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Christians Practising Yoga (academic essay)




Yoga and Christianity:  A Christian Response to Christian Objections?

 

Introduction

 

“I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself.” wrote St.Paul. Yoga in the modern Western world is rapidly growing in popularity and yet some Christians are very wary of yoga deeming it ‘unclean’.[1]  The objections are multifarious but essentially decry yoga as defying Christian doctrine, personally jeopardising the status of one’s soul and the place of Christianity in the world.[2]  The range of objections might reflect the diversity in the Yoga tradition along with the ‘polyvalent teachings’ propagated in modern Western forms of yoga practice, making study of these two traditions less than straightforward. [3]

 

However this essay seeks to recognise and answer the objections by investigating the links between the wider Yoga tradition and Modern Postural Yoga (MPY) to show that many  objections are levelled at the wider tradition and the transmission phase.  Secondly it will bring understanding to the differing forms of MPY and lastly it will seek to outline, with the help of Jean-Marie Dechanet, how yoga might be ‘clean’ and fit for use by the Christian.[4]  This essay is not concerned with merging the Yoga tradition with the Christian tradition as there are complexities and ambiguities and syncretism is one of the objections from some Christians.[5] Nor is there the scope to analyse the role of pranayama (breathwork) or to analyse the experiences and benefits, but rather to establish a framework for how a Christian might carefully set out to engage in yoga practice.  Ultimately it suggests that some forms of MPY are preferable over others and that orthodox Christian doctrine and belief can be fully retained so that yoga practice is an ‘working out’ of a Christian’s pre-existant relationship with God.

 


The Yoga Tradition and Christian Objections


This section aims to give us an understanding of what is meant today by ‘yoga’ as many Christians conflate modern yoga with the Yoga tradition (Yoga understood as a philosophical and ethical system of thought rather than modern yoga which refers to yoga asana or postural practice).  

The roots of Yoga are murky and there are many forms of the Yoga in the wider tradition.  Added to this complexity Yoga is also a relatively recent field of academic study in the West making a comprehensive overview challenging for secular scholars.[6]  This issue of complexity is in itself a challenge to Christians seeking to understand the roots and generalisations are all too easy.  John Piper a highly influential voice on the Christian right admits before speaking out about yoga that his views are on the basis of the “little I know and little research I’ve done [on yoga]”.[7]  Dechanet, the Catholic priest who engaged in Yoga in the mid Twentieth century attests to the labour he undertook to disengage a number of practices from their Eastern matrix.  If the Christian is to walk in the Pauline freedom that considers all things ‘clean’ then there must be a degree of engagement even if it is laborious.

 

One main argument levelled against yoga by Christians is that it is Hindu.  Albert Mohler argues that yoga cannot be fully extricated from its spiritual roots in Hinduism.[8]  However scholars disagree as to when and where we might speak about yoga as a concrete form.  The first signs can be found in the Sramanical (Hindu mystical) tradition and some scholars can trace evidence of it as far back as the Indus Valley to c.3500 BCE.[9]  Others cite Vedic texts of 1500bce where although the word yoga is absent, the disciplines explained in later yoga manuals were probably practiced in Vedic times.[10]   In the later Upanishads c.500-300 B.C.E. the word ‘yoga’ properly appears (meaning ‘union or yoking’) and by the fourth century C.E. Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina texts all reference explicit yoga practices.[11]   This reveals that the developing forms of Yoga arose in Hinduism, but by the time it was more fully articulated it was detected within different faith traditions and not just Hinduism.[12] 

 

The Yoga tradition does not seem to have one agreed authoritative source that can be examined and disputed which further makes investigative study a complex affair.  Those who seek a traditional Yoga often look to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras which were compiled in the third to fifth century C.E.[13]  However this corpus is not a coherent system of thought but rather a collection of 195 aphorisms explaining Yoga as an eight limbed system as a form of self understanding and way of being in the world.[14]   Whilst some modern academics claim it is a Classic Yoga text, Mark Singleton reminds us that is it one among many texts, such as the Hathapradipika, the Bhaagavad Gita or the Upanishads and may not be as authoritative as many assume.[15]  Modern Western forms of yoga are said to derive from Hatha yoga (c.1200 C.E. onwards) which was based on the Patanjalian system but Jim Mallinson observes that the Hatha corpus is not united doctrinally and doesn’t seem to belong to any one yoga school and so again there is a lack of unity regarding the literary sources for Yoga.[16] 

 

So whilst Mohler and others might not be correct in locating Yoga solely within the Hindu tradition, there is the general concern amongst those Christians who are ‘Yogaphobic’ to coin a term used by Yoga scholar Andrea Jain, that Yoga philosophy derives from ‘Indian metaphysical belief’.[17]  These beliefs center upon the problem of suffering and the desire for liberation from this problem which is found by following a certain philosophical and ethical path.  The “perceived problem” described by Yoga has a more unified definition among scholars, where the central concern is the relationship between the two fundamental experiences of a person, between the material and non-material realms of life which arise because of ignorance.[18]  Such ignorance leads to suffering when the higher realm of non-matter and the immaterial self is ignored.[19]  Traditional Yoga philosophy seeks to reconcile these two realms by bringing awareness to the immaterial realm and a detachment from the material realm in order to alleviate suffering. The human project is to pursue the eightfold path, that Georg Feuerstein argues are overlapping ‘functional units’ as an ethical and philosophical path that ultimately leads a person to samadhi (liberative consciousness).

