is, follow me. Trust me. I’ll show you.

It’s such an amazing offer, really.  So next time you catch yourself sinking in the face of some effortlessly perfect status update, take a cue from Jesus.

“What is that to you? You follow me!”

On Loving People In Line

Photo Credit Buzac Marius

Photo Credit Buzac Marius

On Friday, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up stuff for a BBQ. I had several things in my basket, when a guy with a case of beer got in line behind me. I offered to let him go first because I like it when people do that for me. He did and said thanks.

When the clerk rang up his Miller Lite he said, “Oh I thought it was on sale.”

“Well it is,” she replied. “But you need a Brookshires card.”

“Oh dang.”

I had my Brookshires card in my hand so I reached over and gave it to the clerk. She scanned it and the guy got four bucks off his beer. I like it when people do that for me too.

Then he said something to me that may be the point of this story.

“It’s kind of lame they make you have a card for something they’ve already put on sale anyway.”

“But it’s cool they give you points towards your gas though,” I said. “I saved like 50 cents a gallon last week.”

“Oh wow, that’s a lot,” he said, thanking me and grabbing his beer.

I’m not telling this story to impress you with my goodness in grocery store lines, because I am often hurried and cranky and I don’t let people go ahead of me. But after he left I realized, I used to be that guy and I’m not anymore.

Countless times I have ignored the obvious goodness in front of me to talk about something dumb – like The Man, who could easily have put the beer on sale for everybody, but what a silly thing to talk about. Especially since, the Bible says the power of life and death are in the tongue and what we speak, we’ll eat. Yikes, I don’t want to eat that. This, I think, is a small but good example of the broad destructive path Jesus talked about. Unfortunately, it’s a factory default for many of us.

The narrow path Jesus commends, is patient and generous and speaks life even, and perhaps especially, in the grocery store line when nobody sees it coming.

Photo Credit: Richard Freeman

Photo Credit: Richard Freeman

We forget our lives are like rocks tossed into a pond, and there are ripples all around us. More on that later, but consider for a second what sort of ripples your life is making. In your grocery store, your office, your community.

This is what I think it looks like to operate in the Kingdom of God. It is, in part, to be kind and generous with strangers and reframe meaningless small talk into something that sends good ripples through the water.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Can you imagine yourself in Walmart being patient, kind and self-controlled without white-knuckling it or being smug about it later? That’s high level. I’m not there yet, I’m still practicing at Brookshires. And I certainly hope you don’t hear smug in this post, but rather excitement and the joy of possibility.

See, I am different now in the grocery store because Jesus has reset my defaults. I operated in the fruit of the spirit Friday without really trying and only noticed it in hindsight. Because of Jesus, I found myself walking the narrow path as though I’ve been there all along.

How cool is that?

Happy Sunday.