Christian Yoga – Introduction
The teachings on Christian Yoga that follow are not uniquely my ideas. I followed clues left by disciples from the long past. Here and there in the world’s literature there are fragments and sentences referring to this path. So I pursued this trail as it led into the jungle of ideas surrounding Christianity. I hacked a way through, and gradually, with loving persistence uncovered the ancient landmarks of this way. It is a path leading to the Mother Church the central core of human experience, as old as time.
Looking back over the journey, something about it has deeply impressed me. The early Christians discovered something extraordinary. It completely changed lives, healed sickness, made people want to go out and tell others, and in some cases was worth dying for.
Those people expressed what they found in language, and in imagery, that was understandable to them. What they found was something that worked. Just as, in a more recent age, the use of electricity was discovered and applied; and this discovery of electricity was the application of previously unknown natural processes. So the Christian discovery was one of natural processes of the mind and emotions. Unfortunately, as time has passed, the language in which those findings were expressed has come to mean less and less to many people. In fact we may view the statements as perhaps referring to the realm of ‘beliefs’ rather than of practical principles.
What I aim to do in the following paragraphs is to remind you of the original gospel statements, and then try to define them in terms of today’s view of the world, and today’s information about the mind and emotions. For I believe the original teachings refer to an extraordinary possibility in you.
Just as the process of electricity is open to verification with the right equipment, so the extraordinary possibility described by the early Christians is open to verification if you apply yourself in the right way. It doesn’t take belief in a lot statements, but it does take your effort to try an experiment.
Among the written teachings of Christ, we are told he said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Math 11.29).
At the time of Christ the word yoke referred to two things. It was a wooden beam to harness two oxen so they could be worked as a team. Also conquered armies were made to walk beneath a spear lashed horizontally to two upright spears called a yoke, as a sign of enslavement or subjection.
The New Testament was originally written in Greek. The Greek word that we translate as yoke is zeugos. It is also used to denote yoga. In Sanscrit the word yoga is used as the name of one of the branches of Hindu philosophy. This system attempts to bring together or yoke the conscious personality with a latent and unconscious level of the mind that releases extraordinary new possibilities.
In Collins Concise Dictionary the Sanscrit word yoga is described as meaning ‘yoke’, while the English word yoke means to couple or unite. So one can truly quote Christ as saying “Take my yoga upon you, and learn from me… My yoga is easy.”
The beauty of yoga as it has developed in the west, is that each person has the opportunity of releasing or finding their innate and extraordinary potential in themselves in their own way. Yoga has always been associated with a personal discipline or techniques relating to self-help. So the words Christian and Yoga are here joined together not to suggest that Christians should practice Eastern yoga postures or breathing techniques, or even meditation techniques from the Far East, but to denote a path within Christ’s teachings that is a personal way for each of us to take. Eastern Yoga often suggests a renunciation of self, a killing out of the ego. The Christian Yoga leads to a transformation of the ego, a transcendence of the self, and a new life. Buddhism and many Eastern teachers suggest that life is dominated by pain, and losing or denying the ego gives release. The Christian Yoga says that pain exists because we have not accepted or claimed our heritage of spiritual life, and if we do so we can experience heaven on earth.
Christian Yoga is not Eastern postures or breathing techniques
Therefore, any present definitions of yoga in connection with Christianity must mention not only that it is a way of life attempting a particular discipline (or discipleship), but also that practitioners are not required to join a sect or denomination, or to accept dogmatic teachings. The aim is to open to an influence that can transform and heal. This way of Christian Yoga has nothing to do with the eastern yoga postures, the breathing techniques or the eastern meditations. I have nothing against these practices, having been a teacher of eastern yoga for many years, but Christian Yoga has its own path and its own disciplines. It does not need to borrow from the Far East. I repeat, its aim is quite different to eastern yoga. Whereas eastern yoga attempts to drop the ego, the Christian path aims at transforming the personality. Perhaps the very end results are similar, but the way there is different.
