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Rev. Peter Baldwin Panagore

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An American Christian Practices Yoga

Posted: 03/21/2012 2:42 pm

It's likely that I just pissed off at least two groups -- Christian pastors who preach that yoga is a practice that comes from Satan, and Hindus who think that yoga needs to be practiced only within the confines of Hinduism.

It is true that I do not practice what either camp would consider kosher. What I do know is this: After more than three decades of dedicated practice, for me, yoga is more about prayer than it is about postures, strength building, flexibility, and the right clothes and mat.

Long ago, I read a quote from Thomas Merton, the American Trappist and contemplative monk. Merton wrote, "We are not so much entangled in our bodies as we are entangled in our minds." The practice of yoga untangles me, and when coupled with my breath and an internal/mental chant (The Jesus Prayer*), allows me to pray, to lift up my heart, to intend my mind, soul, body and being to God. Which God? It strikes me, as it struck Merton, and others like him through the centuries, that in the higher reaches of the soul, when one is plucked out and brought into that place that is no place, that heaven beyond language, beyond culture and context, beyond education, religion, mind and body, one realizes that God cannot be contained or confined, only experienced in awe, and only experienced in such a way that is impossible to define, or explain; one realizes that God has no form, is no thing, and is therefore beyond all form and beyond all religion.

In the Unitive State, one is being, but is no thing. Yogic prayer can open the inner door, leading to the possibility that one may be plucked and ride to the place that is no place, where the physical body cannot enter, where there is no brain and no breath, and hence no language, no culture, nor anything but soul, with the cosmic music that ear has not heard, and Light beyond light that eye has not seen, and all that makes it impossible to articulate. This, and yoga, makes me a heretic in some eyes, and a fool in the minds of others. So be it. Moreover, the practices of any form of deep prayer or meditation, it seems to me, cross culturally and globally, all share one aspect in common -- if one learns to still the noise inside the mind, one might find the door within, and on opening the door, and opening it again, find a way home into the Divine.

As for me, I pray that western yogis and yoginis discover the deeper aspects of yogic practice, which lead away from egoism, into compassion and kindness, and into the Heart of God.

My humble apologies go to the American Hindu Association for appropriating yoga into my Christian practice, but I am now, after all these decades of practice, set in my ways, and find that incorporating disciplined physicality into my prayer life makes my body strong and flexible, but most importantly keeps my mind focused and receptive and opens the inner door. My humble apologies to the Christian pastors who believe that yoga is of the devil. You are wrong. Deep prayer coupled with a heart intended to God, lifted to God, opens the contemplative path in ways inexplicable and written about for centuries by the saints of the church. To the yogic scholars, obviously I am not a knowledge seeker. I am a God seeker. To atheists, what can I say? I am the bastard child of faith who eschews reason and pursues the Pursuer.

*The Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner."

 
 
 

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