Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Veg Link: Five Religious Approaches to Thinking about Meat Eating August 23, 2012

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 5:12 pm
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Ever since that terrific radio program with Matthew Sanford a few months ago, I’ve been following NPR’s On Being series on Facebook. Earlier this week they posted this piece on the ethics of eating meat: Five Religious Approaches to Thinking About Meat Eating.

Because I became a vegetarian for ethical reasons, and because I do a lot of thinking about the intersections of Christianity and Eastern religious practice, I found the five approaches described here very interesting. I hadn’t realized that most religious traditions begin with a vegan worldview. I also found the discussion of compassion to be compelling, since ahimsa, or nonviolence, was at the heart of my conversion to a vegetarian diet. However, all of the approaches given here may come in handy in future conversations about why being a vegetarian is right for me.

 

Today’s quote: My religion is kindness. May 10, 2012

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”

– H.H. the Dalai Lama

In all of the political and social hubbub going on in the US right now surrounding the issue of gay marriage, one of my friends shared this lovely quote from the Dalai Lama. It’s such a wonderful thought that warms my heart.

Last fall I had what was a big revelation for me: for yogis and for Buddhists, religion, spirituality, and faith is a personal issue. Christians have it on good authority that they should preach to others – Jesus specifically said to go out and spread the good news, after all – but in Eastern religions, there’s no such mandate. Yogis and Buddhists, in an ideal world, just go about their business, conducting their lives according to their own beliefs and without any imperative to share their faith, although they may if they wish, if they’re approached by someone who genuinely wants to know. I love this concept, that belief is a personal matter. Think about any conversation or argument. We get so focused on making our point, making the other person see things our way. When we remove that desire to win the argument, then that frees us up to behave differently. When we don’t have to convince the other person, we have more freedom to see things from the other person’s perspective. We can act more kindly. It’s a quieter sort of faith system: you don’t have to prove the strength of your conviction to anyone but you.

I think much of what’s wrong with my country right now can be traced back to a need to proselytize. There’s a difference between sharing your ideas and telling someone about your beliefs, and forcing someone into following your beliefs. Many people get hung up on the idea of converting others, enforcing their own values, winning an imaginary war. But what’s the point of that if you hurt other people in the process?

I think Jesus’s phrasing is interesting because with news, even good news, you can take it or leave it; you can allow it to affect your life, or, like a story about a puppy rescued from a well, you can think, That’s nice and move on. Jesus just said to spread the news, he didn’t say to impose it. The counterargument to that would be, I think, that in other places in the Bible Jesus says that he’s here to make a new covenant, to which my response would be, first of all, show me the spot where Jesus says who can marry whom, and secondly, wasn’t his big new commandment about loving others? Don’t you think Jesus would be on board with the Dalai Lama’s statement here? Jesus certainly acted as though his religion was kindness. I wish that concept, the way Jesus behaved, was valued and acted upon more often in some Christian communities.

Can you imagine if we all loved our neighbor unconditionally and treated others as we would want to be treated, the way Jesus told us to do? Can you imagine what would happen if we all decided that our religion was kindness?

 

Reading Yoga Journal March 27, 2012

At the end of my teacher training (and beginning of my pregnancy), I started to get a little burned out on my yoga reading, so I have a pile of Yoga Journal back issues sitting around that I’ve been trying to work my way through. I recently read the December 2011 issue and was pleased to find some articles related to things I’ve been blogging about here lately, so I thought I’d share.

The first thing that really caught my attention was a short article about teaching yoga to Deaf students, since that’s a topic I’d never really thought about, but a Deaf person could walk into my yoga class anytime. There are some simple things a yoga teacher can do to make a class more accessible for a Deaf student, like making eye contact, demonstrating poses, and using touch to guide. These are easy things to do that wouldn’t disrupt my usual teaching rhythm at all but that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own, so I was grateful that this article broadened my awareness. Definitely tore that one out for future reference, and in the future I’d be really interested to learn more – the DeafYoga Foundation offers trainings and presentations on how to make simple adjustments that really help Deaf students, and I’d love to attend one.

