I went to my first real yoga class last week and thought I would write a bit about my understanding of the experience. I am by no means an expert on any of this, and I had two primary reasons for going to the class. First, my neighbor highly recommended the place and wanted to go together. Second, a physical therapist recommended I work on body alignment and strengthening my core.
Because it was a free introductory class, I suspect that many of the attendees are not aware of the religious origins or significance of much of the practice of yoga (more here). The class was billed as Hatha Yoga which has an emphasis on the physical practice or discipline rather than spiritual. Even so, chakras and prana were mentioned and Om was included which indicates an alignment with the Upanishad scriptures. The underlying goal behind that type of yoga is ceasing mental activity in order to liberate the true-self and find peace. The instructor focused us on our breathing and body control and mostly psycho-physical aspects. Buddhist tradition focuses on mindful-awareness, which also seemed to be incorporated and is somewhat at odds with “cessation of thought” practices in my opinion.
When everyone intoned “Om” I did not take part because I knew it has pure religious significance. It is both the name of a god and a way of calling on that deity to take part and part of the ritual. Om is considered “Truth.” Where I believe what Jesus said about Truth,
I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 in the Bible)
Ignore the fact that many of the positions of yoga are positions to worship a god named Shiva, I tried to simply exercise, but there were periods of focused thought and introspective contemplation in the class. I used that time to focus on Jesus, I recited Bible verses in my mind, I prayed. I practiced Christian meditation which to me means that I focused on aligning myself with the God of Abraham, on His word, His will.
There are quite a few references to meditation in the Bible. In Joshua (1:8) the people are exhorted to meditate on God’s Law, keep it in their hearts. The book of Psalms speaks of meditating on His decrees (statutes) and also on God’s unfailing love (Psalm 48:9), on God’s mighty deeds (77:12, 119:27), and on God’s promises. Meditation is a long-standing part of Christianity. Even so I wonder if there is a place for yoga in my life considering all the religiousness of it.
There is an account in the Bible of my God’s followers making an offering to him of “strange fire” (Leviticus 10:1) which was incense on a fire from their own fire pans rather than from the source God commanded. The result? The men perished in flame. Is a Christian doing yoga in the way I did essentially doing the same thing? There are plenty of warnings in Christian publications about the danger of practicing Eastern forms of meditation (for example see here). Also, my catholic neighbor told me the church does not allow her to go to yoga, gives warnings against it.
I am still unsure what I think of all this. Would I have been more comfortable at yoga without the invocation of “Om?” Certainly. Is my discomfort spiritual discernment? Perhaps. I do know two of my prayers are these:
May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD Psalm 104:34
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD Psalm 19:14
Kristin King likes to focus on books, reviews, writing, and the publishing business in her blog though she often wanders into other areas of interest. “M is for Meditation” is part of an A to Z Blog Challenge in which she participated without specifying a theme.