Tuesday, November 5, 2013
# 2: Yoga
When I lost my traditional LDS testimony about two years ago, I started investigating other religions. I visited other churches, I read books about different faith traditions, and on my commute to work, I would listen to various Christian radio stations, including a Catholic radio station. These radio stations introduced to me so many wonderful sermons and songs and ideas about God. I was exposed to a lot of uplifting, faithful perspectives on Jesus Christ.
On a couple of occasions, though, hosts and callers on a Catholic Radio program explained why good Catholics should never practice yoga. They said doing yoga invites evil spirits into your life. They said that ultimately you can't separate the physical postures and movements of yoga from the philosophy/religion/worldview that underlies yoga. The Catholics on the radio claimed that those who practice yoga are indeed practicing Hinduism, even if they are unaware of it. In short, listeners to the program were given the impression that yoga should never be part of a Christian's life.
So, if you decide to become a Catholic, realize that orthodox Catholics will tell you that you should never do yoga.
And Catholics aren't the only ones who denounce yoga. Other Christians have developed "Praise Moves" a Christian alternative to yoga.
But how do Mormons, even strictly orthodox Mormons, feel about yoga? Admittedly, some of the old-timers might be a little apprehensive about yoga, especially if there is incense or chanting involved, which there rarely is. But the vast majority of Mormons feel just fine about yoga! I know of quite of few faithful, active Latter-day Saint women who practice yoga. One group even got permission from the bishop to practice yoga in the cultural hall of the church. Also, a Young Women's activity that I personally know of taught introduced yoga to the young girls.
As if this anecdotal evidence weren't enough, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint's official radio station, the Mormon Channel, recently devoted a whole radio show to yoga! Here's a link to it. The description of the radio show says, "Yoga requires not only strength, flexibility, and balance, but a focused heart and mind. Ali Mills, a certified yoga instructor, teaches us about the many benefits of yoga. Ali shares how yoga not only helped her physical ailments, but increased her understanding of the gospel." If you listen to that radio program, you'll see that Mormonism really is a bigger tent than most people give it credit for.
For most of my life I've been ambivalent towards yoga. I just never really did it or cared about it. But recently I started doing it, and you know what? I really like it. It makes me happy. It soothes me. It brings peace to my heart. Yoga challenges me, it makes me more flexible, it makes me stronger, and I do feel, as does Ali Mills, that it brings me closer to God.
Mormons believe in the 13th article of faith, which states in part, "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." Notice it does not say that we only believe in seeking after these things if they come from the LDS Church. It's not like good Mormons are expected to only have the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Osmonds on our iPods. As Mormons, we are supposed to seek after truth, beauty and goodness wherever these qualities exist.
So yoga has Hindu origins. Big deal. A lot of good things have come out of Hinduism, like yoga, and a lot of bad things have come out of Hinduism, like suttee. Why can't we take the great things out of Hinduism, incorporate them into our lives, and discard the bad things? Remember, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
This is an important concept for those of us who choose to stay LDS, despite having a non-literal understanding of the Restoration. We can keep the good things from Mormonism, like Family Home Evening and developing Christ-like love, and we can discard the bad things, like polygamy and a Pharisee-like devotion to the letter of the law. We can honor all the good things that have come from the complicated mind of Joseph Smith, like the sermons and stories taught in the Book of Mormon, and we can decry all the bad things that Joseph Smith has done, like marrying the 14 year old Helen Mar Kimball.
Isn't it good to know that you can stay in the Church, be a faithful member in good standing, and still practice yoga?