 

Christians take issue over the problem, the path and the goal outlined above.  Ravi Zacharias the Christian apologist decries ‘ignorance’ being the central problem for a person over the Christian proposition that it is ‘sin’ and indeed the role of ‘ignorance’ in biblical material is no excuse for sin.[20]   David Powlinson explains that the desire to detach oneself from the world and its suffering is contrary to the teachings of Jesus who felt, ‘grieved and atoned for the suffering of the world’ and that the goal of self-mastery is a stoic goal that ignores the ‘saving grace’ of Christ.[21]  Piper explains that salvation for the Christian is already given by God, through Christ who through his incarnation, death and resurrection objectively dealt with the human problem of real guilt and real evil, rather than self-worked liberative consciousness.[22]  Whilst this essay also argues for maintaining Christian orthodox belief it will later explain that not all forms of MPY are based on Indian metaphysical belief.  The fact that asana (postural practice) which is prioritized in MPY and represents only one of the eight limbs of traditional Yoga already speaks of the modern difference.

 

There are particular Christian objections leveled at asana and role of the body which seem to obviously relate to the Yoga tradition.  Where the body in the Tantric tradition (400-1000 CE practiced by Hindus and Buddhists) promoted the body to deification, the later Hatha tradition by contrast held that the body was to be transcended.[23]  Albert Mohler argues that Yoga’s understanding of the body is at odds with Christianity’s on the basis that yoga, unlike Christianity, sees the body as the site of connection with the divine.  He claims that Christianity rather calls believers not to empty their minds and focus upon the body, but rather upon the Word of God which is revealed to believers as a gift.[24]  This echoes the concern from the Catholic church which at one point labelled MPY as “The Cult of the Body”.[25]  Conversely Douglas R.Groothuis decries the depersonalizing and dehumanizing practice of yoga that eliminates the body.[26]  It is unclear as to whether these concerns about the elevating or eliding of the body are specifically connected with the hatha or tantric traditions but what is interesting is that objections levelled at MPY today are confused and  conflate the Yoga tradition with MPY which as we will shortly see is not ideal. 

 

What is interesting for the Christian to glean from this complexity is that the history of the Yoga tradition is varied with different schools emphasizing different parts of the eightfold path and giving different understandings to the body.  Furthermore, different (Eastern) religions were able to use the Yoga tradition and to innovate transforming it for their own purposes according to their own religious set of beliefs.  We will shortly see how the Yoga tradition mutated again as it was taken to the West by the likes of B.K.S. Iyengar, Swami Vivekananda and Patabi Jois prioritizing asana above the other ‘limbs’.  This “mutable, plural and innovative” dimension of the Yoga in the past and also MPY forms should at least invite the Christian into a dialogue to see if modern yoga might again be transformed into something ‘clean’ and useful for the Christian.[27] 

Whilst the Yogaphobic position is wary of yoga and perhaps fails to recognise the benefits of a ‘flexible system’, similarly the Hindu origins position decries the corruption of an ‘authentic Hindu system’ as it looks at modern iterations of the Yoga tradition.[28]  Both these positions rely on an understanding of yoga that is a homogenous static Hindu based system which Jain refutes and says that the protest cannot stand up to serious historical scrutiny as the term yoga is so broad and mutable and yoga has been so plural.[29]  John Sheveland is one such Christian who claims that the universality of yoga isn’t innately religious, theological or dependent on a faith commitment but rather the yogic goals are “spiritual, humanistic and psychological”.[30] He therefore claims that Christians by practicing yoga (but certain more secular forms of MPY) are not assenting to a rival faith or revelation but might shape it towards their own ends.[31]  This attitude of possibility should be encouraged rather than one that is based on fear as the Christian is called not to fear but to grow up into Christ in all things whilst exercising discernment.[32]

Yoga evolves into Modern Postural Yoga


To make things easier for those with objections, this essay proposes that MPY is something quite distinct from the wider Yoga tradition which is obviously connected to Eastern belief systems and whilst some MPY has overt teaching on Eastern and even New Age philosophy, there exist those forms that are ‘clean’ and offered primarily for exercise and therapeutic benefit.  When the Western world speaks of  ‘yoga’ it is speaking of the physical exercises that are known in the wider Yoga tradition as asana (postures).   Asana is the third of the eight limbs and yet Patanjali only devoted three of his sutras to asana and so MPY shows a radical departure in its priorities.  Furthermore where MPY offers more than two hundred varied postures, the early Yoga tradition only cited twelve seated postures and non-seated postures were not described until the 1500’s and it was not until the 1700’s that we find the classic 84 asanas that are now seen as central in MPY.[33]  Gudrun Buhnemann even argues that the postures used in MPY are not directly based on any known coherent textual tradition.[34]  So we can see that asana has been prioritized and developed over time to elevate it in answer to Western concerns with the ‘body beautiful’ and ‘physical fitness culture’.[35]

 

