Zu Magazine is a publication of Zu Media. Below is an article from Issue 2: Contentment

Staff Writer | Chloe’ Bagley

Over the last decade, yoga’s popularity in Western culture has steadily grown, especially in California. California cities make up two of Forbes’ top 10 U.S. cities for yoga.

In a National Health Interview Survey, Harvard Medical School Dr. Aditi Nerukar found that more than 6.3 million Americans practice yoga for their ailments because their doctors referred them.

If an activity like yoga offers such great mental and physical health benefits, one might wonder why Christian communities have been historically against it.

Yoga originally has its roots in Hinduism. The first known mention of the word “yoga” dates back to 1500 BC in India during what is known as the Vedic Period. This fact alone is enough for many Christian communities to warn people to stay away from practicing modern yoga.

In 2010, Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, invited the members of his church to text him questions during his sermon.

One of the questions was, “Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its Hindu roots?” He immediately answered “yes” and followed by pointing out common Christian criticisms of yoga.

Many of these criticisms are wrapped up in yoga’s Hindu origin. People think it is impossible to separate the movements and poses from the religion. Many of the poses and words used in a yoga class are Sanskrit, an ancient Hindu language.

Some individuals believe even the word yoga, because it means “union” or “to yoke,” can be problematic for Christians who believe we should only strive to be in union with Christ.  

However, this opinion is not held by all Christian communities. Many Christians who practice yoga say that they have not only experienced its health benefits, but that their classes also bring them closer to Christ.

James Donohue, a senior at Azusa Pacific, began taking yoga for the first time as one of his “Fit For Life” classes just this semester. The class meets twice a week in the mornings and Donohue says that although he was not expecting it, yoga has become an everyday practice for him.

“I still do yoga every morning,” Donohue said, “the reason for that is because it gets me in a productive mood and I feel better mentally and physically.”

As someone who works out in a gym everyday, Donohue has seen the physical benefits yoga can have on other activities as well.

“I have experienced more flexibility … which is beneficial because it puts less strain on your body and muscles and you become less limited in terms of production,” Donohue said.

Yoga has become something that he looks forward to in the mornings.

“Kind of how people love making their beds in the morning so they feel ready to take on the day, yoga serves that purpose for me,” Donohue said.

Three years ago, Michelle Pasos, a professor at Azusa Pacific and yoga instructor, went to the head of the Kinesiology Department to propose adding yoga to “Fit For Life” classes.

Pasos first started taking yoga classes at her local gym while pursuing her undergraduate degree in kinesiology. She then began taking classes to obtain her masters with the desire to become a high school teacher. But, after graduation Pasos realized that her goals were changing and began her yoga teacher training instead.

Pasos grew up in a conservative Christian home and was the daughter of a pastor. She remembers her dad warning her to be careful when she began practicing yoga regularly.

“There was this whole world of people that thought Christians shouldn’t do yoga and I didn’t understand it,” Pasos said, “because for me, in the beginning, I was just using it as an exercise and form of relaxation.”

Pasos said it was not until after her yoga teacher training that she began to use it as a tool for spiritual discipline. She uses her practice as an opportunity to slow down, to meditate on scripture or take time to pray for others.

“I have had so many moments on my yoga mat when I have felt so unburdened, being able to release all the stress and anxiety of trying to figure out our life and realizing the idea of surrender,” Pasos said.

She found that when she encounters members of the Christian community who say that yoga is “bad,” they often have not taken the time to learn about the practice.

“I’ve never wanted to look down on people who have that conviction,” Pasos said, “if you have a conviction, that’s fine, but it’s important to not to make one blanket statement about whether something is good or bad.”

Pasos also believes that intention is important when practicing yoga. During her classes, she often asks those attending and what their intentions are for their practice that day. This gives her students the opportunity to posture their heart in a way that can allow space for peace and rest.

“The Bible says to let Jesus’ peace rule our heart … and yoga does bring that peace upon you,” Pasos said.

Yoga may be a trend, but the vast mental and physical health benefits are undeniable.

Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., who is a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University, said, “yoga mimics the best anti-anxiety drugs on the market.” He also said that it can help people who suffer from, “mild depression, insomnia and ADHD.”

Yoga is proven to bring calmness and clarity to busy lives.

APU has said “yes” to yoga, but each person must decide for themselves if yoga should be a part of their search for peace, especially in these hectic four years we call college.