“Raise your Arms, and Praise the Lord!”, Christian yoga is about to erupt throughout the Red States of America and not everyone is best pleased. Why ever not, I wonder? Committed Christians doing nice peaceful yoga is certainly an improvement on some of their more violent antics past and present, splendid Cromwellian urgings to “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition!”, reprised by Navy padre Howell Forgy as he blasted away at the Japs at Pearl Harbour, notwithstanding. Rather, a development devoutly to be desired, I’d say.
Amen or Aum, it’s the same thing some say, courtesy of Ammon-Ra via Egypt, the Alpha and the Omega, to the hidden years of Christ in India, take your pick. Others think it’s a rotten idea. Either way, “Time” magazine tells us that a tsunami of books and videos is headed our way, catering to a fast-growing movement in the US that wants the benefits of yoga, without the heathen bits. Blue State America, that’s been at it for years (yoga that is) and has all the right gear and moves, is a bit sniffy about their redneck brothers and sisters joining in the fun without all due Hindoo trappings. The Pope, in his earlier role as attack cardinal, is none too impressed and has warned us about the dangers of Christians getting stuck into yoga, not to mention various Hindu academics and quite a few yoga masters and mavens who are not keen to see yoga co-opted by evangelicals in mortal funk of Patanjali, even if they’ve never heard of him.
And that of course is part of the point, isn’t it? We don’t really want to share yoga with people like this, do we?
I mean, you can do yoga and be anything from an atheist to a Zoroastrian, you don’t have to be a Hindu or a Buddhist, though some would say it helps if you really, really want to do it right. Some of us just do it because we want the exercise and a nice bod and can’t be bothered with all that spiritual stuff. Just gimme the gear so I fit in and am lookin’ good while I’m working at it. Some yoga sisters, along with His Holiness may look down, be it ever so compassionately, on such a benighted approach, but by and large they want everyone to be included. Yoga is very ecumenical, just don’t co-opt it for Jesus!
In fact, if you are a narrow minded bigot go do calisthenics, why don’t you?
Understandable as that sentiment may be, is it not a little lacking in charity? Why shouldn’t Christians adapt yoga to their own purposes? Who knows, it might even broaden a few perspectives unawares, whatever the vernacular....
Susan Bordenkircher, a Methodist from Alabama says she discovered yoga in 2002. “I knew I was getting something out of it spiritually and physically”, says Susan “but I was uncomfortable in that format”. Poor uncomfy Susan, we don’t want that for her, now do we? So what she does is prepare her vinyasas for her classes, eliminating all the beastly foreign stuff and substituting good Christian words where necessary. Rather than endanger their immortal souls, paying homage to what is feared could be a Hindu Sun god (eek!), the Sun Salutation becomes a “warm-up-flow”, while others of mighty originality and inspired believers all christen it , guess what…. “The Son” Salutation, well of course! And Lo! God is in his heaven once more and all is well. Quite what these good people make of St Francis and his ecstatic hymn of praise to “Brother Sun and Sister Moon” is an excellent question. Something nasty and Catholic, no doubt. In any case, the elders of Susan’s church wondered if all this might not be going a little too far? The exercise thingy was good of course, but couldn’t she please change the name to something other than yoga? And wasn’t meditation, well - sort of anti-Christ?
Cindy Senarighi teaches yoga to a Lutheran community in Minnesota. Classically she begins class with prana exercises and some meditation. “Yahweh” is a great mantra she says and so is reciting the Jesus Prayer. “Now raise your arms and praise the Lord!” she enjoins after a minute or so of silence. Is the tetragrammaton, the unmentionable name of God, really a suitable mantra for a bunch of Lutherans doing exercises in deepest Minnesota one wonders? Do they know what they are saying and whom they are invoking? And come to that, what of Jews? Lots of Jews do yoga. What do they do? Try as I might, I can find no “Jewish Yoga” out there.....
And what I’d like to know is the feeling about yoga on the Sabbath?