All modern yoga scholars recognize a significant disconnect between Yoga tradition and yoga asana today.  Elizabeth deMichelis claims that MPY which prioritises asana is essentially decontextualized from the wider ethical, spiritual and philosophical concerns of Yoga and given priority (albeit commercial) so that what is practised has moved a long way from the earlier Yoga tradition.[36]  Mark Singleton and Andrea Jain argue that MPY is a form of its own and that it departs not only from early Yoga but the history of Yoga in general emerging primarily as a result of India’s ‘dialogical encounter’ with the worldwide physical exercise movement.[37]  This is due to developments in India in the twentieth century when Iyer, Sundaram and Palasker innovated in the use of asana in conjunction with Swedish gymnastics, bodybuilding and also the YMCA’s fitness programmes.[38]  At the same time in the West, prefiguring forms of MPY can be found in harmonial gymnastics, Delsartism, Gymnastik as well as Calisthenics.[39]  Feuerstein even sees MPY as a ‘perversion’ of the Yoga tradition because of its detachment to the wider philosophy echoing concerns of the Hindu right.[40]  Whilst the Hindu right might not be so happy, the Christian who wishes to practice yoga might be reassured by the possibility of detaching MPY from its Eastern philosophical tradition.

 

However Yoga was enculturated in the West largely through New Age vehicles and so there are those Christians like Mark O’Driscoll and Groothuis who warn that yoga has “occult assumptions” and is part of the New Age movement.[41]  Yoga has for several decades been regarded in the Christian West as a New Age practice that is comparable to other New Age practices like Tarot, astrology and Buddhism.[42]  DeMichelis explains how New Age literature and yoga literature were disseminated by the same bookstores at the turn of the last century and Suzanne Newcombe relates how the explosion of interest in Indian spirituality including yoga in the late 1960’s by celebrities including the Beatles received much media attention cementing this connection.[43]   However, as Singleton notes, whilst MPY seems to represent a ‘direct historical succession’ from regimes that are associated with the wider New Age movement yoga has in time been interpreted within a physical culture rather than a spiritual one.[44]  

 

There are those Christians like Sheveland who understand the distinction between the transnational yoga that has been ‘mediated’ by New Age spirituality and yet is ‘distinct’ from it.[45]  What is perhaps a little confusing to the onlooker is the openness and interest of yoga followers that are followers of Eastern and New Age spiritualities.  This is due to the fact that MPY still offers potential for spiritual interpretation and engagement and is therefore attractive to those who see themselves as ‘spiritual’.   Suzanne Hasselle-Newcombe recently conducted research on modern Iyengar[46] practitioners and found that practitioners are more likely to hold Buddhist or New Age beliefs than no belief, and fewer would hold traditionally religious beliefs, (Church of England) than are represented in British society at large.[47]  So it is fair to say that yoga at least attracts those with spiritual interests and can therefore be spiritual, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that all MPY forms are innately spiritual, although some forms can certainly offer ‘spiritual’ teachings.

 

However, as Hasselle-Newcombe argues from her research, yoga does not seem to change the pre-existing beliefs of the practitioner.[48]  She found that modern practitioners have a greater spiritual experience if they already have a ‘pre-existing orientation towards spirituality’ when they began practicing and that their experience of a spiritual dimension tended to be in relation to these pre-existing beliefs and goals.[49]  Modern Yoga is described by deMichelis as being privatized and commodified so that the pre-existing spiritual or religious beliefs might be brought to bear upon personal practice.[50]  This is good news for the concerned Christian as she may approach ‘clean’ forms of MPY with her pre-existing Christian beliefs, knowing that yoga offers an opportunity not only for physical and therapeutic benefit but also perhaps for deeper spiritual experience that is in agreement with her personal credo. 

 

The ‘spiritual experience’ that is common and available to all practitioners of MPY and requires no actual religious or spiritual beliefs is to do with the therapeutic or psychosomatic experience of MPY.  B.K.S.Iyengar, one of the foundational teachers of transnational yoga to a Western audience, departed from the traditional yogic understanding that sought to separate the body from the immaterial dimension of a person and rather taught about the ‘interpenetration’ of the body with the inner dimensions of a person which he called ‘sheaths’.[51]  Andrea Jain describes the unifying element in MPY as the ‘deeming of the body as sacred’ where the commonality in most MPY classes is a sequence of asanas that are synchronized with pranayama (breath work) which provide a sacred experience.[52]  DeMichelis promotes modern postural yoga as a way a secular person might have “experiential access to the sacred” in modern cultures that no longer promote traditional religious belief and opportunities.[53]  However for the Christian this psychosomatic opportunity can be a springboard to a richer embodied Christian spirituality when married with Christian belief and doctrine as we will soon explore.