This Christian Yoga is described thoroughly in the New Testament when we look at the story of Jesus’ life as an allegory. It is a step-by-step way of transformation and the finding of a new life. As Jesus promised, this ‘heaven’, this new awareness of your life, is not far away. It is already yours if you know how to find it.
Yoga in the West
One of the interesting things about yoga in the West is that from its very beginnings women have played as large a part in its practice and teachings as men. In early Christianity women also played an important role, even though none were listed as apostles. In Acts 1:13-15 this is made plain. It says:
When they had come in, they went up into the upper chamber, where they were staying; that is Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. In these days, Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (and there was a multitude of persons gathered together, about one hundred twenty) …
This passage clearly states that apart from Mary, the mother of Jesus, there were other women, and with Jesus’ brothers the gathering numbered about one hundred and twenty. It must be remembered that in this earliest group of Christians there was no organised religion, no creed, and no denominations. They were a hundred and twenty people trying to live in a certain way, and trying to let something very wonderful into their lives. In fact, that original meeting was to allow what, in the gospels, was called the Spirit or Holy Ghost to enter their experience. This influence is at the heart of the Christian Yoga. The words Spirit and Holy Ghost are of course terms used by these ancient people. They may mean very little to a person educated in today’s world unless that person has direct experience. But these words will be examined as we proceed.
It is an unfortunate tendency in virtually all of the world religions that they become very insular and possessive. When people began to organise Christianity, to place dogmas and rigid rules around it, Christianity had the misfortune to be scarred with battles between sects, intolerance of other races and culture, and male authoritarianism. Nevertheless, I believe there is a real Christian Yoga that stands beyond that, and talks about universal principles. When Newton discovered the process of gravity he did not tell people they could only receive instruction in it if they belonged to a certain society or group. It was a principle universal in nature. Likewise, what the earliest Christians found is in a similar category.
You do not have to believe in and apply a lot of rules and dogmatic regulations described by organising bodies of people to use the principles of electricity. But many of us see Christianity as needing to live rigid rules and regulations laid down by the organised church. But the underlying principles are about universal processes. Even if we believe the idea of a personal God, it is strange that a being that is said to have created the universe limits any approach to itself to a particular organisation or sect. Strange also that the three great religions who have as their central belief a personal God, and are therefore monotheistic, are often at loggerheads. If I say hello to you, and someone else says hola, and yet another person say buongiorno – we are surely all greeting each other, but speaking different languages. It seems that Allah, God and Jehovah are surely the same thing in different languages.
The Christian Yoga being described here is about universal processes of life, of your mind and heart. If you use these principles certain results arise that you can understand and test. They do not rely on beliefs in standards set by other human beings. The only thing required of you is a sense that underlying your existence is something you do not fully understand. You perhaps need to feel that life itself is a grand mystery that you want to experience or explore more fully. The aim is to open to and explore that Mystery.
Christian Yoga is an ancient path
Christian Yoga has been known for centuries, and practised by individuals and groups who were frequently persecuted by the organised church. In fact, the power and love that touched the early Christians has been innate in men and women from the beginning, and is lying dormant in each of us. We can think of this inner potential as the MotherChurch, not built with bricks, not connected with any form of organised religion. We enter it and are transformed by following the Christian pathway, the Christian Yoga.
In this incredible universe there are possibilities that we only vaguely understand – or do not understand at all. In my own lifetime I have seen the emergence of radio and television into an everyday part of most people’s lives. They arose from the use of natural principles that were previously obscure or unrealised. There are also things about the human body, the human mind and soul that remain obscure or unknown for many of us, despite the enormous amount of research undertaken in the realm of physics and psychology.
Christian Yoga is about unfolding some of these wonderful possibilities still latent in you. It is about possibilities so amazing that many early Christians were willing to die in support of keeping a doorway open for other people to claim them. So what are those possibilities, and how can we claim them?