It's estimated that yoga is about 5,000 years old. Walking and running notwithstanding, that makes yoga one of the oldest if not the oldest form of exercise.
Certainly over those 5,000 years yoga's popularity has waxed and waned. Right now it's probably at one of it's all time highs.
What makes yoga so enduring, as opposed to say disco-aerobics, is it's adaptability. As David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper write in Overcoming Trauma through Yoga, "We can modify the yoga to suit our needs and still call it yoga because the practice has survived by being so expansive and adaptable. In fact, it could be argued that our emphasis on yoga as a practice of self-inquiry and self-care above all may actually be closer to the intentions of the first practitioners than are some other modern interpretations."
In other words, yoga may have initially been developed as way to care for and help heal the body and the mind together, not as a religious practice as some contend. Though Buddhist and Hindus may claim yoga as part of their belief systems, yoga belongs to none. It's free to any and all that would make use of it's healing benefits.Yoga as a practice can be adapted to fit any belief system and does not necessarily promote one religion over another.
This is why as a follower of Jesus Christ I am introducing a Christ-centered yoga class on Thursday evenings at 6 pm here at the studio. It's open to anyone who would like to come explore Jesus' teachings together with yoga. The class is titled "The Way" in reference to the name that the first Christians called Christianity. As Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life."
My intent for this class is to focus on bringing the healing power of Jesus through yoga especially to those suffering from stress, trauma and anxiety. These are issues that I too have dealt with and would like to share some of the things I've learned and practiced as both a Christian and a yoga teacher.
I suppose the question that might naturally follow is whether that means all my classes will have a more spiritual slant. While I've never hidden my beliefs, I am sensitive to the fact that no one wants to be "evangelized" or preached at if they aren't open to it in the first place. Most of the time it does more harm than good. For that reason I've always maintained a secular approach to my classes and that's how they will stay. I want everyone of every background to feel comfortable in my classes not just those who agree with me.
However, for a long time I've wanted to share how I've integrated my faith into my own yoga practice to help me overcome the anxiety disorder I've suffered from. It's something God has placed on my heart and I feel he's asking me to do. I've also been asked by a counselor friend if I would teach such a class. She told me that there's a need for more Christ-centered yoga classes that specifically address anxiety and trauma.
While I taught a similar class several years ago at my church, teaching The Way feels like I'm stepping outside my comfort zone a bit. For one, when it comes to anxiety I've often felt like the blind leading the blind and that because I wasn't fully healed maybe I wasn't fully qualified to teach others how to manage anxiety.
This past year though I finally received the miracle I'd been praying for. Essentially since I was a child I've battled the demons of anxiety in their various forms. While it wasn't exactly the healing that I wanted, the way I wanted, God was faithful and provided me with enough relief that I can run again.
Yes, the reason I didn't run for nine years was that I was phobic of the possibility of suddenly dropping dead while out on a jog. It sounds silly but the fear grew to the point that sometimes even hiking would set off my panic alarm. Now, I'm training for a half marathon in April. If that's not a miracle I don't know what is.
Another reason this class pushes the boundaries of my comfort zone is that religion and spirituality are sensitive topics that often draw strong opinions. As I mentioned, I taught a similar class at my church and it caused a stir. Some people unfortunately misinterpreted my intentions and thought I was trying to bring "new age" spiritualism into the church. In conversations with other Christians I often find myself feeling wary of mentioning that I'm a yoga teacher for fear that they might write me off as one of those "liberal Christians."
Yet part of my healing has come from learning who I am in God and to be myself. That means worrying less about what others think and more about what God thinks. I'm also learning that part of my faith is to honor my body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:12-17) This means caring for the body in a healthy which I believe yoga promotes. My yoga practice can then be an act of worship to God just as much as going to church or reading the Bible.
"For God has not give us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power, love and of sound mind." 2 Timothy 1:7