 

Western scientific enquiry has affirmed the physical and psychosomatic benefits of MPY.  Bessel Van Der Kolk extols the virtues of yoga practice in aiding those people who experience trauma somatically in his explanatory titled book, The Body Keeps the Score.[54]   Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction says that when people develop the capacity to relax and stabilize the mind, that as awareness of what is going on in the body and in the person grows, often the problems will sort themselves out, by bringing awareness to the problems.  Yoga invites the stressed out citizen of the modern world to engage in the practice of ‘creative non-doing’ as Kabat-Zinn calls it.[55]  This focused conscious awareness changes the quality of the lived experience of a person.[56]

 

Singleton explains how the transnational yoga teacher Yogendra refashioned yoga into a curative practice which is ‘rational, utilitarian and scientific’.[57]   It would be fair to say that a key reason for the rise in popularity of modern yoga comes from viewing asana within a scientific framework where MPY has been measured in terms of its therapeutic value.[58]   Whilst Newcombe suggests the association MPY has with an ‘ancient spiritual tradition’ appeals to some practitioners, she along with other scholars recognise  that MPY also appeals because of the belief in scientific and wellbeing benefits.[59]  This perspective might encourage the wary Christian to approach those forms of MPY that speak about scientifically proven physical and psychosomatic benefits, rather than connections with the Eastern philosophical tradition.   

 

Considering which forms of MPY might be ‘clean’ is a key question for the Christian. DeMichelis elucidates five types of MPY that can be found today in her book A History of Modern Yoga as being postural (emphasising posture regardless of ideologies),  psychosomatic (promoted by Iyengar and Vivekananda), neo-Hindu, (incorporating nationalist and religious ideals), meditational (containing explicit ideological content in meditation focussed groups) and denominational (focussing on doctrine and often that taught by a particular guru). [60]  The forms of MPY that prioritise the physical and psychosomatic aspects of yoga practice might therefore be ‘clean’ for the Christian whereas any neo-Hindu, meditational and denominational forms might well compromise the Christian in terms of challenging pre-existing beliefs.

 


Christian Framework

 

In order to make modern yoga practice ‘clean’ not only does the Christian need to choose the forms that are void of Eastern spiritual teachings but also to establish the foundations that make a practice essentially Christian.  In agreement with the ‘Yogaphobic’ voice, Dechanet, the father of “Christian Yoga” believed that the religious and philosophical systems of Buddhism and Hinduism that are propagated through Yoga were “absolutely incompatible” and “disturbingly” at odds with Christian dogma.[61]  He spoke about needing to remove the postures from their “Brahmanic atmosphere” and to restore them to a “pristine condition”.[62]  Whilst asana is essentially part of the wider Yoga tradition, what Dechanet means by ‘restoring’ is more akin to stripping them of their philosophical context so that they are neither a form of religion or mysticism in themselves, but rather can be used as a “discipline and skill in the service of Christian belief” as a technique to enrich Christian experience.[63] 

 

Dechanet spoke about the importance of the Christian’s yoga practice being done ‘within the grace of God’ where the Christian God is already and always established and present to the Christian.  The holistic benefits and spiritual experience will therefore amplify the divine-human relationship which is already establishedAsana is a technique that enables a person to ‘unfold’ or experience that grace (rather than a means of attaining to divinity).[64]  Thomas Ryan the Paulist Father echoes Dechanet’s attitude when he writes more recently that the God-centred life is already established by the “saving work” of Christ and that yoga is a ‘technique’ that serves to bring an ‘experience’ of this God to the Christian.[65]  Contemporary Protestant and yoga teacher Christine Pickering similarly speaks about her experience of yoga being a ‘complementary path’ to her Christian faith which is not an end in itself, but a means to knowing the Christian God.[66]  Asana understood as technique to further knowledge of God might be comparable to prayer, worship or other generic religious rituals which can be an essentially neutral ‘vehicle’ that in itself is ‘clean’ that is used to ‘unfold’ (understand and participate in) Christian doctrine and faith so that it can be experienced.

 

Dechanet distinguishes between purely physical exercise like gymnastics and yoga which teaches ‘awareness’ and ‘slow and steady’ engagement which ‘re-collects’ the fragmented dimensions of being human, so that body, mind and soul are knit together.[67]  Thomas Ryan similarly explains how the re-creation of the unity of the self enables a person to find God more truly from this deeper engagement with the self.[68]  This is so that a person can be more ‘whole’ and therefore present herself to God ‘more fully’ and so comprehend Him in a deeper richer way.[69]   It is this aspect of MPY that is considered therapeutic where a person can experience their inner workings through external postures and echoing Iyengar’s human ontology.  For the Christian the therapeutic possibility of ‘reuniting’ anima, animus and spiritus also becomes a spiritual one Dechanet explains.[70]

 

For Dechanet, reliance on Christian ‘credo’ is vital.  He outlines Christian beliefs where God is not the abstract ‘Self’, ‘Absolute’, ‘Universal Soul’, ‘Impersonal Infinite’ of Eastern tradition which are ‘vague’ descriptions in contrast to a more concrete understanding of God as Father (of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob who is still Father to the believer), his Son Jesus (in whom the Christian is hidden and also becoming like) and God is Spirit (who is experienced in the life of the Christian).[71]  Ryan describes how for a Christian the self, whilst participating in God, is not identical with God so that the Eastern goal of experiencing divinity as a form of liberative consciousness within and allowing it to shine out as a ‘clear jewel’ (to reference Patanjali) has no possibility other than through participation with the God who is beyond, has been incarnated  in Christ and is experienced by the help of the Holy spirit within a person.[72]  There are those would still disagree with Dechanet’s Christian Yoga like Dr.Christine Mangala Frost having tried and rejected it, but this is because too much awareness of herself made her ‘uncomfortable’ rather than disputing Dechanet’s approach.[73]

 

