Even though I’ve never done yoga before, it’s something I’ve regarded positively for many years. Ironically enough, for years I’ve often urged Xy to try it out. I thought a yoga practice might help her with her migraines and general stress. (And she did take a single “mother & child” yoga class this summer.) I always believed it would be good for me too, but never made it a priority.
What finally lit a fire under me, besides the great deal, is all the work I’ve been doing with contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. Yoga keeps coming up. It’s in the books I’ve been reading, it was discussed at the conference I recently attended, and some actual yoga practice will be integrated into a session I’m co-presenting at an upcoming conference. I figured it was about time for me to check it out.
The session was great. I was the only student who actually showed up, so I got some nice one-on-one instruction from a woman named Karen. Perhaps I should mention that I’ve done some very basic breath meditation over the years, and my occasionally exercise regimens have mostly centered on strength training. I found this practice combined the meditative breathing and the physical exertion with which I’m familiar in a way that was totally new to me. I felt very clumsy trying to do these new things with my body, but clumsy in a good way. It was not particularly strenuous; actually I think it was very gentle, but I can still feel it in my muscles today.
At the end, when Karen asked how I felt, I burst out in a big, uncontrollable smile. I felt great. I think I got in touch with my belly chakra or something.
Strangely enough, later that morning I learned via Facebook that my mother (a thousand miles away in Indiana) also had her first yoga practice this week. That’s some synchronicity. But it gets even stranger.
My boss has done some yoga in the past, and she’s also a notorious ailurophile, so I mentioned the “cat pose” to her. She came back with some remark about “downward dog,” which is something we didn’t do in my class. I had never heard of it before, but the unusual phrase got my attention. A few minutes later, I checked my e-mail and found a message from Religion Dispatches, a website to which I subscribe, with the title “Is Downward Dog the Path to Hell?”
Reading the article by Andrea Jain led me to a post by Albert Mohler which asks the question, “Should Christians Practice Yoga?” It also led me to a talk by Mark Driscoll on the question “Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots?”
Driscoll equates yoga to “absolute paganism” and “demonism.” I found his assertions outrageous and wrong-headed, but also kind of funny. I have actually been quite interested in contemporary paganism lately, but I would not hesitate to describe Mom as a devout Christian. Who knew that we would have this in common?
In all seriousness, though, I find this strain of Christian thought pretty sad. It’s perfectly in line with other things I’ve read lately asserting that meditation is dangerous because it opens the door to demons. I’m sure my mother doesn’t subscribe to such a narrow view, and in any case, I hope she doesn’t let this ridiculous rhetoric discourage her. I think it’s wonderful that she’s practicing yoga, and I think its many benefits can be enjoyed without imperiling one’s Christian faith.
As the Jain article argues convincingly, yoga has become part of our Western cult of fitness: “Modern yoga is a reflection, not of ‘spooky’ Hindu gods or ‘demonic’ practices, but of our contemporary culture’s tendency to envelope physical fitness into the sacred routine of self-development.” I’d actually be interested in the connections to Hinduism, but I’m sure most American practitioners don’t get much into that.
I’m not worried about where yoga practice might lead, because I’m confident in my own ability to sort out right from wrong and to distinguish between what I truly embrace and what I reject. To quote Jain again, “One feature of consumer culture is that we increasingly have choices when it comes to the ideas and practices we adopt. We choose ideas and practices much like we choose commodities.” I used to find this sort of “shopping cart” mentality disturbing or repugnant, but I’m increasingly seeing it as one of the better aspects of our culture. There’s plenty to criticize about consumer culture, but if it empowers individuals to develop to their fullest potential then surely that’s positive.
Anyway, I am already looking forward to next week’s class.