Yoga has long been suspect among Christians as a facet of Eastern religion, but at least one author thinks it has received a bad rap. In YOGA FOR CHRISTIANS, certified group fitness instructor Susan Bordenkircher makes a case for yoga not only as something that Christians can use for stress reduction and exercise but also something that can bring them closer to God through scripture-based worship and meditation. “God is using our desire to have strong, healthy bodies and presenting us with an opportunity to, at the same time, develop a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him,” she says.
Bordenkircher, the creator of the too-cutely named “Outstretched in Worship” video series, is a self-described “typically nervous, insecure, and therefore competitive person” who discovered that the regular practice of yoga helped her develop contentment and a heightened attitude of listening to God. She shares in her book and accompanying instructional DVD how Christians can integrate yoga positions with worship and scripture.
The book is designed to alleviate the fears of those who believe yoga is incompatible with Christianity, and introduce yoga positions and practice through both words and photographs to those who are new to it. “To forego the healing benefits of yoga because it is sometimes practiced within a different belief system is like telling God that He is not big enough to take something from the dark and bring it into the light,” she writes. Conservative Christians who aren’t convinced may be placated by bestselling evangelical author Max Lucado’s endorsement on the back cover. (Lucado enjoys using yoga as part of his own fitness regime.) Bordenkircher also addresses the question, “Why do we have to Christianize everything?” Her response: “We are to live an integrated life for Christ.”
I love some of the insights Bordenkircher offers here. “God’s presence is in your breath,” she writes in one passage, reminding us that our breath is also a reflection of our emotional state. “God designed your breath not only to reflect your emotional and physical reactions but to change them,” she says. “With deliberate intention, you can go from stressed to calm in the matter of a few deep breaths.” Who can resist this promising statement? Correct breathing is so important, Bordenkircher believes, that she devotes a whole chapter to it.
Black-and-white photographs used liberally throughout the book are very helpful in illustrating the right yoga positions, from “Star Gazer” to “the Downward-Facing Dog.” The instructions alongside the photos are practical and succinct. I particularly appreciate the “high intensity/low intensity” options for different positions. Good photo sequences on building different sorts of “energy flows” (sequences of positions) are included, as well as a section for doing yoga with your children and with a partner. An index in the back with a listing of topics and positions would have been helpful for quick reference.
The DVD included with the book has its strengths and weaknesses. I appreciated having four people (including one man) show the different yoga moves. Laudably, there are different levels of yoga shown, which makes it easier for beginners to try yoga for the first time, and still lets the DVD be applicable for those in good shape who want to do “power yoga.” However, the DVD might have been stronger if it was divided into more “scenes,” which would let users skip through the session more easily to find different positions. Some listeners also will be distracted from their meditation on scripture and time with God by too much talking and reassurances in the narration. I was wishing for instrumental music instead of background music with lyrics. However, this might be a matter of personal taste. When using the DVD, I turned off the audio and followed along with my own instrumental music.
Christians who have no problem with traditional yoga may find this book and DVD complementary to their own workouts, adding some insights and ideas for spiritualizing their yoga time. However, they may feel that the reassurances offered throughout are unnecessary and somewhat distracting.
Those new to yoga --- and skeptical but interested --- will find the book and DVD set a good, thorough introduction to the practice and will appreciate Bordenkircher’s reassurances that yoga can be a part of any Christian’s spiritual life. And any Christian will benefit from her excellent emphases on listening, rest and quiet meditation. Ready, set: assume the “Double Pigeon” position!
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on April 11, 2006