The spiritual opportunities that arise can be described in two main ways outlined below although it isn’t the purpose of this essay to explore and critique each form.  Whilst MPY can be preparation for further meditation, bible study and prayer, it can also be used as meditation-in-action and the testimonies of the benefits seem to suggest both are important.[74]   Dechanet speaks about the global experience of the Christian who practices yoga as feeling more ‘whole’ and ‘contented’, ‘receptive to God’ and more ‘generously disposed’ to Christian service so that Christian calling is more faithful and sure.[75]  Ryan articulates that what is being aimed for in yoga is not a ‘deeper understanding’ of Christian truth, but rather a ‘direct intuitive experience’ of truth where yoga ‘centers’ a person and makes them more ‘present’.[76]   Pickering states that yoga is a ‘means’ of knowing God in whom the Christian is already ‘complete’, not the ‘end’ itself and that yoga can be ‘harnessed’ to enrich Christian meditation in terms of meditation in action and preparation for further Christian meditation.[77]  These three teachers claim some forms of MPY can be ‘clean’ and can  unites a person within themselves, unite her with God during practice and prepares her for further meditation and service exemplifying how yoga can greatly enrich Christian spirituality.

 


Conclusion

 

This essay recognizes the objections of those Christians fearful of practicing yoga, but has sought to offer greater clarity to the Christian who is willing to explore the possibilities of yoga not only for physical benefit but also therapeutic and spiritual benefit.  The task requires a degree of labour on the part of the Christian to find something ‘clean’ emerging from the wider Yoga tradition, tracing a path through New Age connections into modern concerns for physical and therapeutic wellbeing.   The Christian who has an open and investigative attitude

rather than fearful and cursory one will be the one to draw helpful conclusions.

 

The wider Yoga tradition in its divers forms was certainly based upon an Eastern metaphysical philosophy which is at odds with Christianity, although Yoga reveals itself to be a flexible and innovative vehicle that for centuries could be adapted to the needs of the religion or subsect practicing Yoga.  This same diversity of forms is found in modern postural yoga and whilst this means that a full understanding of the wider Yoga tradition and MPY is beyond most people’s grasp, that Yoga is flexible and innovative lends itself to Christian exploration at the very least.

 

MPY offers polyvalent forms to the practitioner but those which prioritise the physical and therapeutic dimensions are certainly the ones to explore as a Christian.   The Christian who is able to remain faithful to Christian doctrine and belief and will find her pre-existing beliefs will be given a greater experiential dimension through MPY practice.  MPY beyond providing physical and therapeutic value offers a holistic experience to a person where body, soul and spirit are ‘knit’ together in order to for the Christian to be more fully present to God and enjoy a richer embodied experience.  This can be as ‘meditation in action’ as well as preparation for further Christian prayer, meditation or study.  Those Christians who remain committed to Christian credo and teach and practice yoga according to this model attest to the enrichment it gives.  In a Western secular culture that is frantic and stressful and possibly sees Christianity as irrelevant and restrictive, modern postural yoga offers a readily available, widely accessible and democratic form of embodied practice that Christians might use for their own benefit as well as a possible vehicle to minister to a secular world.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Bible

 

Bullock, Craig. Open Wider the Door: the Intersection of Kriya Yoga and Mystical Christianity, (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 27 April 2018), self published.

 

De Mello, Anthony, Sadhana, a Way to God : Christian Exercises in Eastern Form, (New York: Image Books, 1984).

 

De Michelis, Elisabeth. A History of Modern Yoga, (London: Continuum, 2004).

 

Dechanet, Jean-Marie. Christian Yoga,  (London: Search Press Limited, 1960).

 

Feuerstein, Georg. The Yoga Tradition: It’s History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice by Georg, (Arizona: Hohm Press, 2013).

 

Guptara, Prahbu, and Osmaston, Amiel. A Christian Option,

 

Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on Life: The Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace and Ultimate Freedom, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2019).

 

Jain, Andrea. Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture, Print publication date: 2014Print ISBN-13: 9780199390236Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2014 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199390236.001.0001, accessed 8/10/2019

 

Jain, Andrea. Who Is to Say Modern Yoga Practitioners Have It All Wrong? On Hindu Origins and Yogaphobia,online article: https://academic.oup.com/jaar/article/82/2/427/812870, accessed 9/10/2019.

 

Key Chapple, Christopher. Yoga and the Luminous: Patanjali’s Spiritual Path to Freedom, (New York: SUNY Press, 2008).

 

Newcombe, (Hasselle-Newcombe) Suzanne. Spirituality and ‘Mystical Religion’ in Contemporary Society: A Case Study of British Practitioners of the Iyengar Method of Yoga, Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 20, No. 3, 2005.

 

Suzanne Newcombe, The Development of Modern Yoga: A Survey of the Field, version of article published in ReligionCompass2009,https://www.academia.edu/638083/The_Development_of_Modern_Yoga_A_Survey_of_the_Field, accessed 21/11/2019.

 

Newcombe, Suzanne. Yoga in Britain: Stretching Spirituality and Educating Yogis, (Sheffield: Equinox, 2019).

 

Mallinson, James. and Singleton, Mark. Roots of Yoga, (London: Penguin, 2017).

