Christian yoga: Trading 'om' for 'amen'

Holy Yoga combines worship with yoga postures.
Holy Yoga combines worship with yoga postures.Be Free Photography/Stephanie Moors / Today

By Kristin Kalning

Jessica Heller liked what power yoga did for her body. But she loves what Holy Yoga does for her body and spirit. 

Heller, 29, found the Christian-based yoga practice when she moved back to her native Phoenix from Denver. To her, the environment was more inviting, and more like a community than at a “regular” yoga class. And, “it brought in a spiritual element that aligned with my personal belief system and resonated so much more deeply,” she said.

Millions of Americans do yoga for its well-known mental and physical benefits. But some devout Christians are uncomfortable with yoga’s Eastern roots, and its association with Hinduism. Holy Yoga, and other “Christ-centered” practices such as Yoga for Christians, Scripture Yoga and Praise Moves offer the advantages of yoga, without all the "om"-ing.

“We can absolutely service the people who are afraid of yoga because they thought yoga was incompatible with Christ,” said Brooke Boon, founder of Holy Yoga. An avid yogi since 1998, Boon stopped practicing when she first came to her faith. But then she began “spending alone time with the Lord, on my mat, and it totally awakened my practice.” And in 2003, Holy Yoga was born.

Classes begin with a Bible scripture that forms the theme for the class.  The poses are the same ones you’d see in a “secular” yoga class, though instructors sometimes opt not to use the Sanskrit names. Chaturanga becomes “high-to-low push-up,” and Savasana is "corpse pose."

Holy Yoga classes are, according to Boon and Heller, as good or better than any class you’d find in a studio. “Even world class yogis will say this is amazing yoga,” said Boon. And its popularity has skyrocketed in recent years, with 400 instructors in 43 states and 10 countries.

Yogis do a simple seated position during a Holy Yoga retreat in Middleburg, Va.Be Free Photography/Stephanie Moors / Today

But not all Christians are on board with yoga.  Boon said that when she started Holy Yoga, it was “like pushing a 500-pound boulder uphill that wasn’t round.” And that resistance continues: Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church, called yoga “demonic,” and “absolute paganism” in a 2010 sermon.

“Christian yoga is an oxymoron,” agreed Laurette Willis, founder of PraiseMoves, a Christian alternative to yoga. The postures in yoga, she explains on her web site, are offerings to the 330 million Hindu gods. It’s a religion, and one totally incompatible with Christianity.

Still, Willis doesn’t deny that PraiseMoves postures look a lot like yoga. “The body can only move in a finite number of ways,” she said. Each workout begins with a 14-minute Walkin’ Wisdom Warm-up, complete with scripture affirmations. And the postures have Christian-friendly names: “Downward dog,” for instance, is called “tent pose” in PraiseMoves.

Willis, an ordained minister and a former off-Broadway actress, participated in what she calls a “New Age lifestyle” for 22 years, which included doing yoga, and teaching it. “Yoga is the missionary arm of the New Age movement, and Hinduism,” she said. And doing yoga, she believes, can easily lead people away from faith in Christ.

But Heller, who practices Holy Yoga several times a week, has no such concerns. “God created my body and this yoga practice,” she said. “Moving my body and practicing yoga and worshiping my creator at the same time – I don’t see the problem with it. It totally makes sense to me.”

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