On a sunny winter morning at Carmel Presbyterian Church, eight women and their instructor pose on their yoga mats in squares of light that pour from surrounding windows. The walls are bare, except for a wooden cross.
At intervals through the hour, leader Kristine Reynolds plays snatches of contemporary Christian music or stops to read from the Bible. God sees you today, he knows you by name, she tells the women, as they reach and stretch. His love for you is more wonderful than you can imagine.
This is Holy Yoga, a Christian approach to yoga thats gaining popularity throughout the United States and across the Charlotte region from Concord to Waxhaw.
Jill Archer, 59, a member of the Church of Charlotte, regularly attends Reynolds gentle-level Holy Yoga class at Carmel Presbyterian. Since she started coming in September, shes invited five or six people to check out the class, too. Its just a fun, relaxing time, and its worshipful, she says.
In the Word, it says, Be still and know I am God, says Reynolds, 47. I think theres a lot of Christians out there that are busy, busy, busy. Their lives are spiraling out of control.
Holy Yoga offers an opportunity to get off the merry-go-round of life and just be still.
Holy Yoga, founded in 2005 in Phoenix by nondenominational Christian and yoga teacher Brooke Boon, encourages its instructors to teach in their native language rather than using Sanskrit terms.
Instead of saying, Namaste, we say, The light of Christ in me honors the light of Christ in you, says Reynolds.
Holy Yoga teachers take at least 200 hours of training. This includes standard instruction in how to cue yoga poses, in alignment and breath, as well as studies in Christian Scriptures.
Between 15 million and 20 million people practice yoga in this country, according to Gyandev McCord, author of the forthcoming book Spiritual Yoga and cofounder of Yoga Alliance, an organization created 14 years ago to ensure quality and consistency of instruction for yoga teachers in the United States.
McCord says that anyone, of any faith, can practice yoga. Yoga is not a belief system. Its based on personal experience, he says. Theres only one belief you need for yoga, and thats that if you try it, youll find out something worth knowing.
The spiritual discipline
Holy Yoga practitioners say the spiritual discipline of yoga predates Hinduism, though Hindus first codified it and incorporated it into their worship.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written around 2,000 years ago, laid out eight limbs of yoga such as guidelines for ethical behavior, breathing techniques, and concentration that can help people reach the ultimate goal of transcending the self, or enlightenment. Classical yoga followers still read the Yoga Sutras today.
However, says McCord, much modern yoga, instead of following this entire philosophy, focuses primarily on the third limb, asana, which deals specifically with ones posture to aid meditation.
This type of asana-focused yoga is called Hatha Yoga, a broad term denoting many different approaches to the practice of the yoga postures and breathing techniques.
Holy Yogas website professes a series of statements of faith that proclaim their adherence to core Christian beliefs.
A Vatican warning
But not everyone in the Christian world is comfortable with yoga. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a 2010 blog post that yoga was not compatible with Christianity. The Vatican released documents in 1989 and 2003 that caution Catholics about becoming too involved in practices it deems New Age.
Both were concerned that yoga practitioners were looking for truth from within themselves, or from some generalized universe, rather than following only Christ for guidance.
After Boon became a Christian in 2002, she stopped practicing yoga for a year. Shed trained as a yoga instructor, opened a yoga studio and even co-wrote the book Hatha Yoga Illustrated. But she feared it could not fit in with her new faith. The more she prayed and read the Bible, the more she became sure yoga was a way to worship God with her whole being.
Today, there are 590 trained Holy Yoga instructors in 10 countries and 43 states, with members in a variety of Christian denominations, said JoAnn Bauer, Holy Yoga communications director. Holy Yoga is especially strong in the Southeast, she added.
Sarah Henderson, who maintains the Charlotte Holy Yoga Facebook page, was the first Holy Yoga instructor in Charlotte; she was certified in 2010.
She says there are eight or nine Holy Yoga teachers now who teach in the Charlotte area. About half of these teachers got their start at the class Henderson teaches at the Johnston YMCA in NoDa.
Boon said the idea of community is a strong value running through Holy Yoga. I can honestly say that every single person who has gone through training and is part of this family feels known, valued and loved, she said.
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