There was an article on Chair Pose that I really appreciated, since Chair is one that I struggle with a bit (see the comments here and my write-up from last year here). They describe the alignment bit by bit – getting the top half of the body aligned correctly, then getting the lower half aligned, and then putting the two together for the full pose, which is an interesting bit of yoga dissection. I can see myself coming back to this article for reference later, since they give some good tips.

This issue of YJ also includes a moon salutation sequence as an alternate to sun salutations, which I found really interesting. I haven’t tried it yet, and it could end up being a little flowy for me, but it’s definitely something I want to try. I’ll keep you posted!

I was also really interested in the article on yoga and religion. Regular readers will recall that this is an issue I’ve done some serious thinking about here on the yoga blog. I really appreciated that YJ put together a panel to discuss this. After reading the article, I went back to the March 2012 issue that I’d read a few weeks earlier, and there were several letters from readers about this article, some of whom really liked it. One reader noted that the article might have had more depth if the panel had included some actual religious leaders (priests, nuns, rabbis), rather than just yogis, which was an interesting point. I was glad, though, that Brooke Boon, the founder of Holy Yoga, a Christian ministry group, was included on the panel. I’m really interested in the intersections of yoga with personal faith, and the article gave me some new perspectives and talking points. I wish YJ made its back issues available online.

 

Misc updates February 27, 2012

I taught my first prenatal class at EEY yesterday. It was awesome (or, at least, it seemed so to me – I hope my five students also enjoyed it!). I focused primarily on standing postures and included plenty of squatting poses as well; I’ll try to post the full sequence later this week. I felt confident teaching and the class seemed to flow really smoothly. Next time I want to walk around more, and also encourage the students to use a blanket as a prop or cushion (since personally I am far more comfortable these days sitting on a blanket/cushion than I am on a hard floor, and this class is based pretty much entirely on my own experience). I definitely need to do more research, watch a few more videos, maybe get a book, and hit another few prenatal classes myself, but I’m really happy with this beginning. And today my arms, hips, and thighs feel sore, which is a good sign. I hope my students aren’t suffering too much soreness, especially since some of them are still dealing with morning sickness!

When I thought about it, I was surprised to note that this is the first time in a while that I’ve taught yoga to students I don’t personally know in some way. It’s also the first time I’ve taught at EEY since graduating from teacher training. I was nervous, but not overly so, and I don’t think I seemed nervous; once I started teaching, I felt confident and like I had something valuable to share. This was a great feeling, and reminded me of how much I love teaching yoga! The Sunday morning timeslot for this class isn’t ideal, but I’m so glad I made room for it in my schedule and my life.

Unrelated to how awesome teaching yoga is (or perhaps tangentially related!), I just read this article by Mike Lux titled “What Bible is Santorum Reading?” This is not a political blog, but just last month I blogged about how frustrating I find it that many people who claim to be Christian do not seem to support the values that Jesus describes over and over again in the Bible. Mr. Lux makes a much better case, citing the specific number of times that Jesus told his followers to do things like help the poor, and providing examples from the Old Testament as well. I really appreciated his article so I wanted to share.

 

Spreading some love January 17, 2012

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:01 pm
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Not long ago, I read this blog post: I’m Christian, Unless You’re Gay. It’s a little long, but the heartfelt emotion behind it makes it well worth reading. I really appreciated Dan’s honesty and boldness, and my heart goes out to his friend Jacob and some of the people who responded to Dan’s post.

For me here on the yoga blog, Dan’s post meant a lot to me, because it fits right in with what I’ve been talking about regarding yoga and Christianity. (Yes, it does, just hang on a sec.) There are a lot of people who are all too ready to judge. One of the people who responded to Dan’s post explained that mindset: that she felt called by her faith to judge others harshly for their sins as a form of tough love. I’m sure you’re unsurprised that I agree with Dan on this one. Many people are all too ready to judge, all too ready to cast the first stone, forgetting that Jesus said “love thy neighbor” and “judge not, lest ye be judged” (emphasis mine). We all make mistakes, and we all do things wrong sometimes. If we judge other people harshly, then we’re likely to be judged harshly too. Yoga philosophy teaches compassion, just like Jesus did.

