Learning From Other Traditions While Staying Within Your Own
A Christian asks if studying yoga is against her religious beliefs.
BY: Mirka Knaster
The teacher himself had been raised in a Hindu family that had emigrated from India to Burma. A highly successful businessman, he had suffered severe migraine headaches for years and sought relief by traveling to Europe and America for the best medical help. When someone recommended that he try Vipassana meditation, he hesitated at first, afraid to offend his family's traditional beliefs. But once he overcame the initial obstacles, his healing and transformation were so dramatic that he has devoted his life to teaching this meditation method to others. He knows that it has nothing to do with religion per se and everything to do with attaining peace and happiness.
That's why mindfulness meditation is now an integral part of various stress-reduction programs in clinics, hospitals, and health centers across the U.S. Although it is based on the Buddha's original instructions, people from every denomination learn how to become aware of their breath and bodily sensations. Unexpectedly, they discover that they feel less pain and more calm and balanced. Research shows that because of the seamless connection between body and mind, both yoga and meditative techniques have positive effects on health. After all, the body itself is neither Hindu nor Baptist nor Muslim.
Most of us don't realize that the various religions we engage in have been influenced and enlivened in some way by different beliefs and practices around them. None of them has existed in a vacuum. In a similar way, what we learn as individuals from a spiritual tradition other than our own can infuse vitality into our path.
Your uneasiness about getting involved in what you think may be un-Christian doesn't have to leave you polarized. How far to explore outside your religion is always an individual decision. Interview teachers ahead of time to find out how much of the cultural or religious trappings they include in their instruction. Ultimately, the strength of your commitment to your faith can guide you into a comfort zone that expands your dedication to Christ while also taking care of yourself.