 

Mangala Frost, Christine. Yoga and the Christian Faith, https://www.iocs.cam.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/m_frost_yoga_and_christianity.pdf, accessed 9/11/2019.

 

Mathew, John V. To ‘Yoke or not to Yoke’: Yoga and its Implication for Christian Spirituality and Missions, accessed on Academia.edu https://www.academia.edu/35142187/Draft_Copy_of_Yoga_and_its_

Implication_for_Christian_Spirituality.docx  p.1,accessed 21/11/2019.

 

Matus, Thomas. Yoga and the Jesus Prayer Tradition: An Experiment in Faith, (Ramsey N.J.: Paulist Press, 1984).

 

Mohler, Albert.  The Subtle Body – Should Christians Practice Yoga? https://albertmohler.com/2010/09/20/the-subtle-body-should-christians-practice-yoga/, accessed 2/10/2019.

 

Pickering, Christine. Maranatha Yoga: A Preparation for Christian Meditation, (Dublin: Columba Books, 2019).

 

O’Brien, Justin. Christianity and Yoga: A Meeting of Mystic Paths, (London: Arkana, 1989).

 

Piper, John. Is Yoga Sinful? https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/is-yoga-sinful, accessed 22/11/2019.

 

Rose, Kenneth. Yoga, Meditation and Mysticism: Contemplative Universals and Meditative Landmarks, (London: Bloomsbury, 2016)

 

Powlinson, David. Can a Christian Practice Yoga to the Glory of God? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkkrPmHcBB8, accessed 2/11/2019.

 

Ryan, Thomas. Prayer of Heart and Body: Meditation and Yoga as Christian Spiritual Practice, (New York: Paulist Press, 1995).

 

Sheveland, John. Is Yoga Religious? Spiritual Roots of a Physical Practice, on Academia.edu https://www.academia.edu/4360462/Is_Yoga_Religious accessed 03/12/2020.

 

Sheveland, John. The Meaningfulness of Yoga to Christian Discipleship. https://www.theway.org.uk/back/473Sheveland.pdf accessed 14/10/2020

 

Singleton, Mark. Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, (Oxford: OUP, 2010).

 

Singleton, Mark and Mallinson, Jim. Roots of Yoga, (London: Penguin, 2017).

 

Snowber, Celeste. Embodied Prayer: Toward Wholeness of Body Mind Soul, (Kelowna B.C.: Northstone Publishing, 2004).

 

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Van Der Kolk, Bessel. The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, (London: Penguin, 2014).

 

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REFERENCES

[1] Albert Mohler, The Subtle Body: Should Christians Practice Yoga? https://albertmohler.com/2010/09/20/the-subtle-body-should-christians-practice-yoga/ accessed 2/10/2019, represents a generalising voice of objection claiming that the Christian is faced with two options: either she must be ignorant of the reality of yoga or must be in denial about contradictions.  He claims that practising yoga means risking one’s Christian faith so that one creates a kind of post Christian spiritually polygot reality.

[2] Andrea Jain, Who Is to Say Modern Yoga Practitioners Have It All Wrong? On Hindu Origins and Yogaphobia, https://academic.oup.com/jaar/article/82/2/427/812870, accessed 9/10/2019, p.429.

[3] Objections include concerns about Yoga’s Eastern roots and underlying philosophies, its soteriological aims, the role and definition of the Divine, the focus upon the self and the role of the mind and body in achieving Yoga goals to New Age connections and occultic demonic connections. 

   Elizabeth de Michelis, A History of Modern Yoga, (London: Contiuum, 2005), p.260.

[4] Jean-Marie Dechanet, Christian Yoga, (London: Search Press Limited, 1960).

[5]  Syncretized models of Christianity and Yoga might be represented by Justin O’Brien, Thomas Matus and Craig Bullock.

[6] Suzanne Hasselle-Newcombe, Spirituality and ‘Mystical Religion’ in Contemporary Society: A Case Study of British Practitioners of the Iyengar Method of Yoga, Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 20, No. 3, 2005, p.305.

   James Mallinson and Mark Singleton, Roots of Yoga, (London: Penguin, 2017), p.x-xi.

[7] Dechanet, Christian Yoga, p.4.

  John Piper, Is Yoga Sinful? https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/is-yoga-sinful, accessed 22/11/2019.

[8] Albert Mohler, The Subtle Body: Should Christians Practice Yoga? https://albertmohler.com/2010/09/20/the-subtle-body-should-christians-practice-yoga/ accessed 2/10/2019.

   Jain, Who is to Say Modern Yoga Practitioners Have it All Wrong? p.437, 439.

[9] Christopher Key Chapple, Yoga and the Luminous: Patanjali’s Spiritual Path to Freedom, (New York: SUNY Press, 2008), p.ix, 2.

   Mark Singleton, Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, (Oxford: OUP, 2010), p.25.

[10] Gopi Krishna, Yoga: A Vision of Its Future (New Delhi: Kundalini Research and Publication Trust, 1978), referenced in John V.Mathew, To ‘Yoke or not to Yoke’: Yoga and its Implication for Christian Spirituality and Missions, accessed on Academia.edu https://www.academia.edu/35142187/Draft_Copy_of_Yoga_and_its_

Implication_for_Christian_Spirituality.docx  p.1accessed 21/11/2019, p.1.

