Sunday, July 08, 2007

Christian Yoga?

Well, one thing I've been doing with my slack is getting back into yoga shape. I let my (hatha) yoga lapse around the time Mrs. G became pregnant three years ago. Before that, I would start and stop, in part because I was just born very flexible and could always come back to it and get in shape within a week or two.

But now, for the first time in my life, I can see that I'm starting to lose some flexibility. I can see that what always came naturally is now something I'll have to work at. Therefore, I am now committed to doing yoga every other day, alternating with weight lifting (which I already do). I also ride the stationary bike for 30 minutes every day in the summer, since it's too hot to go mountain biking. I'd like to work out in the pool, but I'm a little freaked out that my blood sugar might go low while I'm in there, and that would be the end of Bob. It's a real, if remote, possibility, since I keep my blood sugar so low, and swimming brings it down very rapidly.

Why do I bring this up? First of all, because all Raccoons must integrate physical fitness into their spiritual routine. This is something emphasized by Ken Wilber, and in this regard, he's absolutely correct. We are compound beings, so in a truly integral approach, we must deal with body, mind, spirit, and "shadow" (or what I would call "mind parasites"). Wilber throws "nature" into the mix, which was also something Schuon always emphasized. There is something about communing with virgin nature that is critical to our soul's well-being.

This also came up because I was going through the arkive and found these early, very preliminary posts here and here about a possible union of eastern and western approaches to spirituality, in particular, yoga and Christianity. It's something I never explicitly followed up on, even though I suppose it's implicit in a lot of my writing.

Yesterday while doing yoga, I fantasized about what I'd really like to do, which is to open a Christian Yoga studio. I wonder if there would be any market for that? I quickly searched "Christian Yoga" on amazon, but most of the books that came up seem pretty lame. I'm talking about real yoga and real Christianity; or yoga for the purposes of facilitating an experiential understanding of Christianity.

I guess I first started taking yoga classes in about 1983. I was hoping that the exercise would be ancillary to the spirituality, but was disappointed that there was almost no spiritual content at all, or at least it was pretty vapid. The next class that I took in about 1985 was even worse. It was all about high-intensity aerobics, with no spiritual emphasis at all. But I'm guessing that even if you were to find a class with a more spiritual emphasis, it would probably be of the worthless new age, Deepak Chopra variety.

I think about this in part because I certainly never intended to be a psychologist, nor am I really cut out for the job. As I have mentioned before, I only ended up being a psychologist because my curiosity got out of hand. I guarantee you that if you just stay in school long enough, you'll end up with a Ph.D. Anyone can do it. It would be nice if "Ph.D." equated to wisdom, but that is so far from the case that it's a joke. I would guess that the percentage of fools -- I mean the really pernicious kind -- with Ph.D.s is probably much higher than the general population.

So anyway, yesterday I was fantasizing about what it might be like to open a Christian Yoga studio with a genuine emphasis on mature spirituality. Music, incense, a little lecture to set the tone, yoga, meditation/prayer.... That would be the life. But I wonder if anyone would be interested? How would you avoid attracting people you don't want to attract, the fundies on one side, the new agers on the other?

I'm just thinking out loud here....

One thing I think I will do in the coming weeks is delve back into the connection between yoga and Christianity, and show how it would work out both in theory and in practice.... In a way, it's something I've been intending to do since I finished my book, if only to try to reconcile the two halves of my own soul.


joseph said...

To avoid the new-agers, make sure to insist on a one-time first class fee, then, in the course of your little lecture, be sure to draw some political implication to your spritual treatise. They will never return.

As for the fundies, it is hard to imagine that they would be attracted to Christian Yoga in the first place.

Jim said...

Yea, I’d go if I lived in he area. I’m sure the new-agers would run, not walk from the Christian reference.

Alan said...

I'm looking forward to your thinking on this.

From both the theological and praxis levels, there is much to mine here for you.

The theology of the incarnation and more fully recapitulating that in our lives (as opposed to living in our heads), to me seems to be a possible line of thinking.

As well, using yoga as a method of improving our ability to "pray unceasingly" both in and out of the yoga studio has been valuable for me. Prostrations while praying I think have always been part of monastic practice. Also, "labora" has been integral to many monastic orders and our modern lives have eliminated physical work from most of our work lives.

