Friday, April 20, 2012

Okay so, what's really up with yoga?

   Something traumatic happened to me on Monday. I saw what I thought was a varicose vain forming on my calf. It was small, and weird shaped, and purple, and I couldn't think of any reason why it would be a bruise, so I went ahead and cursed my old age, stayed under the covers for at least an hour, and then started to research ways to get rid of varicose vains. 
   Bad news is, the only real way to get rid of them is with surgery, but some people were suggesting that stretching and running were ways to get rid of them, too. So you better believe I threw my running shoes on, made use of the canal behind my condo, and then came home and busted out my yoga mat. Twice a day & every day since then.
   Well by Wednesday, what I was sure was a varicose vein was starting to disappear and now it's gone altogether, I suppose proving that it was never a varicose vein to begin with and that I am a hypochondriac. But this past week of making it a point excercise every day (specifically jogging and yoga) has felt really, really good. 
  My sister in law was over briefly on Wednesday and she mentioned that she had gone to her first Bikram Yoga class (which is basically doing yoga for 90 minutes in a room that has been kept at a specific high humidity and temperature so that you sweat like craaaazy). If a membership at somewhere that offers bikram wasn't so expensive, I'd have one. It's such an intense workout and you feel soooooo incredible afterwards it's insane, but I digress.
   I've had more than a few eyebrows raised at me for even admitting I may have at one point for thirty seconds held a yoga pose and subsequently accused of worshipping someone named Brahman (my sister in law Janae experienced something of this nature, too). I even remember being really young and hearing some of the older women at church discussing how they should talk to another lady in the church about getting rid of her yoga videos.
   So, all that being said, when Anita invited me to go with her a bikram class a year ago I did some research. Why are so many christians up in arms about yoga?
   What I found was that yoga was invented 3,000 years ago by ancient indians whose goal was to "attain a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility while meditating on the Hindu concept of divinity or Brahman." 
   What has happened with yoga in the past fifty years or so has been something completely different. Recognizing the incredible health benefits of the workout, yoga has morphed into something else (is that really so surprising considering its been around for so long?). There are generally two types of yoga offerend now, which for the sake of simplicity I will break down into two categories: the new agers and the people who love fad work outs. 
  Yes, absolutely, you can find groups of people (the new agers) who practice yoga who say things like "namaste" (which is really just an indian greeting) and claim that yoga is a way to "clear their minds" (what's so wrong with clearing your mind?). But even the majority of groups you can find who take this more "spritiual" approach to practicing yoga ever reference any sort of deity at all. New agers obviously believe they are their own god and therefore dropped any of the ancient god references because they don't believe in them. 
  For the most part yoga classes today are full of people who love trendy work outs and are absolutely devoid of spiritual references, don't require any indian babble, and focus soley on the health benefits a yoga work out offers. The proof is in the numbers:

This several thousand-year-old tradition hasn’t been extensively researched. Sponsored by the American Council on Exercise, and led by Dawn Boehde and John Porcari, Ph.D., researchers at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, set to change that. For their study, researchers divided sedentary women into two groups and subjected each individual to a battery of fitness tests. The first group continued their inactive lifestyle for the duration of the 8-week study; the second group participated in three 55-minute yoga classes each week for two months.
After the full 8 weeks, each group was again tested. Not surprisingly, fitness measures didn’t improve for the inactive group. But for the yoga group, marked improvements were discovered in flexibility, strength, endurance and balance.
Flexibility increased from 13 – 35% for the yoga group. Strength and endurance likewise increased, especially in the core and chest; participants were able to perform 6 more push-ups and 14 more curl-ups at the end of the study. With an average one-legged stand time increase of 17-seconds, the yoga group saw improvements to balance as well. As many yoga classes aren’t cardio intensive, participants didn’t experience improvements to their aerobic abilities.
Bottom line: For the average person, yoga is a great form of exercise that can yield tremendous benefits; yoga does, in fact, work – and it can be an essential and rewarding part of your workout program. It’s also worth noting that the study lasted only 8 weeks. While the gains illustrated in this study are tremendous, imagine the changes you’d experience in a year or more.

   So all in all, I personally think the fear in christian circles towards yoga is really just a game of telephone. One person says yoga is all about worshipping a fake deity and so it has passed along until it has become canon. Just like with almost anything christians encounter in the secular world, we must always be careful with what we choose to engage in. The fact of the matter is, I am involved on a daily basis with organizations, groups, and employers that promulgate sin (just take a look at what "Human Rights" orgs Starbucks gives money to and what kind of teaching goes on at ASU). That doesn't mean that it's wrong for me to work for Starbucks or give my money to ASU--but it does mean that I'm mindful of what classes I take and I'm particular about what Starbucks events I choose to be a part of. 
  The same should be done by Christians with yoga. Obviously we should not be going to the yoga classes that involve "prayer" (and honestly, even if you close your eyes and pick out a yoga studio on a list by pointing, it's more likely you'll land on a studio that doesn't involve prayer) and be informed about what we're signing up for. 
  Can't anything be used for evil? Guns? Cars? Cell phones? Things we make use of every day? And isn't that the difference between how Christians are to live, in that we choose to be good stewards of what we have and not use them for evil? And isn't part of being a "good steward" taking care of our bodies? If yoga can be used as a vehicle for being healthy and can be devoid of its 3,000 year old inventors spiritual beliefs (and obivously my argument is that it can and today exists almost exclusively without those beliefs in popular culture) then it's alright in my book. And it's definitely alright in my fake varicose vein's book.

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