Putting The ‘Om’ in ‘Shalom’

From The National Post

Although Michelle Katz, a Jewish woman who teaches yoga in Toronto, was never wholly bent out of shape over the practice’s Hindu and Buddhist roots, she is more comfortable with “shalom” than she is with “om,” prompting her to start teaching Torah Yoga as part of an increasingly popular trend that pairs Judaism and Hebrew chants with yoga postures.

“I simply wanted to do yoga more Jewishly,” said Ms. Katz, who has taught Torah Yoga for five years. “I see it as a way to connect more deeply with my faith.”

As the popularity of yoga increases, so too do questions about whether any country or religion has a monopoly on yoga and whether the practice, which is grounded in Sanskrit writing and Eastern spirituality, is contrary to Jewish, Christian or Muslim beliefs.

As a result, religious yoga enthusiasts are part of a growing movement to brand specialized yoga curriculums and postures. More than 130 yoga-related patents, 150 copyrights and 2,300 trademarks have popped up, sparking anger in India where the practice originated centuries ago.

India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research is now “working to identify all ancient yoga positions” in an effort to “stop patent pirates from stealing its traditional knowledge,” according to The Daily Telegraph.

Those who believe yoga is idolatrous cite the uttering of the word “Namaste” — said at the end of most classes and which loosely translates to “I bow the divine within you” — as proof of the practice’s grounding in polytheism. For those seeking a form of yoga that incorporates Christianity, Rev. Nancy Roth’s book An Invitation to Christian Yoga might be the answer to their prayers. The guide offers instructions for 25 yoga postures, each prefaced by a verse from the Bible.

The book also describes a Christian version of the “Sun Salutation” — a yoga posture that honours Surya, a Hindu sun deity. The Christian adaptation is instead named “Son Salutation” and includes movements to accompany the Lord’s Prayer. Ms. Katz said she, too, turns to religious texts to relate yoga postures more religiously to the body, pointing to the Jewish morning blessings, called the “Birchot Hashachar,” as among her favourites.

Across the country in Vancouver, Ingrid Hauss teaches a Christian form of yoga she calls Body Prayer, an adaptation she says is less about being uncomfortable with traditional yoga and more about using yoga as a way to grow in her Christian faith. For Ms. Hauss, yoga and Christianity naturally collide; she cites Biblical verse John 1:14, which states “The Word became flesh” as evidence of how yoga can be practised in a prayerful way.

Although Ms. Hauss accepts yoga as a Christian spiritual practice, she has a hunch as to why others might object. “People might fear that it could do them harm or lead them down a more Eastern path,” she said.

That rings true to Rev. Tim Jones, vicar of St. James Anglican Church in Somerset, England, who banned an instructor from teaching her toddler-friendly yoga class in a church hall. “Yoga may appear harmless or even beneficial, but it is encouraging people to think that there is a way to wholeness of body and mind through human techniques — whereas the only true way to wholeness is by faith in God through Jesus Christ,” Rev. Jones told The London Times.

But Toronto’s Rev. Mark MacLean, of St. Andrew’s United Church, said that as long as people seek out classes that emphasize physical health rather than the Hindu or Buddhist faiths, the practice will not jeopardize their Christianity.

“If you’re confident in your own religion, then I think there’s a lot to learn from a spiritual practice of another religion,” Rev. MacLean said. “If someone doesn’t want to say ‘Namaste,’ then just say ‘Amen.’ “

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