On to a good thing is Laurette Willis from Oklahoma. She used to be into all that “rootless” New Age stuff, she says, before she became a committed Christian in 1987 that is. Truth be told, she probably didn’t quite hack it as a reiki master back then. Now she’s doing good doing the rounds of Christian groups throughout the country warning them of the insidious perils of yoga and teaching them something she calls “Praise Moves”. You can’t take Hinduism out of yoga, the phrase “Christian yoga” is an oxymoron, insists Laurette. Quite so. Just change the names and that makes it OK, I suppose?
It’s not just various protestant churches who worry about Hinduism and Buddhism infecting their adherents via yoga and the like. The Vatican, long concerned at the appeal of Eastern religions and traditions like yoga impinging on their patch take a different and superficially less chauvinistic tack, inveighing against such practices in 1987. There being nothing wrong with being a Hindu or a Buddhist, you understand, except of course that it is an error, but Catholics should not be suborned and led astray by “pleasing sensations” and feelings of “spiritual wellbeing”. Why ever not? Is it wrong to feel such things? Or should you only feel them if you are a Catholic when these good feelings come by grace and favour of the Church? The Church really should come up with something a bit less wet than this if they want to stop the hemorrhaging of believers from their traditional bailiwick. No, no! I misunderstand! The concern is that it might “degenerate into a cult of the body”. Aaah! Now we’re getting nearer it! It’s our old friend Dionysus raising his curly locks and hornéd head. In which case I don’t think any of you Catholics should go to the gym, unless you suffer like hell and remain fat.
A few years back I attended the Ist ever International Tantra Conference. It was organised by the newly married Kutira of Whales and Wails and New Age composer Rafael. In Maui, where else? I’ve no idea if the Conference was ever repeated, but I hope so. It was one of the funniest gatherings I’ve ever been to. Appropriately, just before the Conference I’d been doing a week-long tantra course with my Beloved organised by Charles & Caroline Muir, those harbingers of tantra for Middle America and much written-up in the Wall Street Journal, no less. We were suitably blissed out. Charles & Caroline must have seen the line-up and mindful of their public were conspicuous by their absence. So following Kutira & Rafael’s wonderful marriage extravaganza on Big Beach we were well and truly prepped for the Conference that followed.
There were about 12 speakers in all. They ranged from the most dull and dessicated expression of White Tantra on the far right of the panel, read out by the girlfriend of some guy who was actually chilling out in the fleshpots of the Caribbean while unburdening himself of 12 years in a cave in the Himalayas; to Margo Anand, very much in the middle of the panel and the road; to a rather menacing black leather-clad exponent of Gay Tantra; and finally, on the farthest left, the ever-delightful and irrepressible Annie Sprinkle, self-declared hooker and temple prostitute. The Conference got off to a cracking start as the White Tantra girlfriend read verbatim the sum total of her boyfriend’s arcane musings after 12 years in the cave. Somewhere in all this he asserted that sodomy was wrong since it interrupted celestial rhythms. Whoa! That really livened things up as certain sections of the audience and the Gay Tantra cum biker erupted in protest. From that point on things just kept getting better n’ better.....
Apart from the pleasure of recall, the reason I mention this is the wonderful diversity of it all. People were coming at Tantra from every angle you could possibly imagine, and then a few you couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t, even if you could. Is it not so with every idea ever held in common by men and women since time began? Since we became simultaneously blessed and accursed with the gift of speech in fact? Ever since the naming of things? Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to politics and alas, religion. Exactly why we have to kill, or at very least, look down on our fellow beings, who do not believe as we do eludes me. Yes, I understand the motivation may have more to do with cultural/tribal and even social differentiation than anything essentially spiritual. And yes, I know it is human nature for most of us to want to feel a bit “further along” than certain other folk.... if I may put it that way? But why shouldn’t certain Christian sects christianise yoga if they’ve a mind to? It may or may defeat the object of the exercise, and who’s to say what that is? I wonder what Patanjali would have made of it all?
Or, like me, do you wonder if these days he might not have taken out a patent on the whole kit & caboodle and laughed all the way from the Ashram to the bank.
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