LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Yoga mats out and heads bowed, about 10 women listened intently as Tammy Douglas said a prayer aloud. The opening prayer set the tone for the Saturday PraiseMoves class, which is marketed as a Christian alternative to yoga.
The women met in the sanctuary of The Church, a newer faith community that meets on the south side of Lafayette.
After a set of warm-up exercises, the Christian yoga alternative began. They stretched in postures instead of yoga poses. Gone was downward-facing dog and in its stead, women glided gracefully into tent pose. They still focused on breathing, adhering to constant reminders from Douglas to inhale and exhale.
However, the mood was intentionally religious in nature as Douglas read corresponding scriptures while the women lingered in their postures. By the end, as they lay supine in a refuge posture instead of the traditional yoga corpse pose, Douglas’ assistants laid warmed cloths soaked in lavender essential oil over the faces of the women to aid relaxation.
“Stay focused on God and your breath,” Douglas said. “Listen to that still, small voice.”
Then she read Psalm 23 aloud.
After being certified to teach PraiseMoves by the program’s founder and director, Laurette Willis, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Douglas started teaching local classes in mid-June. Douglas and Dan Reece, pastor of The Church where she attends and also serves as worship leader, believe that an alternative to yoga is needed because yoga is incompatible with Christian teaching.
“Yoga is a mystic and ascetic Hindu discipline for achieving union with supreme spirits through works, meaning salvation through works,” Douglas wrote in an email. “As Christians we cannot receive salvation through works but by accepting Jesus Christ. And yes, some of the postures look the same, (but) the body can only bend in so many ways. PraiseMoves is a redemptive work of the Lord.”
Reece agreed and said yoga shouldn’t be taught in Christian churches. “The Bible calls us to be a peculiar people and we should be that,” he told the Journal & Courier (http://on.jconline.com/UL42xi ). “We shouldn’t blend in with the world.”
However, some local yoga practitioners disagree. Some say yoga is spiritual but not religious and open to people of all faiths. Others say they too, are Christians and practice yoga as a way to connect to the Judeo-Christian God.
The new classes resurrect a standard yoga controversy, which brings into question the true spiritual nature of the increasingly popular discipline.
Jacqueline Allen-Magers, yoga teacher and owner of Community Yoga in West Lafayette, said although yoga has spiritual and philosophical branches, the practice of yoga in America is primarily secular — focusing on the physical or asana branch.
“There are a lot of people in the U.S. who don’t do anything more than the physical practice,” she said. “The U.S. in general has made it more of a workout. That’s the way the U.S. has Americanized it.”
However, this secularization of yoga has attracted backlash from the advocacy organization Hindu American Foundation. In 2010, the group created a national campaign called “Take Back Yoga” to emphasize yoga’s debt to the ancient faith tradition.
The organization argued that Western practitioners are comfortable with ascribing yoga to ancient Indian spirituality but not specifically Hinduism.
“From asanas named after Hindu Gods to the shared goal of moksha to the common pluralistic philosophy, the Hindu roots of yoga seem difficult to deny,” according to a statement from the organization’s website. “Yet, more often than not, many Western yoga practitioners are aghast at the very suggestion that the cherished ‘spiritual practice’ of yoga is firmly grounded in Hindu philosophy.”
Allen-Magers said both Hinduism and yoga evolved from the Vedic tradition, but yoga predates Hinduism.
Betsy Totty, a registered yoga teacher with Community Yoga, said yoga doesn’t belong to any one faith.
“The most formal fundamentalist religions want to attach it to some name, but we don’t see it that way,” she said. “We don’t see it as belonging to any one faith. We’re open to all. We don’t discriminate. We want people to feel loved and welcomed.”
Jerri Painter, owner of Pink Lotus Yoga Studio in Lafayette, disagrees with the idea that yoga is incompatible with Christian teaching.
She identifies as a Christian and said a majority of her yoga clients “have a very strong Christian faith,” she said.
“It prepares me to receive the spiritual message of the God of my understanding, and in my case it’s God,” she said. “I didn’t switch religions to be a yoga instructor.”
Although the movement in PraiseMoves resembles yoga, Douglas argues that the philosophies are different.
“I don’t believe that yoga is just an exercise,” she said. “Yoga asks you to find what you need from within and they say that everything you need can be found from within. I’m nothing without God. Everything that I need comes from him.”
The postures have different names such as “The Cross,” ‘‘Peter’s Boat,” and “David’s Harp.” Each posture done in PraiseMoves has a scripture associated with it. Practitioners listen to the instructor recite scripture while they execute postures.
Kris Bowers of Romney said she prefers PraiseMoves to the traditional asana practice.
“I like yoga but I didn’t realize what it meant,” she said. “Each pose for yoga is a pose to worship a different god. PraiseMoves changes their moves to worship the one true God.”
Allen-Magers said she is familiar with the PraiseMoves movement but doesn’t believe it differs much from traditional asana yoga.
“In my opinion, they are still doing yoga, but they are choosing a Christian theme, which they have every right to do,” she said. “(But) essentially they are still practicing a form of yoga.”
Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com