Does Charles Joseph Recommend Yoga for the Mind and Body?

Hi @Charles_Joseph! Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions this week. I would like to ask, as a medical practitioner, would you recommend yoga for mind and physical therapy or not? Thank you in advanced😊

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Hi Keithleen!

Thanks for asking this. As a Physical Therapist and someone who’s exposed to and has interest in studying Eastern religions and practices, I find this question very stimulating. I do reckon that this has been discussed in much detail in an earlier thread here in RZIM Connect.

The following are my personal thoughts on this subject;
This is part of an article that I’d written for RZIM India’s Apologetic Quarterly (it’s a tad too long), hope this helps you with some food for thought.

**Is Yoga Good For The Body? **
(Of Christ)!

These days, any response, to almost anything, has the full potential of being twisted into a controversy. We are not attempting to be politically correct here. But we are attempting to try to be both truthful and gracious, at the same time, if that were ever possible!

Categories – Find your fit:

The Indian Christian inquisitiveness about Yoga, has been revived in the recent past, thanks to our neighbourly yoga protagonists. Within the Christian camp, it’s interesting to note that there could possibly be 3 groups atleast, namely; The Convinced, the Contentious and the Confused (1). It is our desire to address the third category primarily, for the first two are not particularly asking for help. A Christian mother who is unsure if she needs to allow her child to sign up for a summer yoga camp, or a young Christian man or woman, who’s being spoken to by a friend/colleague (die-hard fitness freak) to checkout a free yoga crash course in the neighborhood for improved flexibility, or an exhausted middle-aged homemaker who wants to unwind and shape-up at the yoga centre, or an aged Christian who’s curious about the laughter and yoga club at the local park and wants to try it out – Any of the above could qualify to be in the third category “Confused” if they are unsure and asking “Can’t I practice Christianity and Yoga at the same time?”

Usage of Terms – Are we on the same page?

This could get tricky. Allow me to illustrate; to a layman, the word “Pain” would just mean, an unpleasant feeling. But to a health professional that treats “pain”, the word, means much more, and interestingly, to the one who’s going through a bout of “Pain” it would mean infinitely more! Yoga to an uninformed Christian could be very different than it is, for a Christian Apologist and much more different to a Yoga practitioner or more so a Yoga guru. Therefore, for all us from different contexts, the best thing to do before we proceed would be to define it.

Yoga is a Sanskrit word that connotes, Union (Or a kind of Yoking).

Intent Vs Content:

Yoga debates, especially in Christian circles appear to center around the content of Yoga. Most have concluded and even vociferously advocate that it is nothing but a set of breathing exercise, stretches, postures which could be ‘simply’ done for the physical benefits alone, without having to be paranoid and spiritualize the whole thing. However it’s very interesting to see learned Hindu scholar and yoga practitioner like Rajiv Malhotra being extremely appreciative of the stand of Albert Mohler (President of the Sothern Baptist convention) while some of those in-house took issue with him when he remarked about the fundamental incompatibility of Christianity and Yoga (2). Rajiv Malhotra minces no words in suggesting that Yoga cannot be Christianized or Islamatized or Judaized or worse still, even Atheisized (if there’s a word like that)!

For those of us who dare to look a little closer, the intent of Yoga, has always been a “Union” of the Athman with the Paramathman. A vehicle or method of attaining enlightenment/salvation. In its original context (since 5000 years ago), it has been a spiritual exercise and never a physical one alone. It’s a means to an end and the end is irrefutably spiritual. The Rig Veda, the Atharvana Veda, more specifically the Vrathya Kanda – in a dialogue between Nachiketas and Yama on the hereafter, the Katha Upanishads, the Gita etc., clearly highlight the spiritual intent. Around 150-200 BC, Patanjali, systematized Yoga through his 4 part, 194 sutra writings. A philosophical guide book for most of the Yoga understanding and practices today.

The 8 limbs of Yoga that he lists are worth a mention here;

I. Self-control (Yama)
II. Religious observances (Niyama)
III. Postures (Asanas)
IV. Breath Control (Pranayama)
V. Withdrawing of Senses (Prathyahara)
VI. Concentration (Dharana)
VII. Meditation (Dhyana)
VIII. Absorption (Samadhi)

It’s not easy to miss (even with a cursory look at the list above by Patanjali, the great yoga ‘revivalist’ and ‘reformer’) how intricately and intimately the Philosophy and Practice of Yoga are woven together. And how the content and intent are inseparable and complimentary to each other. A divorce of these two, is no more Yoga, to say the least. Therefore it would be less confusing to call them as stand alone – “Breathing exercises” or “Flexibility exercises” and we would do well to NOT call them as Yoga and add to the chaos.

Yoga – With a Western wrap:

When, East met West at the World Congress of Religions in 1893, thanks to Swami Vivekananda, Yoga became a buzz word and many eastern proponents of Yoga came on the Western scene for the years to come and newer hybrids of Yoga were birthed. Some notables gurus, who wrapped Yoga in western garb are; Krishnamachary, B.K.S.Iyengar, T.K.V.Desikachar, Bikram Choudhury, Pattabhi Jois, Indra Devi etc.,. The more popular, Power Yoga, Hot yoga, Jivamukthi Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Pre-natal Yoga, Yin Yoga etc.,. were contributions of some of these gurus.

