Posted by: birdmaddgirl | 7 November 2011

something funny, something painful, something thoughtful

link dumping today, because why not.

first, a little bit of ashtanga police comedy. all the yogis i know have great (and cheesy) senses of humor. enjoy!

next up, an article from yoga journal on practice and injury. i particularly like the reminder to do no harm, even to yourself. and i think most of us can identify with the “no pain no gain” mentality of if you don’t feel something hurting you’re doing it wrong. it’s an assumption of western physical fitness culture that doesn’t reconcile with yoga so well, and that i know i actively fight against.

lastly, a super interesting blog from a pastor on yoga and Christianity. i deeply appreciate the research and thought that went into this article. and i agree with one really crucial point here: the practice of yoga will likely change your outlook on the world. how that manifests is different for different people. and i think that many yoga practitioners would agree with the sentiment that “Everything we do with our physical bodies also involves our immaterial souls. We are one person, and whatever we do involves and affects the totality of who we are.”

so what about yoga and religion? is yoga inherently religious? first, let’s clear up any notion that what is practiced today in the west might have any resemblance to historical forms of yoga or Hinduism. it’s simply not the case. if it were, women would not be allowed to practice, men outside of specific castes would not be permitted to practice, and there would most definitely NOT be hip hop yoga. the yoga practiced in the u.s. now is a set of modern forms based to varying degrees on ancient teachings. to my mind, the mere fact that western cultures have appropriated yoga (for better or worse) and created new styles of it means that it would be difficult to say that yoga is inherently anything in the united states except poses and breathing.

but let’s return to this notion that yoga changes a person. experiential evidence would appear to bear out this claim. and by that same evidence, i would suggest that these changes often (but not always) manifest in greater compassion for self and others, consideration of consequences, and awareness of interconnectedness.

i was not raised in a religious setting. however, i have attended Christian, Catholic, and Jewish services. i have selectively read and studied the Old and New Testaments, the Koran, and devotional Hindu works, among other types of religious writings. this by way of saying that i am in no way a religious insider, but i have immense respect for and interest in religion. (it’s actually part of my day job, and i am attending the american academy of religion conference in a few weeks.)

as a yoga teacher trained from a western perspective, i have a couple of reactions to the article. first, is that my understanding of yoga concurs with Pastor Driscoll’s in that it is part of a system. (however, whether it is part of the 8-limb path or not greatly varies based on the type of yoga being practiced.) generally, yoga is a physical preparation for meditation. meditation is a mental preparation for communion with the divine. where i differ from the pastor is in assuming: 1) that every practitioner of yoga will have the desire to meditate or commune with the divine and 2) that the divine is in any way spelled out in yogic philosophy in a way that excludes all possibility of reconciling with the Christian God. nothing that i have read or learned about the teachings of yoga or about Christianity suggests to me that the goals are essentially different. perhaps i am misguided in my conception of Christianity, but i’ve been led to believe that the teachings are about reaching divinity (Heaven and communion with God). the Christian faith is partially based on the notion that the path to God relies on salvation through Jesus. am i totally off base in thinking that the path to Jesus might look different for different people, although based on the same principles and practices? or in thinking that compassion, consideration, and awareness cultivated through a yoga practice might lead to a life lived in a way that resonates with Christian doctrine? because my perception is that there’s no uncrossable gulf here.

does every style of yoga work with a particular religious philosophy? absolutely not. and i would recommend to any students in a class of mine that, if they wanted to practice yoga at all, it should be consistent with their outlook on how to live a happy, productive, good life (in a religious or non-religious sense). this means that certain teachers and certain styles will resonate and others won’t. a class with a lot of chanting of Hindu devotional works would likely not be comfortable for a devout practitioner of another religion. but a class that focuses on the physical practice probably could be.

and as for the OM, some teachers don’t even do it. and participation is always optional.

i’m really interested to hear other peoples’ perspectives on this!

tl;dr summary: i think that yoga does change people, but that those changes are not necessarily inconsistent with Christianity (or other religions). i don’t think that yoga is inherently a religion, but even when yoga is used as preparation for meditation and communion with the divine, i’m unaware of any reason why the divine here absolutely must be interpreted as part of Hindu faith and cannot stand for the Christian God. i’m no expert, though. and i’m glad to have read Pastor Driscoll’s thoughtful and engaging article.



  1. For a perspective on how Catholic beliefs can often, though not always, be different from this Pastor’s very Protestant (and, I would assert, absurd) viewpoints. Please see below:

    “Georg Feuerstein, a well-known scholar of the yoga tradition, wrote in his book “The Deeper Dimension of Yoga,” that “practicing Christians or Jews (or practitioners of any other religious tradition), should take from yoga what makes sense to them and deepens their own faith and spiritual A 1989 “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation,” signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, offers an answer to the question of conflict between yoga and religion.

    It states, “The majority of the ‘great religions’ which have sought union with God in prayer have also pointed out ways to achieve it. Just as the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions, neither should these ways be rejected out of hand simply because they are not Christian. On the contrary, one can take from them what is useful so long as the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and requirements are never obscured. It is within the context of all of this that these bits and pieces should be taken up and expressed anew.”