[11] Key Chapple, Yoga and the Luminous, p.2.

[12] John Sheveland, The Meaningfulness of Yoga to Christian Discipleship.  https://www.theway.org.uk/back/473Sheveland.pdf accessed 14/10/2020, p.52

   Mathew, p.2.

   Key Chapple, p.4, 26.                                                                                                                                                                      

   David Gordon White, Yoga, Brief History of an idea, http://assets.press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9565.pdf, accessed on 22/11/2019,p.5.

[13] Key Chapple, p.2.

[14] Key Chapple, p. 64-66 outlines The eightfold path as an ethical and philosophical way of living in this world that brings about the goal of detachment from the world (of matter).  The eight limbs include the yamas (teachings on restraint) and niyamas (teachings on awareness), asana (postures) as the third limb, with pranayama (breath work) being the fourth and pratyahara (withdrawal from the exterior world) being the fifth. The last three limbs are understood to be the ‘inner limbs’ and are concerned with inner meditative consciousness where dharana, (concentration) gives rise to a nourishing meditation upon a particular thing (material or nonmaterial) without much effort, dhyana, (meditation) culminating in the final phase of samadhi (absorption and liberation).

    Samhadi is the experience of liberative consciousness or absorption or union with atman (Universal Soul)

    p.6 references Feuerstein’s argument that the limbs are not stages but functional units that overlap.

[15] Mark Singleton, Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, p.26.

[16] Jim Mallinson, Ramanadi Tyagis and Hatha Yoga, in Journal of Vaishnava Studies 14,(1), p.107-121 as referenced by Singleton, p.27.

[17] John Piper, Is Yoga Sinful?.

    Andrea Jain, Who Is to Say Modern Yoga Practitioners Have It All Wrong? p.427.

[18] Key Chapple. p.3.

[19] A person, as a dynamic not static ‘self’ experiences ‘being’ or existence in two dimensions, the realm of prakriti (matter) and the realm of purusa (non-matter). 

    Key Chapple, p.2-4.

[20] Ravi Zacharias, Just Thinking podcast New Age https://s3-uswest2.amazonaws.com/rzimmedia.rzim.org/JT/JT20171020.mp3 accessed 2/12/2019

    Bible: Ezekiel 45:20, Acts 17:30, Romans 1:20, illustrate how ‘ignorance’ is connected to ‘sin’ so that sin it the ultimate issue for the Christian.

[21] David Powlinson, Can a Christian Practice Yoga to the Glory of God https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkkrPmHcBB8, accessed 2/11/2019.

[22] Piper, Is Yoga Sinful?

[23] Singleton, Yoga Body, p.28-29

   Susan Stephenson, A Brief History of Asana, (2015), unpublished, p.2.

[24] Albert Mohler, The Subtle Body: Should Christians Practice Yoga?.

[25] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in his Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church in 1989 warned again physical practices like yoga that could ‘degenerated into a cult of the body’ as cited by Andrea Jain, Who is to say Modern Yoga Practitioners Have it All Wrong? p.436.

[26] Jain, Who is to say Modern Yoga Practitioners Have it All Wrong? p.438-9.

[27] Stephenson,  p.8-9.

[28] Yoga, Meditation and Mysticism: Contemplative Universals and Meditative Landmarks by Kenneth Rose, (London: Bloomsbury, 2016), p.89.

[29] Jain, Who is to Say Modern Yoga Practitioners Have it All Wrong” p.429

[30] John N.Sheveland, The Meaningfulness of Yoga to Christian Discipleship, https://www.theway.org.uk/back/473Sheveland.pdf accessed 14/10/2020, p.54.

[31] Sheveland, The Meaningfulness of Yoga to Christian Discipleship, p.54-5, 61.

[32] Bible, Ephesians 4:15, “we will in all things grow up into Christ Himself”. 

    2 Timothy 1:7, “for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, of self-control and a sound mind”.

    1 Thessalonians 5:21, “but test everything, hold fast to what is good”.

[33] Mallinson and Singleton claim that Indian ascetics had been using non-seated postures for centuries, referenced by Stephenson, p.3.

   The Hatharatnavali is the first text that outlines the 84 classic postures.

[34] Singleton, Yoga Body, p.33  Buhnemann does not find agreement from all scholars in this respect but as he has done research on the illustrated manuscripts from various manuscripts in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, he argues this from his research.

[35] Stephenson refers to claims by Buhnemann, p.1.

[36] Andrea Jain, Modern Yoga, p.7.

   Elizabeth de Michelis, A History of Modern Yoga, p.1.

[37] Singleton, Yoga Body, p.29-30, 113-141.

    Andrea Jain, Modern Yoga, p.5, 15.

[38] Stephenson, p.5.

[39] Mark Singleton, Yoga Body, p.143-144.

[40] Suzanne Newcombe, Yoga in Britain: Stretching Spirituality and Educating Yogis, (Sheffield: Equinox, 2019) cover.

   Feuerstein referenced in Singleton’s Yoga Body, p.208

[41] Jain, Who is to say Modern Yoga Practitioners Have It All Wrong, p.437-9.

[42] Michael York in Beyond New Age: Exploring Alternative Spirituality, ed.Steven Sutcliffe and Marion Bowman, (EUP: Edinburgh, 2000), p.121.

