Contributed by Jordan Elkins
“What am I doing here? Do I belong here?” Not the questions you want to come into your mind after you’ve just committed to being “here” twice a week for the next few months.
Those were the thoughts I had while sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat during my first day of yoga teacher training. Because of my current work schedule the only way I could start my training was in the middle of the month. The group of soon-to-be teachers already looked more enlightened, spouting words and sentences that made no sense to me and I instantly felt out of place. I didn’t know much about yoga, other than I enjoyed the physical workout. I thought I was ready to start my studies, but I’ll never forget the day I almost ended them before they even began.
I was raised and am catholic. It’s been two years since my teacher training ended and I have recently been asked by my friends and some students, “How can you be Christian and be a yoga instructor?” It immediately took me back to the day that I wondered if I should quietly collect my things and leave my training to uphold my faith. How thankful I am now that I didn’t. Yoga has helped me grow in ways I never could have imagined. It has helped me work through injuries, learn to deal with stress and showed me I can gain insight into the perspectives of others without feeling like my own ideals or beliefs have to be compromised.
This pitting of Christianity vs. Yoga, is not new. Different ideas can be scary, but sometimes all that’s needed is a little understanding. Some see a wall separating Christianity from yoga, and I can’t blame them, I have felt that myself, but in my learning and search for a deeper yoga practice, what I ultimately found was affirmation of my catholic faith. I’ll do my best to share my understanding of how it’s possible to be a fully functioning Christian Yogi. For starters, we are going to need some knowledge of what yoga actually is.
The word “yoga” means union. Yoga is not a religion, it is a science which originated in India thousands of years ago. While writing this article, I began to wonder what makes people afraid of yoga, where did this worry of Christianity vs. Yoga come from? So, I did what anyone with a smartphone does these days and I tossed the phrase, “What is yoga?” over to Google:
Yoga – noun – a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which including breath control, simple meditation and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation.
Fact. Breath control, simple meditation (learning to focus and calm your mind) and specific physical poses are placed in patterns by a teacher to improve health and aid in relaxation. But it does not surprise me the first two words would give some a pause. “A Hindu…”
Here’s a bit of light there, in ancient times another word for India was “Hindustan,” the people who lived there were known as Aryans. It is these people who were the originators of the science of yoga. What these Aryans were interested in was the soul. Where was its origin? What does it mean to the universe? Yoga and its principles stem from this questioning of the soul. What makes us who we are? How do we give back to our world? How do we become better people? Where does the will to do good come from? And where do we find the energy or desire to be a good person?
Once I was able to understand that yoga wasn’t going to try and change who I was as a person or my faith, but instead was going to help me look at why I believe what I do, any hesitation I had was gone. There is a spiritual side to yoga if a person should want it to develop. It doesn’t mean every time you go to a yoga class you’re going to chant words in another language, it is based on individual beliefs. The physical practice of yoga will strengthen your body, work your breath control and potentially lower the levels of the stress within the body. Those benefits alone are enough to give yoga a try.
Where we choose to place our faith is an intense personal decision. It is not up to me, or any other yoga teacher to say what is “right”. I put my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yoga has helped my love for Him increase by reaffirming my belief that I was born to be a teacher, no matter what I am doing. I have the power to influence people and my focus should be on being aware of my gift every day. He has made me in His likeness, to treat people with kindness, accept them despite any differences and have unconditional love for everyone I come in contact with. When I am on my mat sharing yoga with others, I believe I am sharing the gifts that I have been given.
There are many ways to stay active, as Alaskans we prefer most of our activities to be outside, but I encourage anyone who wonders about yoga to take a chance. There are different studios and types of classes to choose from. Whether you need to relax and stretch or move a bit faster and challenge your body, there is a class for everyone. There is no need to worry about having to be anything you’re not or having to believe anything you don’t. Yoga is about union or connection, between you and your soul (self). It’s about your body, what you believe, who you are and who you want to be as a person. Yoga is all about helping you become the best version of yourself, and that’s nothing to be afraid of.