As I've studied yoga at Arizona State University this semester, I was surprised to find how little yoga has to do with exercise.
In fact, when a great teacher of yoga, Patanjali, decided to write down the things he had learned about yoga he wrote down 195 Yoga Sutras, or blue prints for living a better life through yoga. Only three have to do with the physical practice.
To me, that made yoga even better. I'm a Christian and I believe in God, and I also believe that God gave me my body. It seems natural that God would approve of me exercising my body and combining the way my body moves with my breath, my mind, and my spirit.
A summary of Patanjali's teachings are known as his eightfold path. These eight suggestions include being aware of your social behavior, having inner discipline (including study of sacred text, whatever that may be), controlling your body, recognizing the life force inside you, withdrawing of senses, concentration, meditation and, finally, reaching ultimate bliss. It seems to me that God has taught the same things.
So, I was surprised to find out about Holy Yoga in Ahwatukee Foothills, and even more surprised to hear about the criticism it has gotten from both the Christian world and the world of yoga.
"In the Bible Jesus says, ‘I don't have a home,'" Ahwatukee Foothills resident Brooke Boon said. "I can't land here, and I can't land there, and we've very much felt the same way. The Christian community has been very apprehensive, which is changing, and the yoga community has been very apprehensive because there are a lot of yogis that believe yoga is very Hindu and cannot be separated. We're kind of in the space of no man's land, but we're comfortable there because that's where God is. God will meet us there."
Boon said she was practicing yoga long before she developed her relationship with God. Once she did come to know Jesus she stopped practicing yoga for a while to better understand whether the two went against one another.
"I took some time off and just started to practice by myself with scripture and doing what I had been created to do, which is yoga, in relationship with God and just spending time with him," Boon said. "It was born from that."
Since that first realization somewhere around 2005, Boon started teaching yoga classes in churches around Ahwatukee and incorporating scripture into the practice.
There was some fear at first from the Christian community, Boon said, but over the years it has begun to change as pastors have stood by her work and her outreach.
Eventually, she gained recognition and now, Holy Yoga is an international movement with more than 450 instructors world-wide that Boon has taught. It's a nonprofit ministry, and all the teachers do it on a volunteer basis.
Boon says it has become one of the largest outreach programs at Mountain Park Community Church serving 500 to 700 people every week, many of whom do not attend the church.
Even though the class incorporates scripture, Boon says it's not a religion.
"Yoga is a spiritual discipline, just like fasting or meditation or prayer," she said. "It's not unique to one religion, it's a spiritual discipline... A spiritual discipline by definition is the posturing of ones self in order to connect with God. Spiritual disciplines are not religious, they're spiritual, and God is spirit. It's just about terms and how you define that."
I may not be an expert in yoga or religion but, to me, it all makes sense and it's comforting. As I'm looking into myself to control my body and my movements I can also look into myself to find God and the Holy Spirit. Yoga is not just an exercise, it's a lifestyle.
I realize Holy Yoga may not be for everyone, and Boon knows that, too, but in my own future practice of yoga, I think it's definitely a direction I would like to try.
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