If only Bob could share some of his flexibility through this medium the same way he has shared his light :-(

Biker Lady said...

Christian Yoga...
I don't think so.
If this is something you are really interested in why not invent something new. Give it a new name.
But not Yoga.
you will save yourself a lot of trouble right from the start.

I think some younger people will not mind yoga + religion (my daughter does yoga) but older adults might have trouble with the concept of combining Yoga and Christian.
This is all my opinion, of course, not to slam yoga but just what my mind relates to me.

Ok, interesting about how you had to get back to your yoga.
I just call it exercise, toning, getting in shape.
I had been a real slacker and had stopped doing my exercises.
my routine was to ride my stationary bike 15 minutes, and do some stretching, floor exercises with 2 lb. dumbells for another 15 minutes or so.
As a result of not doing this I was falling asleep at 4pm, tired all the time like I had the flu or something, stiff and hurting when I sat still for any length of time. I was just getting "out of tone".
After just a few days back in my routine I'm feeling better already.

Van said...

"...which was also something Schuon always emphasized. There is something about communing with virgin nature that is critical to our soul's well-being."

I am always on my guard against any kind of Rousseauian glamorizing of 'nature', but with that in mind, there is for me at least, the sense that the evening walk, or sitting on the deck, or recently training the telescope on the moon, which seems to serve as a receptor for something else out there to connect with me in here. There is something present in the quiet night sky - deeper and separate from the dark frights - which connects just underneath awareness... that I think is deeply missing from day to day life. I think the quiet, the wide stillness, is probably more operable here than whether it is night or day when you experience it.

Stretching and exercise used to be an unconscious daily wake-up activity for me, until about a year ago, when work wacked out for a few months, and broke the routine, the fatigue accelerated, and it's been difficult, very touch and go - currently in a lapse again - trying to re-establish that activity again.

I've been teased by the idea for several years of how to fuse stretching & light exercise, with spiritual (anyone else get the equivalent of the 'jesus willies' form the word 'spiritual'? It's been so s(N)ewaged of late) contemplation. By contemplation, I don't mean just oming 'I am at one with the universe', but grasping a structured Idea at both the verbal conceptual analytic level, and the underlying Whole level. By that, I mean that words are what we use to grasp some Whole, by dividing through it into graspable parts, in order to realize that that Whole exists - and once realized, the separate chunks melt back into the Whole, which is now graspable, understood as a Whole, without the need of the training wheel divisions of analysis (sorry, you shoulda seen that sentence the first few times I tried to say it). The Yoga deep breathing, visualizing, image-energy circulation that I've been familiar with, only points towards what I've had in mind, but not quite it - maybe I've been way off… actually the One Cosmos ‘frontal lobe swirl’ is very like what I’ve got in mind – not sure that’s inducible though.

Either way, I'd certainly be interested to hear what you come up with.

A 'lecture' being stretched into during a session is an intriguing idea...

Sorry for the ramble... intriguing idea though....

Van said...

Lol... I think Joseph and Jim's comments would work against the newagers like garlic & crosses to vampires!

Susannah said...

Hmmm...exercise as a spiritual discipline. I could certainly benefit from both, and I'm into efficiency.

I admit to having the "yoga" willies to a certain extent, but only because you just never know what comes with the package in a typical yoga course. Don't want to open myself to any "baddies" if you KWIM. Joseph's right, simply the word "yoga" and all with which it is associated will keep fundamentalists far away.

Then again, I can't believe there is anything inherently spiritual about a certain set of physical movements, and Hinduism also hasn't got an exclusive claim to meditation. I remember a friend of mine remarking that an acquaintance of hers, brought up Buddhist and now Christian, had a much easier time staying focused during prayer because of the disciplines of her upbringing. It takes a lot of practice to keep one's mind from wandering during prayer...especially difficult when you're a distractible mom often praying "on the hoof" (as Ruth Graham put it).

I always thought that if I could find a Christian to teach me the postures, they would be useful for "quieting my soul" before God, as opposed to the "one with the universe" baloney. It doesn't strike me as all that different from the spiritual disciplines I read about in Richard Foster's book. I'd probably be more inclined toward it if I could be 100% sure it were completely disassociated with pantheistic Hindu beliefs. I'm really, really not into syncretism or new age-y stuff and try to avoid it like the plague, frankly. But I am open to spiritual disciplines (fasting, meditation on the Word, etc.).

