In considering yoga as a form of core training – to support my running, I looked into the background and varieties of yoga – what is it that people mean when they talk about “yoga”? I was specifically interested in whether I could take advantage of the physical aspects of yoga, while ignoring the spiritual disciples.
While various people will inevitably explain the term or the practice differently, it appears that “yoga” is generally understood to refer to the physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines that originated in India. The practice of yoga dates back well before the time of Christ. For some, it approaches or constitutes a “religion” or philosophy in that the practitioner seeks some form of unity with the divine and/or a state of “permanent peace.” This appears to be especially true in its earliest and most traditional forms. In fact, “yoga” is one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy.
Most in the west, though, think more of the physical exercise aspects of yoga (divorced from the religious aspects) when confronted with that term. This approach, popularized in the 1980’s in the west, is often referred to as “hatha yoga.”
In its pure, ancient form, however, yoga is a religion or philosophy inconsistent with Christianity. While this post doesn’t pretend to try to address that subject (which I’m sure has occupied numerous books), a mention of a few observations about important, prominent differences would appear appropriate.
First, one should consider the concept of man and his relationship with God. Most who practice yoga for its spiritual dimensions believe that god is everywhere and in everything (“pantheism”). Thus, man is god as well. Second, as a Hindu practice or philosophy has a “low” view of the natural world. It views nature as something to be escaped. A union with the divine or permanent peace cannot be achieved without freely oneself from the natural or material world. In Christianity, however, the natural world is something to be enjoyed – recall that God said that it was “good,” in fact, it was “very good.”).
Third, the ancient practice of yoga to reach a “oneness” or peace is then a path to god or the divine. For Christians, the path to God is through (and only through – something that troubles modern, skeptical people) a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Moreover, salvation (which might be equated with the Hindu goal of union with god) cannot be earned (as it appears possible in Hinduism), but is available only by God’s grace.
For me then, yoga will be a form of physical exercise. (That’s not to say that some Christian thinkers believe almost any form of yoga is inconsistent with Christian faith.) There is a fair bit of material about the benefit of yoga for runners. (Consider: Live Run Love Yoga blog; Runner’s World article; Yoga Journal article; and Runner’s World article ). I’m eager to see how it may impact me – presumably in a positive way.