Yoga as Christian Spiritual Practice
Yoga, as a spiritual practice, dates back thousands of years. However, yoga, as predominantly practiced in Western cultures, has moved away from its more esoteric roots. With the introduction of yoga to the United States by Swami Vivekananda, a metamorphosis began which combined the transpersonal goal of yoga with the physical relaxation needed by modern industrialized societies.
Modern yoga is based on hatha (force) yoga, which originated from the medieval text, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and began as a rigorous discipline for developing the physical stamina necessary to withstand the expression of kundalini. Kundalini is a Sanskrit word that describes a dormant spiritual energy at the base of the spine that lies coiled and ready for activation. While not always linked to the rising of kundalini in its current practice, modern yoga is geared toward self-transcendence (joining with a higher consciousness) and creating the relaxation response, the result of the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system whereby blood pressure and heart rate decrease and digestive function normalizes. The activation of the relaxation response has demonstrated benefit as an adjunct to the medical treatment of various conditions linked to stress.
The strength of modern yoga lies in its unique combination of somatic techniques with a psychospiritual goal. A somatic method is defined by attunement to one’s body and its cues related to well-being. Western philosophers were highly influential in creating this synthesis through their affiliation with yoga masters who traveled to the United States. In fact, Swami Vivekananda crafted his version of yoga through the impact of writings of authors, such as William James, who described the release of tension and the transition into a state of open receptivity as a religious act. Thus, through the unification of Eastern mysticism and proprioceptive release techniques with Western philosophical influence, yoga evolved into a way to relax into the spiritual or transpersonal.
In the traditional sense, yoga means to yoke up or join with the higher consciousness of Love. The yogic tradition (Mundaka Upanishad II:10) affirms, “The Lord of Love is the one Self of all.” Christians also know God as Love and see God’s immanence as Christ. There are many routes on the spiritual journey and a variety of callings in the body of Christ. The yogic tradition describes four paths that facilitate joining with the Lord of Love: bhakti yoga, karma yoga, jnana yoga, and raja yoga. Following the path that best suits your natural temperament facilitates the revelation of the glory of God in you. In the following four blogs, we will explore the essence of each path.
Namaste (Christ in me greets Christ in you)