Yoga has become so popular in the West as a form of exercise that some critics say many of its most spiritual aspects — specifically, its roots in Hinduism — are being lost on those who practice. The Hindu American Foundation, for instance, has launched a “Take Back Yoga” campaign that seeks to educate people about yoga’s religious side.
Suhag A. Shukla, Managing Director and Legal Counsel for the HAF, said the campaign grew out of frustration over a yoga industry that they claim hides the Hinduism inherent in yoga: “They view Hinduism as all caste, cows and curry — but there are metaphysical concepts in yoga that are part of the Hindu religion.”
Ironically, this movement has found an unlikely ally in certain Christian preachers who are all too aware of yoga’s religious link to Hinduism — and would encourage their flock to save their souls by leaving yoga alone.
“Yoga is nothing a Christian should delve into,” warned Bill Keller, a prominent televangelist and head of the 9/11 Christian Center in New York. “These new-age philosophies are in complete contradiction with biblical truth. It’s watered-down, feel-good nonsense.”
Stretching limits of the faith?
The debate comes at a time when not only is yoga on the rise, but a new variety of Christian yoga is also catching on. This form emphasizes physical and spiritual health, and it pairs traditional yoga postures with Christian psalms and prayers.
Amy Russell, a guru at the Roman Catholic Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Columbus Circle, has been teaching Christian yoga for three years. “There are some people who think it’s something ... demonic,” said Russell. “But Christians are hungry to have a positive way of working with their bodies and the Church.”
“Christians have been engaged in yoga-like practices for centuries,” says Serene Jones, president of the Union Theological Seminary. “It’s not as if a Christian never stood on their head before.”