I was raised a Christian. Not just a Christian so I had a religion to write on forms when required, (Lutheran in my case), but the every week attending church and Sunday school type of Christian, where in our family you lived the teachings of compassion, love, and non-judgement – ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ kind of Christian.
So, when I discovered yoga in my late teens and enjoyed it like so many of us do when we first experience the practice of asana, it bothered me when it was first suggested to me that yoga might be in conflict with my beliefs. Initially I justified continuing to practice yoga by telling myself I was just doing it for the exercise. I thought if anything arose that was in conflict with my beliefs, then I just wouldn’t do it. It was a great relief to me when at some point through the years I learned that yoga is not a religion, which is one of the objections that had been raised at various times. I won’t pretend there weren’t times when I felt a little challenged, like the first time I encountered kirtan. This seemed a bit like worship, and kirtan is a devotional practice; so I decided that it was interesting, but I didn’t have to do it.
Gradually over time, I learned more and more about yoga: the chakras, the koshas, the eight limbs of yoga which included the yamas and niyamas. These are principles, codes of conduct for living a good and pure life, not unlike the ten commandments, and the great commandment from Jesus to ‘love one another, as I have loved you.’ The deeper I delved into yoga, the more apparent it became to me that no conflict with my Christian background existed here. In fact, my practice awakened for me a more real relationship with the Holy Spirit than I had ever experienced before. I know some of us are uncomfortable when the topic of spirit or soul is raised, and that’s ok. My purpose today is not to convert, but to share and reassure anyone that there is nothing to fear, and everything to gain from walking the path of yoga; especially the eightfod path of Patanjali toward realisation and awakening. Regardless of your personal beliefs, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish or Christian, yoga can help you to a deeper spiritual understanding, not hinder.
I am happy that in all my years of being watchful, and also by keeping an open heart and mind, I am yet to experience anything that is in conflict with the teachings of Jesus…which brings me to the Three Wise Men. They were from the East. They brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It’s very convenient for some Western Christians to skip over the significance of these visitors to the nativity. The renaissance paintings of Jesus in so many of our churches fail to authentically depict Jesus as a Palestinian. Most likely his beard was black, not blond; but I am not bothered by that. My point is that in those missing years in the Bible, between age 13 to 30, it is extremely likely Jesus was in India and Tibet. It would have been an easy journey there on the well-established trade route between the Mediterranean and India and China. What he would have learned from his teachers there he brought back to his homeland. The ‘light from the East’ is not only referring to the rising sun, but to the fact that India has been the centre of religion from time immemorial. There is no doubt that as well as what he learned from his mentors that Jesus was endowed with his own spiritual wisdom and divine realization, and this would have been brought forth by the practices of deep meditation he learned with the masters of yoga.
So there you have it, the reason why I feel so comfortable with the principles underlying my yoga is because they stem from the same place and teachers as the principles of my Christian roots.
If you are interested in learning more about those years in India, you might enjoy the book The Yoga of Jesus by Paramahansa Yogananda.