As I was exploring Downtown Disney in Orlando, I came across a food truck whose business name was "Namaste", a term used way to casually these days and perhaps not as well understood as it needs to be. Now if you are unfamiliar with that term, let me just elaborate a little for you. Namaste is a term used by those who are regular yoga enthusiasts as a form of greeting and salutation at the beginning and end of the yoga session. In the truest use of the term, there is a combined gesture of hands brought together, fingers pointing upward, and a slight bow at the waist with the accompanied greeting. If you did not know what this "respectful greeting" really means, it would seem kind of harmless - like you were just saying "peace be with you". When you look at the origin of the term in Hinduism, you might be surprised to find it means "I bow to the divine in you". In modern culture, and among the yoga enthusiasts out there everywhere, it has come to be a kind of informal way of acknowledging the respect of one for another. If you know anything about the Hindu religion, you might recognize yoga as one of the "aims" or "goals" in life which are a "path" to obtain or reach "moksha". Moksha is the path to "freedom". What many may not realize is this "pathway to freedom" is really based on the following belief: "Beyond caste, creed, family or lineage, That which is without name and form, beyond merit and demerit, That which is beyond space, time and sense-objects, You are that, God himself; Meditate this within yourself. ||Verse 254|| — Vivekachudamani, 8th Century AD" If you didn't catch that, the idea is that of becoming God himself. There is a danger in just accepting terms, actions, or practices which sound "harmless", such as yoga for the purposes of exercise alone, without also understanding the subtle nuances of the practices.
God said to the people of Israel: I am the Lord your God, the one who brought you out of Egypt where you were slaves. Do not worship any god except me. Do not make idols that look like anything in the sky or on earth or in the ocean under the earth. Don’t bow down and worship idols. I am the Lord your God, and I demand all your love. If you reject me, I will punish your families for three or four generations. (Exodus 20:1-5 CEV)
Three "don'ts" in the passage above make it ever so plain for us to see that God warns us against making any other thing, person, or objective as important as keeping him central in our lives. We are not to be central - becoming "gods" ourselves; nor are we to bow to anyone else or anything else in our lives. No one is to bow to the "divine" in us - if the divine in us is actually there, it is fully and completely because God has taken up residence in us and his grace is shining through our lives. The "divine" we are to bow to is none other than Christ himself - not any fashion of "spirituality" we might manage to attain within ourselves, because it is impossible for us to ever attain to the place of being divine. We may not understand or see danger in the subtle nuances of a term offered in friendly respect for one another, but if we see beyond the term to the intent of the term, we might reconsider using it. I don't see any harm in the practice of yoga as a form of exercise alone, but when we combine it with the meditation part and begin to see the "spiritual side" of it, we may find it is a little closer to the practice of a "religion" God tells us very clearly to stay away from. In fact, when God gave Moses the commandments above, he warned him to remove all the places of worship which existed in the territory God was giving to the people of Israel because he knew their influence would lead to the Israelites getting their eyes off God and onto practices which focused on self-actualization, self-appreciation, and self-aggrandizement - three things he wanted us to clearly avoid.
Here are some safety tips when considering if a particular course of exercise is right for us (whether it be yoga, any of the forms of karate or jujitsu, etc.):
- Can we engage in the practice without engaging in the spiritual aspects of it? At first, we may think this is possible, but remain ever vigilant to research and understand any of the "mind focusing" activities these practices may ask of you. This is probably one of the easiest things to do to day with the internet searches being so readily available to us. Ask the questions such as "why am I being asked to do this" and "what is the real intent of this action" in order to determine what the "hidden meaning" or "real purpose" is of the action.
- Can we engage in the practice without compromising our beliefs? In order to answer this one, we have to be certain of what we believe. For example, if I honestly adhere to the belief that there is to be no activity in my life which places either myself or another before God, then I am not going to engage in any activity which escalates my spirituality to a place higher than God in my life. My "spirituality" is really not important - what is important is that God's Spirit indwells me. This is the difference between many of the eastern religions and Christianity. The eastern religions all teach that we have to work our way to getting to be like "little gods or goddesses" by some series of good works. Christianity teaches that no amount of good works will ever make us "more spiritual" or "like God". Be aware of what you believe as it will influence how you practice.
- Would God be honored by our practice or action? This is probably the most concrete question we can ask ourselves when considering any form of exercise which involves any of the eastern religion forms of practice. The stretching and strengthening "principles" of yoga are good - the meditation and self-realization part of it is where we cross the line. The physical endurance and self-protection methodologies of karate or jujitsu are excellent - the "freeing of one's mind" may be where we cross the line. Keeping God central in all our actions and activities is critical to remaining "safe" and free of compromising actions. Don't be naive about these practices, but investigate them fully before ever going down their path. You may be able to learn the "actions" of yoga without ever engaging in the "meditation" of yoga - bettering your physical health and strengthening your core muscles. Just be careful. Just sayin!