WHAT IS CHRISTIAN YOGA?
Yoga is like water in that it takes the shape of whatever container it is placed in. A Christian container produces what can be called "Christian Yoga." Many Christians practice the body postures and breathing practices of hatha yoga to improve and maintain physical health. However, here we will primarily discuss Christian Yoga for the purpose of Christian spiritual growth. Since there are numerous ways of following Christ, there can be many alternative ways of practicing Christian Yoga. This website focuses on four basic approaches to Christian Yoga that correspond to the four basic spiritual paths of classical yoga.
Traditional yoga has four different paths to accommodate the psychological temperaments of various seekers. There are basically four different psychological tendencies. Each person has an active nature, an emotional nature, an intellectual nature, and a contemplative nature. Although every person has all four natures, usually one of these will be the predominant temperament of the individual. Each of the four paths of yoga emphasizes one of these four temperaments.
According to classical yoga from India, seekers who are predominately active by nature are drawn to the path of Karma Yoga, the path of selfless action. Individuals who have an emotional temperament are suited to Bhakti Yoga, the path of love. Individuals who are intellectually oriented are suited to Jnana Yoga, the path of discernment. Individuals who have a contemplative inclination are attracted to Raja Yoga, the path of meditation.
Also, there is one more type of yoga. This fifth path is Relationship Yoga, which focuses on forgiveness, and is not part of traditional yoga. Any one of these paths can be practiced individually, and traditionally Hindu seekers of India were encouraged to choose just one specific path to find God. However, the emphasis on this website it to practice Christian Yoga as a combination of these five paths into one balanced approach to God so that there is an integration of the entire person.
These five categories of Christian Yoga are identified below:
Christian Bhakti Yoga : Love
Christian Karma Yoga : Service
Christian Raja Yoga : Meditation
Christian Jnana Yoga : Understanding
Christian Relationship Yoga : Forgiveness
CHRISTIAN YOGA IS
Yoga in the Hindu tradition, and especially in the practice of Tantric Yoga, can be considered “systematic internalization.” In yoga everything is internalized, specifically meaning brought into the body. All of the universe, the macrocosm, is interiorized, including all of the dimensions of existence beyond the three dimensions of the physical universe. So a smaller version of the macrocosm is symbolically represented within the body as the microcosm. The spine represents the axis of the universe around which all else spins and along that axis are the seven spiritual centers. The systematic internalization produced by yoga practices penetrates not only into the body, but more importantly into the spiritual centers themselves. Everything in the universe that spins around the central axis of the spine is brought into the chakras, especially into the heart center and the crown center, where all opposing forces come together in oneness. Yoga attainment is often thought of as the union of divergent forces to realize the oneness of God.
Just as yoga in general is an internalization, Christian Yoga is likewise a systematic internalization, but with an emphasis upon Christ. As a Christian yogi, your body is a member of the body of Christ. Christ’s body encompasses the universe. His body encompasses form, space, and time. There is nothing that exists outside of Christ, just as there is nothing that exists outside of God, the only difference being God is the First Cause, who created the Christ. The Christian yogi then has a single task—to internalize Christ Himself, who is the One in the All.
Within the Christian yogi then is the cross of Christ in which his ego dies daily. His breath inhales the love of Christ for him personally and for all of mankind. In this inhalation he takes in the words of Christ on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”(1) He knows these words are for himself and all his brothers, and he knows a deeper meaning not expressed, “Father, forgive them for they do not yet know who they are, as your holy children.” His breath exhales the last expiration of the cross, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.”(2)
When the yogi meditates, he sees himself as one of the disciples waiting in the upper room for the Holy Spirit to descend unto his crown in parted tongues of fire to purify and cleanse him of all that would separate him from oneness. Christ rose from the dead indeed in a moment of time for all mankind once and for all, but the Christian yogi is not content with an intellectual assent to this event in history. His mission is to immerse himself in the fire of God so the ego may be burnt to ashes, and he may rise from the dead also. But it will not be the yogi rising from the dead. The Christian yogis realization is that it will be the Christ that is resurrecting again within him in the eternal present moment.
In the awakening of Christ comes the awareness of your own Self as the Christ Self. But equally important is that expanded awareness of oneness brings with it the realization that others are participating with you in the one Christ. Consequently, you can see your true Self in your brothers and sisters. Along with any true realization comes compassion and gratitude. Out of this gratitude comes a dedication to helping to bring about the liberation and happiness of all conscious beings. Christian yogis become teachers of this goal of extending to others, just as Buddhists become teachers to embrace the identical goal, called the bodhisattva ideal. Thus what begins as a Christian Yoga internalization ends as a Christian Yoga externalization. Being a teacher does not necessarily mean calling yourself a teacher. You teach others simply by your example, and sometimes more effectively than if you did call yourself a teacher.
Walking the path of Christian Yoga would ideally include a balanced practice of Christian Bhakti Yoga (love), Christian Karma Yoga (service), Christian Raja Yoga (meditation), Christian Jnana Yoga (understanding), and Christian Relationship Yoga (forgiveness). If you accept Christian Yoga as your path, you have a wonderful example to follow—Jesus. His life reflected a balance of dedicated action, devotion, knowledge, meditation, and forgiveness. Jesus will take you by the hand, like a father takes the hand of his son, and walk with you along the path. Remember that you are never searching alone. You are always joined in this search with your brothers and sisters since finding the divine within is the longing of every human heart either consciously or unconsciously. This collaborative adventure is part of a divine Plan of evolving spiritual consciousness. Jesus is in charge of this Plan, so be sure to hold His Hand. Every step toward the Light, no matter how seemingly small, contributes to the overall spiritual growth of all conscious beings.
