Monday, April 05, 2010

Christian, Jewish, Muslim yoga


The Los Angeles Times has a story about a new trend in ever-trendy southern California: "Bending yoga" to fit into Christian and Jewish traditions.

"Many Christian and Jewish yogis are incorporating prayer and religious teachings into the practice," says the subhead. But prayer and religious teachings have always been part of yoga in India at least since the introduction of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, as long as two millennia ago. Until lately, the various forms of yoga have been associated with Hindu and Vedanta spirituality.
Christian pop music played quietly in the background as instructor Bryan Brock led a recent yoga class at the nondenominational Church at Rocky Peak in Chatsworth.

Incorporating prayer and readings from the Bible, Brock urged his class of about 20 students to find strength in their connection to their creator through yoga's deep, controlled breathing. "The goal of Christian yoga is to open ourselves up to God," he said. "It allows us to blur the line between the physical and the spiritual."
I'm sure I would find "Christian pop music" to be a turn-off — musical quality aside, can it really be an aid to contemplation of God in connection with yoga asanas (postures)? — but on the whole, bringing the benefits of hatha yoga to Christians and Jews is a welcome development.
Some Christians call their versions of the discipline holy yoga or Yahweh yoga and some teachers urge participants to "breathe down Jesus." Jewish yogis, in turn, have developed -- and in some cases, even trademarked -- Torah yoga, Kabbalah yoga and aleph bet yoga, applying Eastern meditative movements to Jewish prayer and study.
My impression is that as yoga has become as Westernized as pizza in the past 20 or 30 years, many yoga studios have drifted away from the discipline's traditional core: a method of refining the body and mind to increase receptivity to spiritual insight. Some cool-school varieties of modern yoga are, I gather, no more than gym workouts with a sprinkling of exoticism. So it's good to learn that a reaction to secular yoga is happening, however strange terms like "Torah yoga" sound.
Some fundamentalist Christians distance themselves from yoga, saying it is inseparable from Hinduism or Buddhism and therefore dangerous, even blasphemous. Some Orthodox Jewish authorities warn that if practiced with all its Eastern components, including Sanskrit chanting and small statues of deities, it amounts to avodah zarah, or the worship of false gods.
But neither Hindus nor Buddhists worship "gods" as that is understood in the West. The Hindu gods are, except among the most uneducated and superstitious Hindus, considered to be manifestations of the one supreme spiritual source, Brahman. Buddhists don't talk about God (which doesn't make them atheists or materialists; they meditate). Instead Buddhists concern themselves with understanding how the mind and emotions condition the causes of suffering, and the ways that people can overcome suffering by learning to dis-attach themselves from the causes. It is a beautiful, humane religion, although its followers can fall short of its high moral values — a failing that can be found in any religion.
For local Muslims, the debate is just beginning.

Although Islam's mystical strain of Sufism was influenced by Indian yogic practices, some strict Muslims view it as out of bounds. In 2008, Malaysia's top Islamic authority issued a fatwa, a nonbinding prohibition, against yoga. That angered Muslim yoga teachers across Asia, and many continue their yoga practice.
I knew about Sufism, but didn't know there are Muslim yogis.
Muslim daily prayers already offer a "personal and direct connection with the creator," says Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. He also believes that as long as there is no Hindu or Buddhist religious content, yoga is "no different than jogging around the track."
He is right: if it includes no spiritual content, yoga is like running.
Syed fully expects that some Muslims in California will eventually develop a hybrid spiritual practice. "I'm sure one day somebody will try to combine yoga with Islam and they will get a following," Sayed said.
Even if ostensibly strictly Muslim, hatha yoga might well lead some Muslim practitioners to open their minds to other spiritual systems.
… Rabbi Avivah Winocur Erlick, a chaplain at Providence Tarzana Medical Center, says it is impossible to separate yoga from her Jewish spiritualism [the writer means "spirituality"]. About six years ago, Erlick began having intense spiritual experiences while doing yoga. She sought advice from a rabbi.

"He said, 'God has been trying to reach you all these years and he is reaching you through yoga," Erlick recalled. The rabbi challenged her to reconcile yoga with Judaism, which led to five years of study to become a rabbi. "For me, yoga is prayer," Erlick said.
She, too, is right: yoga can be a form of prayer for people of many faiths.



MnMark said...

Hey Rick, have you ever come across any good books on...I'm not sure exactly what to call it, but I'll throw out a bunch of related terms: chi, vital energy, prana, chakras?

In my twenties I practiced yoga and had some life-changing spiritual experiences. But I let that lapse and my energy level has dropped a great deal since then (partly due to normal aging, I'm sure).

I read in Robert Monroe's books about his OOBE experiences (which I later confirmed to some extent for myself in my own OOBEs) about his meetings with highly developed people who no longer needed food because they knew how to absorb the energy the needed directly from a/the spiritual source. I don't know that this is possible, but I like to keep an open mind and it would be interesting to read about vital-energy-related ideas that others have written on.

Rick Darby said...


I've run across many descriptions of vital energy, prana, chakras, and that. No source struck me as particularly outstanding. I'm something of an agnostic concerning subtle energy: I don't believe in it, I don't disbelieve in it, the subject is just stashed in a mental file drawer, awaiting further investigation.

Do you have a private e-mail address by which I could get in touch to learn more about your OOBEs? I've been thinking about trying the Monroe Institute's Hemi-Sync tapes that are said to induce OOBEs.

MnMark said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
AAfter Search said...

Some believe yoga is a cult and for some it's a Hindu religion. There are people who think yoga as spiritual practices! For some it’s a bunch of complicated poses, exercises, breathing techniques and meditation. However, I think it’s a union of body, mind and soul, but how they are connected is unknown to me.