My experience with yoga and vision for Christian yoga ministry
By Angie Eunjoo Lee
Why Yoga? Most workout programs and our daily lifestyles are go, go, go, busy and fast. Yoga is different. Yoga gives us time away and helps us focus on movement, mind, and breath. It is time with you and God. Jennie Zach, author of Christian Yoga, says, "One of Christian yoga’s greatest benefits is how it creates an environment for meditation and sets an imperative for deliberate focus and intention of the mind.” 1
Why do I like yoga? I have been practicing yoga at home with a DVD since 2004 and have been attending sessions at a studio since last fall. Honestly, my first motivation was to shape up my bodyline. However, the more I practice, the more I recognize that yoga not only improve my body posture, strength and flexibility, but also relieved my stress. It helps me be focused and relaxed. Coming to my yoga mat became one of my favorite things to do.
Practicing yoga is relaxing as well as energizing, although some movements can be challenging. Any physical movements or exercises benefit our emotional and spiritual health. However, especially with yoga, it is so true. I can tell from my experience that yoga has a great connection into our heart, our minds, and our soul.
Yoga helps me to be calm, quiet, and be still. Like Psalm 46:10 says, stillness and calmness helps us to know who God is.
Some people have asked me -- I questioned myself, too — if yoga is religion. As I understand, yoga is not religion, but it can be. I can say it creates moving meditation. As a Christian, my meditation is on God and His Words. From my experience, yoga helps me to feel anchored onto “Ground of Being” 2 and helps me be still to feel the presence of God. 3
For example, Yoga will give you time to breathe deeply. In Hindu yoga, some methods of breath control seek to liberate the soul from the constraints of the body which is illusion and union or yoking with Ultimate reality. However, when I, as a Christian, do breathing exercise, I think of God’s breath that was breathed into me when He created me. 4 When I breathe in, I breathe God’s breath. When I breathe out, I praise God for the breath He gave and the life that I have in Him. I believe we should breathe deeply and purposefully because that is the way God designed our bodies to function. Breathing deeply allows us to feel ourselves become more alive.
Culture, such as literature, art, music, sports, etc., has religious and philosophical dimensions. When Christians encounter other cultures which originated from different religions, they can be embracing and creative. There are many examples. One of the most beautiful examples is the celebration of Christmas on Dec. 25.
Another example that I can give from my experience is the “Ancestors Memorial Service” in Korea. When missionaries came to Korea, they developed “Ancestors Memorial Service” to contextualize Christianity into Korean culture, in which people used to worship their ancestors. They used the same method from their own culture with a different theology.
Many people do yoga anyway either with or without awareness of the philosophical and religious background. According to Yoga Journal survey in 2008, there were 5.8 million yoga practitioners in the U.S., but the latest figure shows that 20.4 million Americans are now practicing -- about 8.7 percent of U.S. adults.5 Having a Christian Yoga class in the church is my intention to contextualize Christianity in this movement, and I hope it will help Christians to do postures and flows as a method of practicing Christian theology.
I have a vision of Christian Yoga as a new ministry at Bloomington Wesley. When I was newly appointed to Bloomington Wesley UMC as an associate pastor July 1, 2015, people asked me if I could teach yoga. I was thinking, “What??? Doing yoga with a microphone on the stage??? Wearing a yoga pants in front of my church folks??? No Way!!” Yet, I took courage to do that, because I love to share the benefit of yoga with people. Rev. Vaughn Hoffman, the directing pastor, and Wesley staff supported me and helped make it happen. We had 68 people in the first class. I heard no class has ever drawn that many people (except food, maybe).
I start class with reading Scriptures and quote to set the tone of the day and end with a prayer. I send off people with invitation, saying, “We practice yoga as a Christian Spiritual formation. The highlight of our spiritual formation is worship. Our worship hours are Sunday at 9 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. Now let us rise up from our mat and live our life in the way that Christ intends us to live and make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Christian Yoga class at Wesley UMC provides a safe atmosphere to do yoga in Christian faith. This class is intended to help people practice yoga that is centered onto Christ. It encourages people to be calm, focused, and renewed in the presence of God. Through conscious breathing, movement, and meditation, people can appreciate that their body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. This ministry may reach more people and diverse people that we could not reach without it. I pray this ministry may help people to set aside the time for self-care, to be away from daily busyness, to be calm, to be relaxed, and to feel God’s presence and His Spirit.
1 Zach, Jennie; Chalfant, Courtney (2007-10-20). Christian Yoga: Restoration for Body and Soul - An illustrated Guide to Self-Care (Kindle Locations 1091-1092). Hudson House. Kindle Edition.
2 Paul Tillich, theologian, explains God as “Ground of Being.”
3 “Be still and know that I am God” ~Psalm 40:6, NRSV
4 “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.” ~Genesis 2:7, NRSV