Was that repetitive enough? LOL!

Biker Lady said...

"Biker Lady...
Christian Yoga...
I don't think so."

And, I'm not a funda-mentalist or
a right wing Christian fanatic/nut.

Just a plain ole Christian gal.

Susannah said...

biker lady, I know what you mean. :)

I have no problem with the sort of quietness that the Psalmist speaks of:

"But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me."

Resting against God like that is very appealing to me. That's why I've been drawn to things like "soaking prayer" or "resting in the Father's arms," etc. (Although there are people who try to debunk even that as inextricable from eastern religion.)

I'm just leery of utterly emptying myself (deactivating the ego, or whatever it is), i.e., lowering my resistance to the point where *anything* can come in and take up residence. Not trying to be spooky or anything.

Skully said...

Chunky ho's?
I think you might be onto somethin' there.

Uncle Mikey said...

Water wings?

juliec said...

Speaking of getting back to nature, my husband and I spent yesterday sharing one of the wonders of the natural world with my niece.

I'm really interested to see where this idea of Christian Yoga takes you, Bob. I think Joseph & Jim are right about how to keep the extremists away.

Webutante said...

I think Christian bout calling it "Choga?" a great idea. Then you could say you practiced bloga and choga, when you weren't doing dogas (dirty diapers).

Seriously, if I were doing it, I would do have offerings in stretching and centering prayer (Christian meditation) another practice I've done for a long time.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I'm not a yoga expert, although I did go to a party at a Holiday Inn once, but there are a multitude of styles (and mixtures) of yoga, just as there are a multitude of denominations in Christianity.

As for reckless "emptying" (letting whatever enter in) or "projection" (such as astral projection), I don't believe that is what Bob is talking about.

That being said, I'm sure every Raccoon can discern well enough to decide whether the best of yoga (not the new agey crap) will be of any help in their journey.

I'm willing to check it out more than I have, and look forward to Bob's ideas in this area.
Just as long as I don't pull a ham string, or briscuit bun, that is.

...a friend from afar said...

Dear Bob,

Thank you! Your blog has meant alot to me over the past few months. Aside from your humor and wit, it's quite refreshing to discover someone who is both a true spiritual seeker and a classical liberal.

Where I live, those who usually describe themselves as "true spiritual seekers" are invariably rabid, leftist political shills. Take a trip to any "Yoga Yoga" studio and you'll find the most vulgar, despicable political rotgut plastered as bumper stickers all over the cars in the lot. Watch the typical "love and peace gurus" on the Access channel and a Bush hatefest quickly ensues.

Your postings have been really the lone lighthouse of wisdom neatly balancing both spiritual and political commentary -- providing an articulate voice to those of us who share much of your seemingly rare perspective but without the eloquence and clarity to vivify our words as beautifully you.

On a personal note, I feel a particular kinship with you in one regard. I recently earned a Ph.D. in mathematics, but my academic pursuit was fueled in the end more by the nice graduate fellowship I received than any real passion. At first, in my naivete as an undergraduate, I felt an exhilaration in the steady progression of learning ever more advanced partial differential equations, always believing the holy grail -- the master equation to solve all riddles -- lay just around the corner, in the next class, in the next research paper. However, not too long after entering grad school, I saw the futility of ever believing that academic knowledge could lead to any type of self-realization, even that knowledge stemming from the queen of all sciences. I was just shuffling ideas and concepts around on my own sinking Titanic, trapped in that seductive Turing machine but unable to Godel my way out of Flatland.

I turned down a rare tenure track offer at a nice university. With the trend (avalanche really) toward using and exploiting low-paid non-tenured adjunct professors, each open tenure track position has about 400 applicants. Contrary to urban legend, an assistant professor (at least in mathematics) leads to anything but that imagined idyllic life of leisure and idle contemplation. I knew this from my watching my own professors, and I was reminded by the hiring committee and two recent hires to expect 80+ hours per week, frequent travel to conferences, intense pressure to secure funding, an endless parade of students who just don't get it or care, and sometimes ugly inter-departmental politics. To be successful, I'd have to sell out my wife and myself ... all for something for which there was no real passion. I, too, just didn't feel "cut out for the job."

