Asana is Sanskrit for physical postures. Most people wouldn’t think of postures as something that would be significant as a Christian, and you may be curious to see how I’m going to relate yoga asanas — yoga poses — to Christianity… but postures are indeed significant in the Bible:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty[a]; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.”
Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven and said: “Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.
I Kings 8:22–23
Asanas in the Bible were more than just symbolic for one’s feelings; they were expressions of love, reverence, respect, humility, surrender, awe, security… It’s actually the way God created us. He created us to be expressive beings with the ability to glorify Him heart, mind, soul, spirit… and body. When we use postures to experience who God created us to be, we’re practicing yoga asanas. Being that there are Christians who believe that Yoga is not of God, I would like to address the biggest misconceptions specifically when it comes to yoga asanas:
MISCONCEPTION: YOGA POSTURES ARE NAMED AFTER ANIMALS AND HINDU GODS, SO PRACTICING YOGA ASANAS IS LIKE WORSHIPPING ANIMALS AND GODS THAT THE POSES ARE NAMED AFTER.
It is true that some of the poses are named after Hindu gods and animals, but using these poses in your yoga practice does not mean you’re worshipping a Hindu deity. According to Mark 7: 15, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” For me, when I practice yoga asanas, I focus on my breathing, being present in each moment and acknowledging the presence of the Holy Spirit. But, if practicing yoga asanas causes you to go against your conscience, you should not practice it because, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.” (Romans 14:14)
I’m sure there are more misconceptions about yoga asanas, but the above misconception is the one I’ve been told numerous times. So how should we practice the yoga asanas to glorify God?
1. Start with a word of prayer.
Sit comfortably and relax your shoulders. Take deep, diaphragmatic breaths, focusing only on your breath. Once you feel settled physically and mentally, let God know that you are dedicating this practice to Him (or anything else you would like to tell him before you start).
2. Warm Up
Do some gentle poses to warm up the spine and joints as well as to gently stretch any tight muscles. Some great warm-up poses are Cat/Cow, Child’s Pose, and Downward Dog Pose.
3. Salutation Flow
This is typically known as a Sun Salutation, but if this term bothers you, then you can use a different term such as “God Praise Flow,” or just simply, “Salutation” which is what I generally call it. It can be the traditional Sun Salutations or a set of poses to flow in and out of. Connecting each movement with breath, it will begin to energize your soul while increasing heat in your body.
4. Standing Poses
Standing poses such as Tree and Mountain create stillness, balance, and connection to earth. It reminds us that “being still” (Psalm 46:10 and Exodus 14:14) takes work. We call yoga practice a “PRACTICE” because it really is that: A practice in being still. A practice in balance. A practice in strength. A practice in being completely present.
5. Seated/Kneeling/Arm Balancing/Prone/Supine Poses
This includes non-standing poses where you’re inverting (upside down) or creating backbends, twists, laterals (side bends), extensions (lengthening the spine), and forward bends. Inversions include handstands and shoulder stands; Arm-balancing poses include Crow pose and Firefly pose; Kneeling poses include Gate pose and Camel Pose. I generally keep prone (lying on belly) and supine (lying on back) poses towards the end for flowing easily (as opposed to standing up, lying down, sitting up, kneeling, lying down again, etc.).
Each pose has a different effect on the body, mind and soul, with backbends being extremely energizing and forward bends being very calming.
6. Supine Cool-Downs
There is no strict rule about lying down on your back for cool-downs, but I personally prefer to cool down lying down on my back because it’s a peaceful transition to Savasana. Any gentle movements that will release any leftover tension in the body is appropriate.
This is the final pose in an asanas practice. This is where you lie still and surrender your body, mind and soul to God. Completely. Savasana is known to be the most challenging pose in yoga because you’re not only disciplining the body to be still but your mind as well. Savasana can be in the form of a guided relaxation or complete silence.
I always like to finish my asana practice with a breathing exercise… which I will discuss next week!