Religious beliefs can coexist

Jennie Coughlin/staff
jcoughlin@newsleader.com

Tuesday’s paper, with its photo of Democratic candidate Erik Curren meditating, caught my attention. The headline and story, especially the online comments questioning the idea that somebody could practice Buddhism and Christianity at the same time, called to mind a similar discussion among some fellow yoga teachers during the past month. I’ve never seen a conflict between being Roman Catholic and practicing yoga. My iPod has both yoga chant and liturgical albums, and my moving meditation walks on Sundays tend toward themes from readings rather than from nature or yoga.

I’ve not spoken to Curren, so I can’t say that his thinking on reconciling Buddhism and Christianity is the same as mine embracing yoga and Christianity. But it’s a question I’ve dealt with before as a yoga teacher, and one I expect to hear again.

Philosophy vs. Religion

Once you start poking around, there are many intersections among yoga, Buddhism, Hinduism and even Christianity. There probably are some crossovers with Judaism as well, though my only explorations there came earlier this month while reading Caroline Myss’ book “Anatomy of the Spirit,” which shows how the yoga chakras, Christian sacraments and Jewish Kabbalah tap into the same seven energy centers in the body.
Beyond those parallels, there are some common practices. Meditation, an integral part of yoga practice, first surfaced in Buddhist writings. Japa yoga, or the yoga of repetition, often uses mala beads to keep track of the repetitions, bringing to mind the Catholic rosary.

While it certainly is possible to practice any of those traditions solely as a religion, there also is a philosophical aspect and a cultural aspect. Many Christians believe that our laws are based on the 10 Commandments and our ethics on the Golden Rule. Christmas and Easter have become cultural holidays in America as much as religious ones, harkening back to when the Catholics adopted pagan holidays into religious ones.

So it is with meditation practices, or living the yogic yamas and niyamas (restraints and observances) or following the Eightfold Path of Buddhism. None of those are inherently religious. All can coexist with Christianity or other religions. They definitely can have a spiritual component, but there’s a difference between spirituality and religion.

On and Off the Mat

One of my favorite yoga mudras, or hand positions, is anjali mudra, the salutation seal. In it, we place hands together, palms flat and fingers pointed skyward. It’s similar to the way many Christians hold their hands when they pray. Some yoga teachers refer to it as prayer hands, though I prefer to say “hands at heart center,” or just anjali mudra.
To me, that better reflects its role as a reminder to center ourselves and draw inward. It’s also more respectful of people’s religious beliefs, which is important because outside a studio environment, many take yoga class solely to improve their physical bodies through stretching and destressing.
At the end of class, we finish with the Sanskrit salutation Namaste. If there are new people in class, I include the translation and an explanation that it’s the traditional way to end class. Namaste has several translations, including “The divine within me salutes the divine within you,” but I’ve always preferred “The light within me celebrates and honors the light within you.” Same thought, but taken from the philosophical angle rather than the religious angle.
My personal practice goes deeper than what I teach, and over time my cues have come to incorporate some deeper philosophical concepts into classes. The language is different than I use when talking with fellow yogis and yoginis. The intent isn’t to hide those concepts, but to introduce them in ways that don’t require the in-depth study of the classical texts and chakras, or even an understanding that yoga can be more than a class that lets you stretch and bend. (Or as one of my favorite yoga teachers puts it, without all the “woo-woo” stuff.)

Going Deeper

As I practice meditation more often, I find my attention stays on the priest’s homily more on Sunday mornings, because my mind is better trained to still itself and focus. As I read more yoga texts, I find myself searching nearby bookshelves for Catholic topics rather than murder mysteries. As I listen to mantra CDs and chant, I find myself segueing into hymns I memorized during many years of church choir that have similar themes. As my yoga practice deepens my spiritual practice, I find my faith strengthens. This path isn’t for everyone. But if Eastern traditions and practices can deepen our Western faith, that seems like something to encourage rather than condemn.

Tuesday’s paper, with its photo of Democratic candidate Erik Curren meditating, caught my attention. The headline and story, especially the online comments questioning the idea that somebody could practice Buddhism and Christianity at the same time, called to mind a similar discussion among some fellow yoga teachers during the past month. I’ve never seen a conflict between being Roman Catholic and practicing yoga. My iPod has both yoga chant and liturgical albums, and my moving meditation walks on Sundays tend toward themes from readings rather than from nature or yoga.

I’ve not spoken to Curren, so I can’t say that his thinking on reconciling Buddhism and Christianity is the same as mine embracing yoga and Christianity. But it’s a question I’ve dealt with before as a yoga teacher, and one I expect to hear again.

Source : http://www.newsleader.com/article/20090724/LIFESTYLE20/907240301/1024/LI...

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