I now continue to do some research for a modest income -- I suppose I've been blessed with a demeanor which is fairly content with limited material possessions. But I've been able to carve out the time and space to explore the infinite within.

So Bob, I would fully encourage you to pursue your dream of a Christian/Yoga studio. I've been fascinated by that particular East/West connection since reading Paramahansa Yogananda's "The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of Christ Within" and other Hindu commentaries on the Gospel of John. My wife and I would love to attend a studio like the one you envision, and I'm sure some others would also. "If you build it..."

Best of luck, and thanks again for all you've done!

Gagdad Bob said...

Before people start getting the Krishna willies, let's not forget that anything can be Christianized, whether it is capitalism, Nascar, yoga, whatever.

Aquila said...


Here's a Wilber-influenced outfit who have some interesting ideas on yoga practice. :-)

A couple of years ago, I was hanging out with these folks and doing some of their workshops (yes, including the one mentioned here). Most were your standard good-hearted-but-naive, pseudo-Buddho Noo-Agers, but a significant minority were precisely the type of angry moonbats that "a friend from afar" describes in his post above.

But that's San Fran for ya -- no matter the nature or purpose of any public group here, there always seems to be a nut-Left faction present who won't be satisfied until they've taken it over and made it a front for radical activism. Saul Alinsky, what have thou wrought?

Joan of Argghh! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Pope Benedict (at the time of the writing, Cardinal Ratzinger) had some interesting thoughts concerning yoga and zen at the following link:

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Here is an excerpt:

26. Human experience shows that the "position and demeanor of the body" also have their influence on the recollection and dispositions of the spirit. This is a fact to which some eastern and western Christian spiritual writers have directed their attention.

Their reflections, while presenting points in common with eastern non-Christian methods of meditation, avoid the exaggerations and partiality of the latter, which, however, are often recommended to people today who are not sufficiently prepared.

The spiritual authors have adopted those elements which make recollection in prayer easier, at the same time recognizing their relative value: they are useful if reformulated in accordance with the aim of Christian prayer.30 For example, the Christian fast signifies, above all, an exercise of penitence and sacrifice; but, already for the Fathers, it also had the aim of rendering man more open to the encounter with God and making a Christian more capable of self-dominion and at the same time more attentive to those in need.

In prayer it is the whole man who must enter into relation with God, and so his body should also take up the position most suited to recollection.31 Such a position can in a symbolic way express the prayer itself, depending on cultures and personal sensibilities. In some aspects, Christians are today becoming more conscious of how one's bodily posture can aid prayer.

27. Eastern Christian meditation32 has valued "psychophysical symbolism," often absent in western forms of prayer. It can range from a specific bodily posture to the basic life functions, such as breathing or the beating of the heart. The exercise of the "Jesus Prayer," for example, which adapts itself to the natural rhythm of breathing can, at least for a certain time, be of real help to many people.33 On the other hand, the eastern masters themselves have also noted that not everyone is equally suited to making use of this symbolism, since not everybody is able to pass from the material sign to the spiritual reality that is being sought.

dilys said...

St. Austin's, a fairly social-activist RC parish in Austin, regularly offers something they call Yoga Prayer. The only person I know there is nice, suggestible, and tone-deaf to doctrine, so there's no way to find out whether in its specifics it is actually Christian.

Either packed away or given away, I once had a book full of "postures," many very painful and pretzel-like, from all-but-Christian religions that purported to offer specific mental state changes. There seems to be elaborated shamanistic data on that topic, but not necessarily reduced expression available at Amazon.

Historic Christianity, as the two Bens note, especially that based in the East, has a good deal of interface with physical action and the spirit, not least actually going to church at given times, over and over. Once you get there, and in the monasteries, there are long motionless vigils, fasts, prostrations, gazing (a powerful mind-body process), and no doubt other things like hair shirts a novice like me knows nothing of.

I imagine Christian Yoga, the physical exercise part as you describe it, would lean toward physical well-being, and that to strip the Hindu-syncretic material clinging to it would require mantras and other conceptual reinforcements, literalistic or otherwise. Other than requiring more mobility, pretty much what liturgy does, up, down, kneel, prostrate, chant, concentrate, break a long fast with bread and wine. All primarily ritual exercise with physical impact and apparently long-term benefit.