So often people who call themselves Christians spend most of their time talking about how Jesus died to save them from sin, and not enough time talking about all the smart things Jesus said and told us to do. People get so caught up in the story of his death that they don’t think enough about his life! And when I think about examples to follow, I don’t know that I can think of a better example of how to live than Jesus. He was kind to everybody! He loved children, he had a lot of friends, he made sure everybody had plenty to eat and drink and he threw a good party. He was sensitive to the pain and grief of other people and tried to help them. He worked to heal sick people and befriend lonely people and feed hungry people. He didn’t care what people looked like on the outside; he cared about who you were inside and whether you were good and honest and kind. He didn’t blame other people for the things that happened to him. He put his faith in something beyond himself. There are probably many more things that can be said about what an exemplary guy Jesus was. And the people who talk about gays (or whoever) going to hell have read the books about Jesus, haven’t they? Haven’t they read these stories about his life? I don’t understand how someone can read those stories and claim to be a follower of Jesus and still fill his heart and mouth with hate. Jesus was not about hating.

My point is, Jesus was all about compassion, and so is yoga. There’s nothing in what the yoga philosophies tell you to do that contradicts anything Jesus tells you to do. Not on a practical “here’s how to live your life as a good person” kind of way. I’m a yogini and maybe a Buddhist too, and I try to be true to the things that my special books tell me to do. I think that if you’re a Christian, you should try to live according to the things Jesus said to do. And Jesus didn’t say “punish sinners” or “don’t do yoga”, and I’m pretty sure he never said anything about whom you go to bed with. Jesus said to love everybody. I think that’s a pretty fine foundation to use to build a way to live.

 

Yoga and Christianity, Part 3: No, We’re Not Satanists December 6, 2011

Filed under: yoga lifestyle,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 1:19 pm
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My husband gleefully sent me the following link: Vatican Exorcist Specialist Says Yoga Is The Devil’s Exercise. The Devil? Seriously? I had to go look up more information on this one. Here’s an article in the Telegraph and another from the Vatican Insider, both of which include more information and responses from the yoga community in Italy.

Since there are only a few direct quotes from Father Amorth in this article, I’ll go ahead and refute them, on both logical grounds and on “you don’t have the first idea what yoga is about” grounds. First of all, Father Amorth says that practicing yoga leads to Hinduism, but doing one thing does not ever automatically lead to another. If I have one beer, that doesn’t automatically lead me to alcoholism; for people who have natural tendencies toward alcoholism, having one beer might lead them in that direction, but it wouldn’t do so for everyone. Practicing yoga doesn’t automatically lead anyone to Hinduism (nor can Hinduism be compared to something negative like alcoholism in any way, I was just using that as an example, since that’s the sort of mindset Father Amorth seems to be imagining). Most people who practice yoga, especially in the US, have very little connection to yoga’s Hindu roots besides learning a few Sanskrit words.

Father Amorth also states that “all eastern religions are based on a false belief in reincarnation”. First of all, way to generalize: I find it inadvisable ever to make claims about “all” of anything. Also, while it’s one thing to disagree with the concept of reincarnation, it’s something else entirely to respect the beliefs of other cultures and peoples – to say “I disagree” is a far better statement than “You’re wrong”. And finally, what on earth does Hinduism or reincarnation have to do with the Devil or Satanism? It seems that Father Amorth is really saying that people who practice faiths other than Catholic Christianity are going straight to hell. Official Vatican communications do tend to be respectful of other faiths, so I think we can assume that Father Amorth is not speaking on behalf of the Pope. It’s just troubling that there will be some people out there who read what Father Amorth has said and think that it’s official Catholic policy.

