Nourish by Samantha Jordaan. (Calle Terraza, Estepona, Spain)
The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit which means yoke or union. Traditionally, this refers to the union of the individual self with the Divine, Universal Spirit, or Cosmic Consciousness.
It dates back to pre-vedic Indian times (c. 1500 – c. 500 BCE), and has its roots in Hindu philosophy.
In the western world it has been taught largely as a series of physical techniques, which is commonly known as Hatha Yoga – Hatha, meaning “force”. These are body postures or “asanas”, which are taught to students of yoga so that they may learn to hold the postures both steadily and comfortably. The main goal of this is to be able to sit for extended periods in half lotus, in order to achieve calmness and stillness of the mind.
But yoga is many things to many people, and while some feel nourished by its practice and find it enhances their lives, others are afraid that it opens the doors to dark forces, and is something that should be avoided at all costs.
Christianity frowns upon the practice of yoga, and teaches its community that it draws one away from god and towards paganism. A Catholic church in Kerala, India explains it, like this : “ some of the main traits of yoga are conflicting with Christian beliefs. The experience of yoga is that the practitioner, nature, and God become one, but according to Christianity, nature and God cannot become one,” the report said.
But firstly, if one feels strongly this way, then they can still practice only the asanas, and focus on the word of God during their practice. It can be used as a time of quiet prayer, if that’s what the practitioner wishes to do or simply on what one is feeling in their own bodies with relation to their muscles, joints and deeper tissues that make up our physiology. And secondly as much as i’ve read on the subject I fail to comprehend how any regime that offers such a myriad of health benefits can be any thing that God could frown upon. Physical yoga is a cellular exercise increasing blood flow to areas that it would not normally reach. This also includes the brain and hormonal system. It provides fresh oxygen to the blood, brain and organs of the body through deep, focused breathwork. So practicing yoga may give you a natural euphoria or enhance a meditative state.
As a Sports Therapist who has worked with a range of professional athletes, I’ve seen first hand how yoga practice helps athletes perform better, by lengthening tight muscles, strengthening weak ones and also helping them to train their minds to be more focused on their sport. This is just one of many examples of how yoga helps people.
But it was while working for the British military that I saw how yoga was truly a gift to us, as humans. A wonderful yoga teacher, who first inspired me to study yoga, held classes for injured personnel. Most of these people had lost limbs or were in some other way badly disabled, both physically and mentally. But when they came to yoga, they shone. You could visibly see the light from them as they experienced relief from pain, greater movement, increased strength and tools to help mentally manage the challenging lives they now led. How could God not support this?
Christianity teaches us that to try and clear one’s mind only creates space for evil to potentially enter. However the notion of creating a vacuous space that an entity or energy may enter, is different from clearing ones mind to simply stem the barrage of worries that plague our daily lives and just to experience peace and tranquility, in order to recharge, our batteries. Living in a state of constant stress, with worry and fear as companions leaves us little or no room for love, peace and hope.
Before I found yoga, I lived in a state of low level stress. I ate nutritionally weak food, I drank my fair share of mind numbing alcohol and I gave little thought to others, unless they were in my immediate circle. There was no God in my life. I’d been brought up a catholic but never really understood the institution of the church, so had walked away as a young adult. I didn’t think about God, or anything beyond my own daily grind.
But through practicing yoga, I learnt to slow down. I found ways to literally exhale stress out of my body, and inhale peace. I felt my heart expand as kindness made its home there. I felt more love for my fellow humans, more compassion to all living beings and more at peace in myself than id ever felt. My whole outward appearance changed, to a healthier, brighter and younger looking version of myself. This was not because of what I wore, or how I portrayed myself, but because I had become and was still working on becoming a better person. I had found the power of loving kindness; of goodness; of God. One might say that yoga brought me back to God, but this time through my heart instead of the church.
God is good. They are one and the same. God is everywhere. Good is everywhere. God is in all of us; good is in all of us ( albeit to very varying degrees). We were made in Gods image; we were made in the image of good. Perhaps to say you don’t believe in God is akin to saying you don’t believe in good. Good exists, and so does his opponent, evil. They co-exist in all of us.
However, we get to make the choice, as to which one of these forces will dominate us – do we choose to exist in the light of goodness, or are we tempted by the fruits of evil, and allow our minds to be filled with useless material longings that serve no purpose in enriching the power of good in our lives?
Yoga has played such a fundamental role in my path to being a better version of myself. I know in my heart that for me personally, it has delivered me on to a path of light, of good. I have also seen how the light shines from the hearts of my own yoga students as they grow from within themselves in to more beautiful souls. And if when turning to God I find myself asking whether he really would disapprove of yoga, I only have to recall the joy I saw in the eyes of the soldiers who’d lost limbs (and almost their lives) when they practiced yoga to know the answer.