I really get my own willies when someone wants to beat off the new-agers and fundamentalists -- rather than welcoming all comers with clarity, then keeping a firm hand on the rudder. Surely it's possible to say, ringingly and repeatedly as necessary, "No, that's not the way we approach things here."

Probably Lisa will prove integral to discussing this mission, when she's available.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"The spiritual authors have adopted those elements which make recollection in prayer easier, at the same time recognizing their relative value: they are useful if reformulated in accordance with the aim of Christian prayer."

Or, as Bob said, to "Christianize" or "G-dize" for our Jewish friends.

But, as he also stated:
33 "On the other hand, the eastern masters themselves have also noted that not everyone is equally suited to making use of this symbolism, since NOT EVERYBODY IS ABLE TO PASS FROM the MATERIAL SIGN TO THE SPIRITUAL REALITY that is being sought."

Emphasis mine.

I'm confident that Raccoons can make use of this form of symbolism.

That's the incredible freedom of Christianity and Judaism!
To be able to Christianize anything that can be useful, be it music, meditation, contemplation, stories, haikus, photo-art, art, or prayer, or whatever.
The Good, the True and the Beautiful isn't something that can be constrained by boundaries that man tries to place.

I'm kinda geared up for this, as you can see! :^)

Mizz E said...

Splendid idea Bob!

I, like Dilys, imagine Lisa, our in-house Pilates expert, will be of invaluable service to you. In the meantime, if you're not familiar with Pilates, I strongly urge you to locate a certified instructor [ask Lisa for recommendations in your area] and explore it's potential for adapting into a Christian centered meditation-motion program.

I've been playing with some brand names. Hopefully they convey an inherent, cognizant meaning and/or spur creative thought.

Om Bodies
AOK Movement

and my fave:

EsoExo in Motion

Gagdad Bob said...

For hatha yoga, I have always practiced the Iyengar method. This is a good intro. I'm guessing that Lisa would say that there is some overlap with Pilates

Lisa said...

Hmmmm, just got to the computer today. Had an early morning Bris. They hid the foreskin in the lox and one lucky guest got a door prize (like a King Cake during Mardi Gras!) I think it's some new-age liberal tradition in Judaism, but I love them anyway...

Personally a Christian Yoga studio does not appeal to me but I'm sure some people will really dig it. JC's Yoga comes to mind right off the bat. If it truly is Bob's dream, he should pursue it, but it won't support his family most likely. Usually rents are too high to make all the hard work necessary to run a studio worthwhile. I suppose it is possible to make some videos if you need the bread. That would sell for sure to the Fundies without being subjected to actually listen to them.

I try to explain the principles of Pilates and how it applies to their body and let people draw their own conclusions about fitting it into their own personal spirituality. Bob is absolutely correct about maintaining a physical practice of exercise to keep up with the mental/emotional aspect of spirituality. Unity of trinity for those who like patterns...

Lisa said...

Yes, Pilates does draw from Yoga in certain aspects especially the breath. All true paths have certain things in common...

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, I don't intend to make a living from it. Just a way to extend the old blogging hobby into a new arena.

cosanostradamus said...

Q: How would you avoid attracting people you don't want to attract, the fundies on one side, the new agers on the other?

A: Call it tonga. Problem solved.

Bro. Bartleby said...

All this fitness stuff is certainly going to do bad for our distant ancestors, I would think that we must be more slack and avoid exercise, we should only be in motion when it is necessary, thereby our genes will slowly take the cue and the next generation will be a bit more healthy doing nothing, and further generations will likewise grow old while basically vegetating on some starship going who knows where. But if you keep up this fitness, then aboard that starship will be countless passengers atop stationery bikes peddling to nowhere.

Magnus Itland said...

I sympathize with the Jewish notion that God created us embodied by His good will, and condemning the body as inherently evil or sinful is a lesser blasphemy.

It is intriguing that our culture there is more focus than ever on eating right, exercising right, and being healthy & fit. And yet the average person is growing fatter, stiffer and lazier. If even in these things we fool ourself into thinking that knowing can replace doing, how much more in matters invisible!

phil g said...