The Telegraph article does reference some of Cardinal Ratzinger’s writings on yoga from before he became Pope, and this I find interesting. Apparently, in 1999, Ratzinger warned of “the dangers of yoga, Zen, transcendental meditation and other ‘eastern’ practises” (as described by the Telegraph), and how these practices can “degenerate into a cult of the body”. I could actually see that as a valid warning as regards the sort of yoga practiced in the US today: most yoga is very focused on the body and doesn’t spend any time at all on meditation or the mind. Further, yoga trends like “power yoga”, competitive yoga, and even just practicing yoga using mirrors can reinforce that yoga is only about the physical. However, there are a lot of other fitness practices and techniques that could encourage a “cult of the body”. What does Cardinal Ratzinger have to say about bodybuilding, aerobics, and pilates? Does he frown on modern dance too, or ballet, or, heck, sports in general? Further, to imply that Zen or other meditation practices could lead to a cult of the body is completely wrong: meditation is all about the mind. I can only assume that the writer of the Telegraph article is misquoting or misunderstanding the original document, because it seems like a very weird statement to make about meditation, and I’d expect Ratzinger to be better educated than that. (And I don’t have the time today to try to look up the original document, so if anyone wants to investigate this further, feel free.)

One thing I like is the response from Giorgio Furlan, founder of the Academy of Yoga in Rome, quoted in the Vatican Insider article. He said that his yoga practice helped to bring him back to his Catholic roots. This is the sort of thing that Christians should be paying attention to, but of course, the exorcist is the one getting all the press!

 

Yoga and Christianity, Part 2 November 30, 2011

Filed under: yoga lifestyle,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 1:10 pm
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Yesterday I talked about a few articles that denounce yoga as being inappropriate for Christians to practice. I don’t agree with that assessment, and I think that those who believe that way are taking a far too narrow view. Today I want to talk about just a few of the reasons why I think yoga can be used by and helpful to anyone regardless of their religious background.

One thing that has struck me in my own practice and reading was how similar the Bhagavad Gita is to the Gospels. A LOT of what Krishna tells Arjuna could have been said by Jesus to Peter and have made perfect sense. I would actually love to hear from someone who has read both the Gita and the Gospels closely, because to me the parallels seem numerous and meaningful.

To say that “attaining enlightenment through Krishna” is different from “reaching the kingdom of heaven through Jesus” is to quibble over vocabulary and culture, I think, and to argue over what face you want to put on your version of the divine. Christians put one face on the divine, Hindus another, Muslims still another, but at heart, we’re talking about the same guy here. In practical terms, the emotion and feeling that a Christian puts in to worshipping Jesus is going to be very similar to the emotion and feeling that a Hindu or a Bhakti yogi puts in to worshipping Krishna. The rituals may be different, but they’re doing the same thing.

Over the past year, yoga has helped me realize just how similar the major religions are in many ways. On a technical theological level, the core beliefs of Buddhism or Hinduism aren’t going to be compatible with the core beliefs of Christianity, but on a moral and ethical level, they’re nearly identical, and on a spiritual level, we’re all striving for the same thing: to become closer to our version of God. Whether “God” means Yahweh or Jesus or Krishna or the universal consciousness, it doesn’t matter. There are many names for God and many metaphors for God. We’re all blind men touching a different part of the elephant, but it’s all the same elephant: the trunk, ears, feet, and tail are all parts of the same thing, no matter how different they seem individually.

While yoga has a strong and beautiful background in Hindu tradition, that doesn’t necessarily define it as a Hindu practice. The tools set out in the yoga texts are, I feel, applicable to any sort of spiritual searching – and I believe that Christians and all people should take part in spiritual searching to become closer to their God. All of my reading this year has helped me to confirm for myself that I’m not a Christian, but that wasn’t due to the yoga – I pretty much knew that already. Yoga could have the complete opposite effect on a devout Christian, helping her to come into a deeper communion with her faith. For example, people in many different religious faiths practice meditation – a Buddhist practicing meditation doesn’t become a Hindu or vice versa, because the meditation simply brings the practitioner closer to her own concept of the divine. If you look at the definition of meditation, saying the rosary is actually a meditation practice – the chanting and repetition of certain words or prayers to bring one closer to God. There are many ways to meditate, many ways to seek, many ways to pray.

I welcome thoughtful discussion on this topic, as well as links to articles or further information. I may come back to this again, since I really feel like I’m only skimming the surface here.