    Then Cardinal Ratzinger is NOW POPE Benedict XVI, and, as most people, especially American Catholics, know, AN EXTREMELY traditional and conservative thinker, not known for embracing radical ideologies. I took yoga at the Catholic University of America, a Vatican sanctioned institution and there was no compatibility problem. Although, of course, our dear pastor might not say that Catholics were really Christian, but that is a different discussion 🙂

    The Pastor’s complete rejection of One-ism seems silly to someone like me who reads all sorts of Medieval Christian literature that states that a spiritual person’s goal is to become one with the Godhead. The insistance on the entire otherness of God and the utter depravity of human beings is rooted in the salvation theology of Protestantism, specifically as influenced by Calvin and thus is not shared by all those who call themselves Christian. It is interesting to me that someone like Pastor Mark, who seems to have such a radical cultural success has such a narrow-minded view on spirituality. I would say that, politically, Catholics often get a bad rap for being anti-progressive. I believe that the depth of the cultural conservativism of evangelical Protestantism- a movement that has become nearly mainstream if we are to look at our current political theatre- is much more profound and perhaps more damaging to progressive thinking. Of course (though I don’t go to mass much) I was raised in a household of liberal Catholics, am a trained historian of the Catholic Church, and an admitted yoga fanatic, so I may be a bit biased.

    • thanks so much for this, Kate! it’s just the sort of information i was wondering about. it’s pretty cool to that Catholic University has no trouble offering yoga classes on campus – that’s a pretty big sanction! : D

  2. to see video of Driscoll, and read the thoughts of another Catholic yogini friend of mine, visit Blonde Yogini:

  3. I finally found some time to read through this thoughtfully. I think that Pastor Driscoll has some fundamental misconceptions in his research on yoga, which, from his perspective, would make it seem incompatible with Christianity. If you look at his reference citations, he has read one article by Elliot Miller, a fellow Christian, about yoga history, and one book by a yoga historian (and looking at the page numbers cited, perhaps he read just the introduction to that book). Driscoll doesn’t claim to have read Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita, or any other historical yoga texts, nor does he claim to have read any material on modern yoga practice. Even his Bikram Choudhury quote is cribbed directly from Miller’s article.

    I clicked the link to check out Miller’s article, and while he seems to have read Patanjali, he also includes discussion of tantra, which seems to me to be a purposeful inclusion to raise prurient interest, since tantra is incredibly far removed from most yoga practiced in the US today, particularly the kinds of tantra that involve “black magic” or “child sacrifice”. However, even Miller doesn’t denounce yoga – his article is the first in a three-part series, and the first part only covers history and definitions. Pastor Driscoll draws his conclusions from reading only part 1 of Miller’s explorations, without seeing how Miller looks at modern yoga practice or what conclusions he draws. Now, I’m not saying that Driscoll should have done exhaustive research just to write a blog post, but I would have preferred him to have read a little more widely on the subject before making such negative conclusions. While I understand some of what informs his viewpoint, it seems to me that he’s trying to make his article seem deeply researched to better back up his agenda.

    One thing that struck me in my own practice and reading was how similar the Bhagavad Gita is to the Gospels. A LOT of what Krishna tells Arjuna could have been said by Jesus to Peter and have made perfect sense. One major thing yoga has done for me is to help me realize just how similar the major religions are. On a technical theological level, the central tenets of Buddhism and Hinduism aren’t going to be compatible with the central tenets of Christianity, but on a moral and ethical level, they’re nearly identical, and on a spiritual level, we’re all striving for the same thing: to become closer to our version of God. Whether “God” means Yahweh or Jesus or Krishna or the universal consciousness, it doesn’t matter. There are many names for God and many metaphors for God. We’re all blind men touching a different part of the elephant, but it’s the same elephant; the trunk, ears, feet, and tail are all parts of the same thing.

    While yoga has a strong and beautiful background in Hindu tradition, that doesn’t necessarily define it as a Hindu practice. The tools set out in the yoga texts are, I feel, applicable to any sort of spiritual searching – and I believe that Christians should and do take part in spiritual searching to become closer to their God. All of my reading this year has helped me to confirm for myself that I’m not a Christian, but that wasn’t due to the yoga – I pretty much knew that already. Yoga could have the complete opposite effect on a devout Christian, helping her to come into a deeper communion with her faith.

    Thank you so much for your thoughts on this, and for the link to Pastor Driscoll’s article. I also really loved the link that Kate posted and I plan on sending it to one of my students, who is a devout Catholic. (I think I’m also going to turn this comment into a blog post myself!)

    • i was hoping to hear your thoughts! mine have admittedly shifted somewhat with some actually video footage (courtesy of the link to my friend ally’s blog) and kate posted some really insightful stuff. realistically, i think people do not dig super deeply into things before forming opinions (i don’t always), so i don’t fault the pastor for that, but agree with everything you said here. really looking forward to your blog post when it happens! please update me on what your Catholic student thinks!!!

  4. […] the Bible. You can read Pastor Driscoll’s article here. My friend Birdmaddgirl responds to it here. You may not be surprised to learn that I disagree with Pastor Driscoll and agree with […]

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