I'm looking forward to the Yoga/Christian series. Similar to JWM's Jesus willies, I've always had the New Age willies and unfortunately always lumped yoga into the category of vapid, trendy, silly new age hocus pocus and just staid with the weights and running. I'm open to trying yoga and your guidance intot he practice will help.

phil g said...

Bob said anything can be Christianized...EXCELLENT...will now not feel any guilt about the hours I wasted, no, invest...yes that's college football, particularly the SEC flavor...Go VOLS!!!

Biker Lady said...

Christian Yoga or Christian whatever...
Whenever thoughts, ideas, wishes and dreams enter - the wise man should turn to the scriptures to test them and that might take some time before rushing pell-mell into them.
I like that Bob has given us this topic because I think it actually is about prayer, it's purpose and the self.
Man has been using every idea that he can come up with to soothe the self when the answer is as close as your breath.
Christ in you - no form or ritual needed since He did away with all that - is the answer to the self wanting more.
The New Testament and Paul's life experiences are for our instruction.
If Christ is in you He is as close as your breath. You don't need to kneel, or need form or ritual. Those are for the self. If Christ is in you it's immediate and that is why we can pray unceasingly. Granted, we live in the world and must function in the world.
Praying unceasingly means at any time you can take it to the Lord in Prayer. Right now, I'm praying for my fellow raccoons! In this post.

I think the "media Christians" have overdone it and left a very bad impression to the world.
When a quiet spirit and the self under control, a life liven where character, revealed in love, honor, truth and sober judgments should be more in evidence.

Christ should be the star, not the self-inflated, ego-driven maniacs we see in all areas of our country, anyway. The rest of the world, we can't do anything about... except pray.
The only self-emptying we should attempt is giving it all to the Lord. Honestly, the Bible has so many verses, old and new testament that are just as applicable to us today as they were to men of old.

Memorize the 23rd Psalm and it will calm your soul.

Magnus Itland said...

A very timely mention of Psalm 23 there by Biker Lady.
It is only in the experienced presence of God that I have dared to let go of my internal monologue and open to the stillness of the Sabbath, where even thoughts fall silent. At that time, when "emptiness" is both possible and required, the heart knows.

billh said...

Well I guess the racoon is finally getting the big head! Come on, Let your Ego run further than just a book. God the Builder needs you to join Yoga and Christianty! Why didn't he think of it himself? He could have sold thousands of books. Besides, he could also start a franchise of small businesses where people all over the world could Yoga for Jesus. Join your ego with those who started the whole Curves for Jesus thing and whalla! (You didn't know that Jesus needed curves too did you?) You are thinking too small! You are no ordinary racoon, you need to take Jesus into the new millinium! He was too busy walking on water I guess to twist his body into a knot. But we are American's, and we have plenty of time for such things so don't miss this market!

Biker Lady said...

BILLH said...
"Well I guess the racoon is finally getting the big head!"

Bob's ego is just fine, his postings here reveal a Spirit to be devoid of hate and bitterness, small mindedness.
A sincere love of people and probally the reason he has had success in his chosen field.

Wherever you came from... can't say the same for you.
As a friend said about people like you billH, "you must sleep on a bag of hate at night!"

Anonymous said...

Hello.. here is one connection to explore.. the use of incense in mind/body practices like yoga, and also in religion and spirituality like Christianity. Frankincense and Myrrh are certainly present in Buddhism and yoga in certain parts of the world.

Kerry Hughes
Author of The Incense Bible

billh said...

Well I guess the blog police gave me a ticket...

I sleep with a sense of humor at night... can't say the same of you "Biker Lady". 10-4.

Tamquam Leo Rugiens said...

Christian yoga studio?
I'd come.

Anonymous said...

Here is a 5:44 minute video entitled
"Can a Christian Practice Yoga?"

Julie said...

Why not include the new agers? I became a christian by doing a Hindu/ heart meditation. I saw a light in my heart. It was Jesus. He spoke to me, and I knew his voice. I was absolutely devistated because I never wanted to be a christian, but I believed. My heart knew it was true. I think most new agers are searching for truth. What a great way to meet them where they're at. Isn't that what Christ does for us?