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Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States
Karen is a yogini, writer, student, teacher and meditator. She founded Garden Street School of Yoga in 2000. Karen lives with her husband Chris. They have two amazing sons, Eli and Leo (both of them young men).

Jun 17, 2008

Anusara and Christianity

Yesterday I had a short conversation with a long time student and friend who asked me for help on how to answer a mutual acquaintance's questions about Yoga. she said that this man had seen the Kids Yoga fliers and apparently had some problem with our stated aim of helping the child connect to his or her intrinsic goodness. His objection was along the lines that our intention in Yoga directs itself towards replacing God. (Yes, he is - as far as I can tell, a fundamentalist Christian). This is an old scenario for me. It started coming up when I was teaching kids Yoga in a Montessori School 15 years ago. At first it startled me and hurt my feelings when parents would keep their kids out of Yoga. One child told me that his parents had told him that "Yoga" meant "talking to the Devil." After running into this for years and years now, it doesn't surprise me anymore but sometimes still hurts my feelings. I recognize it as a fundamental philosophical difference. In certain styles of Christianity the teaching is that God is NOT within and that in fact we need to transcend our human self with all its weakness, in order to ascend and attain heaven. This is actually a philosophical underpinning of many schools of Yoga by the way. It goes like this, we need to work hard, progress vertically through diligent practice towards higher and higher expressions of harmony and integration.
Well.....we are REALLY up to something different in Anusara yoga. I mean radically different - different at the root. I don't claim it to be better - but I do claim it to be VERY different. Here's the thing - the philosophical underpinning of Anusara Yoga is that we are All expressions of God. God is within my heart and within your heart and within the flesh and blood and bone of each of us. Not only that, but this - God is in the trees and rocks and grass and fish and birds and house cats. If you accept the basic premise that "God is Everything and Everywhere" then you have to, logically if not emotionally, accept that, well, God is Everything and Everywhere. Working from this foundational premise takes us out of the vertical model of "work hard to get to Heaven," and into another model which enjoins us to work hard to remember our innate goodness and divinity, to align with That and to wholeheartedly participate with That. We are encouraged to "get on board" and participate in the great process of Divine evolution, which is God's Play (lila).

This philosophical underpinning informs every aspect of the Anusara Yoga practice, even to the details of how we approach the oftentimes hard work we do create impeccable alignment.
Some schools of Yoga and some varieties of Christianity approach spiritual practice and the the work of life like this: " I am working hard to transcend the innate weakness and impurity of my physical, emotional and mental self. If I am successful, I will go to heaven (attain enlightenment) and be with God."
Anusara Yoga and some varieties of Christianity approach spiritual practice and the the work of life like this: "I am working hard to re-member myself to - to align with - the Divine, which abides within me and all around me - and which is my very Self. Remembrance is to be in Heaven and be with God in this very life.
There is an important distinction between religious and spiritual practice. Many Christians practice Anusara Yoga, reporting that they have found, through the practice, a deeper and more alive relationship with Christ and within the context of their chosen variety of Christianity. Many who are of other religious persuasions report that their walk on their chosen religious path has deepened and strengthened.
In our practice we end with the Sanskrit blessing and greeting of Namaste:
The Divine within me, which the source and root of my intrinsic Goodness, Dignity and Beauty bows to and honors the Divine within you, which the source and root of your intrinsic Goodness, Dignity and Beauty. When we are both in remembrance of That, there is only One of us.
To me this is not different from the injunction to remember that The Kingdom is within.

If one's belief system holds that what dwells within us is not intrinsically good but is in fact intrinsically inclined towards evil, then of course there is just no point of fruitful connection for that person with Anusara Yoga . That's sad but, in my experience, that's the way it is.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Karen for your thoughts on this subject. Having worked with children in a preschool environment for 11 years, I know and have seen first hand the intrinsic goodness and divinity in children. I remember quite vividly even feeling that within myself when I was very young and having a wonderful relationship with God. Unfortunately, my journey with Christianity actually separated me from God and added to my intrinsic goodness a heck of a lot of shame and guilt and fear, which I can say from experience, did not motivate me to be a bright light and help others and be positive and work towards the kingdom of heaven. It was yoga that brought me back to my relationship with God and even some of the wonderful things about Christianity that I had blocked out as a whole because of some people' ideas and perceptions and beliefs that were drilled into me at such a young age.

    I'm so thankful for yoga.I'm also glad that I can now even respect anothers opinion as their own without feeling like I need to take it personal as an affront to my own. I went to a retreat back in December,with a very good friend of mine,that was at a Convent on the South Hill in Spokane. It was a great retreat led by an amazing priest with a lot of compassion and non-judgement. There was a point where we could go to him in confession if we liked, and I hadn't been to confession in 25 years and really wanted to have some closure with some of my early established resentments towards the church so that I could be free to honor and respect anyones faith without the residue of my own upbringing. I stood at the back of the line next to a man who was very nice and asked me a lot of questions about myself, what I did for a living. When I told him I was a yoga teacher, he asked me if I chanted any mantras, and I told him yes....and instantly he became very dark and judgemental towards me telling me I was chanting to Hindu Gods which were the Devil and yada yada yada. For a split second, I felt that grip of fear in my stomach, so familiar to when I was a child, so open hearted with God and then BLAM...guilt shame fear due to another person's viewpoint of me. Then I remembered something the Priest had been teaching us that weekend. "What other people think of you is really none of your business". Suddenly I released my grip of fear on his perspective and said to him calmly with a sincere smile, "I respect your opinion, but my direct experience with chanting has truly deepened my relationship with God and does not feel dark or evil whatsoever. So I guess we will just have to agree to disagree." I resisted the temptation to tell him that what he thinks of me is really none of my business, but that thought really help me in that moment to not let fear block the light of my heart. Then, when it was my turn, I sat right in front of that Priest and had a wonderful conversation with him and confessed mostly to my regret of allowing what other people think of me block my relationship with God for so long. I felt like that little girl I was so long ago sitting in front of Father Joe for my first confession, asking a lot of questions and receiving a lot of compassion from his eyes just like Father Joe would do. I felt very free when I walked out of that room. I was ok with me and with God. Anybody elses relationships with God are really none of my business. No wars need be started over that. No arguements or violence. Just me and God. And I'm so thankful to have cultivated the courage to find that and maintain it right on my yoga mat!