A PERSONAL DESCRIPTION
OF CHRISTIAN YOGA
These five forms of Christian Yoga are described below in an excerpt from the autobiography Memory Walk in the Light by Donald James Giacobbe:
Until Eastern spiritual practices came into my life, I believed spirituality was something limited to Sunday mornings. Other than a Christian prayer at night, the rest of every day was spent in the non-spiritual activities that fill up daily living. Yoga can be just a set of postures and breathing practices that fills up the exercise category of life. But a deeper understanding of yoga reveals that life is not merely a collection of categories, with spirituality as simply one of them. Yoga teaches spirituality as a way of life that encompasses all daily activities.
personally moved by
the following Bible quotation, which I took quite literally:
- Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.(3)
I felt Jesus was speaking directly to me in these words, asking me to open the door to Him. What is it about yoga that helped me then and helps me now to open the door to Christ that traditional Christianity does not? The key connection for me is the idea that yoga helps me to explore the presence of Christ within my physical body. In the West, Christ is apart from me, and I am worshipping someone, something outside myself. The East says Christ is within and can be experienced there as my own true nature. This difference is not just theoretical; it is practical. Hatha yoga, the yoga of the physical body, provides a practical framework for going within the body as an avenue for this direct experience. Hatha yoga disciplines consisting of postures and breathing practices help me to calm the mind and open the door to Christ better than an entirely Western approach, which leaves out an emphasis on the body. Yet hatha yoga is only a good beginning—part of a comprehensive framework that yoga provides for encountering Christ. This larger framework includes Christian Karma Yoga (service), Christian Bhakti Yoga (love and devotion), Christian Jnana Yoga (spiritual discernment and understanding), and Christian Raja Yoga (meditation). The combination of these forms of yoga helps me to work on my Christ connection in all the areas of my life, in contrast to the emphasis in traditional Christianity on spirituality for the limited time of Sunday worship. [Later when I learned the importance of forgiveness, I added Christian Relationship Yoga to my spiritual practice. Christian Bhakti Yoga focuses on love, but emphasizes devotion to God. Christian Relationship Yoga also includes love, yet is about loving that expresses forgiveness for everyone, including forgiving myself.]
In particular, I found the meditative aspect of Christian Raja Yoga was the most helpful in fostering my inner exploration of Christ, providing a systematic structure for my spiritual life. I found yoga was a scientific means of opening the door to Christ—scientific in the sense of providing a structure that could be repeated by anyone and produce similar results each time. Yoga showed me that there was not just one door to Christ; there were seven inner doors called chakras, literally meaning “wheels” of energy and consciousness. A method called “Christian Yoga Meditation” helps to open all seven inner doors to Christ, and this will be described in Chapter 63, “Jacob’s Ladder.” In the West, connection with Christ is all about faith that does not require a direct “felt” experience to confirm this faith. I certainly feel faith is essential, but felt it was also necessary for me to have direct experiences of Christ. Yoga promises this direct experience, and after practicing it, I found that it delivered on this promise. Feeling the presence of Christ within is the nourishment that I needed to keep my focus on living a life devoted to God.
When I practiced these proven methods, I found that Christ did indeed come into my life through my invitation and daily renewal of that invitation. My Catholic upbringing had shown me the value of communion in Sunday service, but yoga, literally meaning “union,” taught me how to find daily communion with Christ within—both in meditation and throughout the day. It was this intimacy with the divine presence that I found fulfilling and strengthening. In my vision of Christian Yoga, I thought of my inner communion as not only walking in the light of Christ, but also as an opportunity to let that light shine outwardly. Thus inner communion led to becoming a spiritual vehicle bringing blessings to others and nourishing a sense of outer communion with my brothers and sisters.
2. Luke 23:46
3. Revelation 3:20-21
for individual aspects of Christian Yoga:
Christian Bhakti Yoga : Love
Christian Karma Yoga : Service
Christian Raja Yoga : Meditation
Christian Jnana Yoga : Understanding
The excerpt above is from the autobiography Memory Walk in the Light: My Christian Yoga Life as "A Course in Miracles" by Donald James Giacobbe. Below is the author's description of this book:
My life is an example of following in the footsteps of Jesus, while practicing yoga disciplines and applying the principles of A Course in Miracles. I am a “monk in the world,” not a father with children. Yet, as every father, I would like to leave behind an inheritance. This autobiography is my inheritance, but it is simply a reminder of our Father’s inheritance—His gift of Himself—to all of His children. The only gold in this inheritance is the message of love and forgiveness that God wants me to hear, to live, and to share with you. I hope that you are entertained by my life story of blending the East and West. However, providing entertainment is not my goal. My purpose is to encourage you to increasingly awaken to the spiritual dimension of your own life. Consequently, this book includes how-to appendices on Christian meditation, exercise, and yoga postures, which can be practiced by anyone to grow spiritually. The goal is to let your spiritual practice become a way of life firmly centered in Christ. With this goal your spiritual practice starts out as an effort, becomes a necessity, and eventually becomes a delight, bringing many blessings.
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