    Douglas S.Groothuis referenced by Mohler, The Subtle Body online article.

[43] Suzanne Newcombe, The Development of Modern Yoga: A Survey of the Field, version of article published in ReligionCompass2009,https://www.academia.edu/638083/The_Development_of_Modern_Yoga_A_Survey_of_the_Field, accessed 21/11/2019, p.7.

   DeMichelis, Modern Yoga, p.183-6.

[44] Mark Singleton, Yoga Body, p.152.

[45] Sheveland, The Meaningfulness of Yoga, p.53.

[46] Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on Life: The Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace and Ultimate Freedom, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2019).  Iyengar yoga prioritises correct physical postural practice.

[47] Hasselle-Newcombe, Spirituality and ‘Mystical Religion’ in Contemporary Society: A Case Study of British Practitioners of the Iyengar Method of Yoga, p.314-5.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Hasselle-Newcombe, Spirituality and ‘Mystical Religion’ in Contemporary Society: A Case Study of British Practitioners of the Iyengar Method of Yoga, p.308, 312,

[50] Suzanne Newcombe, The Development of Modern Yoga: A Survey of the Field, cites the view of Elisabeth deMichelis, p.4.

[51] Iyengar teaches that there is the outer physical kosa ‘sheath’ and the inner ones are the energetic, the mental, the intellectual and the soul ‘sheath’ or ‘body’, p.4-6.

[52] Jain, Modern Yoga, p.428.

    Jain, Andrea. Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture, Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2014 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199390236.001.0001 accessed 8/10/2019, p.101.

refers to Mircea Eliade who suggests that all human encounters with that which is considered ‘sacred’ will happen through things that are treated as profane.  Anything mundane may become a hierophany.

[53] Elisabeth de Michelis, A History of Modern Yoga, (London: Continuum, 2004), p.250.

[54] Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, (London: Penguin, 2014), p.

[55] It is interesting to note that Iyengar as a father of MPY states conversely that meditation (in the experience of yoga) requires an unstressed mind in order to be possible, so again we see how modern teachers frame yoga differently explaining the therapeutic benefits in different ways, Iyengar, p.14.

[56] Jon Kabat-Zinn referenced by Ryan, p.9.

[57] Singleton, p.117-120.

[58] Stephenson, p.5.

[59] Newcombe, The Development of Modern Yoga, p.3.

[60] Suzanne Newcombe summarises DeMichelis five types of MPY that can be found today as: psychosomatic, neo-Hindu, meditation, denominational and postural in The Development of Modern Yoga: A Survey of the Field, p.3.

[61] Dechanet, p.53.

[62] Dechanet, p.54.

[63] Dechanet, p.59.

[64] Dechanet, p.1-2, 14-16.

    Dechanet describes the Christian philosophy where how God is not the abstract ‘Self’, ‘Absolute’, ‘Universal Soul’, ‘Impersonal Infinite’ of Eastern tradition which are ‘vague’ descriptions in contrast to his concrete understanding of God as Father (of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob who is still Father to the believer), his Son Jesus (in whom the Christian is hidden and also becoming like) and God is Spirit (who is experienced in the life of the Christian).  Ryan describes how for a Christian the self, whilst participating in God, is not identical with God so that the Eastern goal of experiencing divinity as a form of liberative consciousness within and allowing it to shine out as a ‘clear jewel’ (to reference Patanjali)  has no possibility other than through participation with the God who is beyond, has been incarnated  in Christ and is experienced by the help of the Holy spirit within a person.

[65] Thomas Ryan C.S.P., Prayer of Heart and Body: Meditation and Yoga as Christian Spiritual Practice, (New York: Paulist Press, 1995), p.130.

[66] Christine Pickering, Maranatha Yoga: a Preparation for Christian Meditation, (Dublin: Columbabooks, 2019),

p.17.

[67] Dechanet, p.36.

[68] Dechanet, p. 7, 17.

    Ryan, p.50

[69] Dechanet, p.2, 12, 17.

    Ryan, p.47.

[70] Dechanet, p.1.

[71] Dechanet, p.16.

[72] Ryan, p.24-5.

[73] Dr. Christine Mangala Frost was herself a Hindu, converted to Christianity but dismisses Christian Yoga as she felt her awareness of herself was too great when she prayed whilst practicing yoga, whilst agreeing with Dechanet’s ground rules.  Yoga and the Christian Faith, https://www.iocs.cam.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/m_frost_yoga_and_christianity.pdf accessed 9/11/2019.

[74] Asana was used as preparation for meditation in early Yogic texts such as Svetasvatara Upanishad (Stephenson, p.2) but prepared for different meditation.

    Iyengar taught that asana was meditation in action. Light on Life, p.8.

    Christine Pickering calls her Maranatha Yoga “A Preparation for Christian Meditation”.

    Anthony DeMello also posits the use of yoga as preparation for meditation, Sadhana, a way to God : Christian exercises in Eastern form, (New York: Image Books, 1984), p.5.

[75] Dechanet, p.6, 7, 25-6.

    Ryan, p.198, 211.

    Pickering, p.17.

[76] Ryan, p.182.

[77] Pickering, p.17-8.

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