Types of Yoga:

There isn’t much agreement on the number of types of Yoga. There is no consensus on the number of types of Yoga that are there. With every new guru, there are many variants that make it a very dynamic exercise to keep count. Besides the commercialization and westernization of Yoga has brought to the fore myriads of schools/forms of Yoga. It could vary from 6 to 20 or more depending on whom you are asking. A few oft mentioned ones for the curious appear below;

I. Raja Yoga
Raja Yoga is also referred to as the Mental Yoga, or the Yoga of the Mind, because of its emphasis on awareness of one’s state of mind. It is through this practice of concentration that one learns to calm the mind and bring it to one point of focus. It is at this point that we direct our attention inwardly, toward our true nature, which is Divine. You can achieve this by following the Eight-Fold Path of Raja Yoga proposed by Patanjali as mentioned above (3)

II. Hatha Yoga
The word “hatha” means willful or forceful. The postures are also designed to open the many channels of the body—especially the main channel, the spine—so that energy can flow freely. Hatha is also translated as ha meaning “sun” and tha meaning “moon.” This refers to the balance of masculine aspects—active, hot, sun—and feminine aspects—receptive, cool, moon—within all of us. Hatha yoga is a path toward creating balance and uniting opposites. In our physical bodies we develop a balance of strength and flexibility. Hatha yoga is a powerful tool for self-transformation. It asks us to bring our attention to our breath, which helps us to still the fluctuations of the mind and be more present in the unfolding of each moment. (4)

III. Kundalini Yoga
This is sometimes called the Yoga of Awareness. The primary goal is to awaken kundalini energy, the ‘psychoenergetic’ force that leads to spiritual elevation, and kick-start the process of transformation. (5)

Yoga and Health

Though there are Yoga Journals and many notable Yoga research centers, nationally and internationally, a quick PubMed search for Randomized Cross-over Trials’s (RCT’s) and Meta-analyses, for Yoga and Health, unfortunately will not yield a very robust database of research in peer-reviewed high impact medical journals. Though the health claims of Yoga are very many, an established positive co-relation may possibly be only found between “Soft-tissue Flexibility and Yoga”.

While on the other hand, it’s not hard to find case reports of some harmful effects of Yoga, ranging from tissue injury to even altered mental states, not to mention, anxiety, depression, fear etc.,.

Taking help from St.Paul:

Christians sometimes borrow from 1 Corinthians Chapter 10:14-33 and try to make a parallel between Yoga and Paul’s reference to “idols and food sacrificed to idols” and how, it is a non-matter to the meaty (“mature”) Christian. While one could spend hours debating it, a caution for any Christians using this argument would be, to shift focus from “their way of living to their way of witnessing”. It their participation in Yoga could be a stumbling block to a weaker believer, their witnessing is clearly in jeopardy.

“To Do” or “Not to do”? That is the Question:

If you are asking that question yourself or trying to help someone asking it, a simple checklist, that might come in handy, to help arrive at an informed decision is as follows;

  1. What is the Purpose of wanting to engage in Yoga?
  2. Am I aware of the spiritual philosophy behind it?
  3. Am I aware of the potential hazards (physical and spiritual), that I’m opening myself to?
  4. Am I comfortable in my conscience?
  5. Have I prayerfully sought the Lord’s direction in his regard?

By the one reaches the bottom of this checklist, the answer to “Do or Not to Do” would become most obvious.

A final comment:

Why dabble in the controversial? Why engage in the questionable? When there are dozens of ways to achieve physical fitness, if that is what one is so keen about. Let’s not get hell-bent over Yoga. Rather, I would personally suggest that you take the noble help of a wise Physio!!!

PS: My services are free for those on this group :wink:

Credits:

(1) Kevin De Young – In a talk on LGBT
(2) Rajiv Malhotra - A Hindu View of ‘Christian Yoga’ Posted: 09/11/2010 08:02 IST Updated: 26/05/2011 03:40 IST
(3) Mehrad Nazari, Michelle Herbert - http://www.rajayogis.net/content/raja-yoga
(4) Cyndi Lee - Yoga 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Practice, Meditation, and the Sutras; http://www.yogajournal.com/article/beginners/yoga-questions-answered
(5) http://www.yogajournal.com/article/beginners/which-yoga-is-right-for-you-2/

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Thank you so much @Charles_Joseph for this exhaustive reply! I really appreciate it!:blush:

By the way, I am a nurse by profession and I have fellow Christian friends who ask me this question and honestly, I only researched a little and learned that every position is a spiritual act of worship to Hindu gods. So I really do not recommend it to my friends though some of them chose to disregard the worship part and just think of every position as an exercise(We agreed to disagree but I do respect their choice). I go with your final comment: “Why dabble in the controversial? Why engage in the questionable? When there are dozens of ways to achieve physical fitness, if that is what one is so keen about.”
Thank you for this and thank you for offering your expertise for free for anyone in this group! May the LORD bless you for that! Any suggestions for C2-C6 desiccated disc (and a few herniated disc) due to heavy lifting and dehydration at work? I’m just in my late 20’s.:sweat_smile:Thank you in advanced​:slight_smile:

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That’s appalling and unbelievable that such atrocities still do happen and that, among the medical fraternity! How depraved we are!

God save us!!!