An anonymous letter with no return address arrived recently at the home of Nancy Roth, an Episcopal priest and writer, who leads workshops and retreats in Christian Yoga. Roth was leading a retreat in another state so her husband examined the letter, as one does in our age of anthrax, by holding it up to the light, checking to see if there were any clues as to its contents.

He saw the words "yoga" and "Christian," so he thought it must be someone asking about her workshops. He opened the envelope to find a clipping from a publication, the identity of which was not included, denying the validity of Reverend Roth's recently published book, "An Invitation to Christian Yoga" (Cowley Publications).

The one I encountered, as I lay on the gym floor with my body relaxed and my mind and spirit attentive, was the God I knew in Christ Jesus.

"The clipping criticized my book, saying that yoga could not be 'Christian,'" Reverend Roth told me. "It 'warned' that yoga would inevitably lead people away from Christianity and put them in touch with Hindu deities. It was part of that whole fearful attitude of some fundamentalists."

Fundamentalists aren't the only ones who fear that practicing the physical movements of yoga will mysteriously alter their belief system. I've met highly intellectual American atheists who fear that a yoga class that begins (as most do) with the chanting of Om, a universal breathing sound, was by nature "religious," and thus would corrupt the purity of their non-belief.

I encountered the Christian fear of yoga several years ago when I went on a retreat in Mexico, and a yoga teacher from Mexico City said some of the Catholic priests there instructed their parishioners not to attend yoga classes. They warned that the practice would lead to other gods and Eastern religious beliefs.

Though developed in the ancient Hindu tradition, the movements of yoga are so universal that they can adapt to or be adopted by any culture or spiritual path. The great majority of classes in the U.S. teach the practice of hatha yoga, the physical discipline that focuses on postures or asanas, and employ no religious teaching at all, unless you count the chanting of "Om" at the beginning and sometimes the teacher's blessing of "Namaste"--which means "I honor the light within you."--at the end.

The "light" can be interpreted any way the student understands it, from the universal concept of "spirit" to the light of one's own faith, whether that is Christ, Buddha, Shiva, Muhammad, or even Freud, Jung, or Oprah.

When Nancy Roth, a former dancer and dance instructor, took an adult education yoga class in her local high school 30 years ago (before becoming an Episcopal priest), she found the practice "a doorway to prayer."

"It did not matter that we had chanted "Om" or that the exercises had Hindu names," Roth writes in "Invitation to Christian Yoga." "My awareness of my own "incarnated-ness" drew me closer to the Incarnate One. The one I encountered, as I lay on the gym floor with my body relaxed and my mind and spirit attentive, was the God I knew in Christ Jesus."

As a Christian and an Episcopal priest, Roth sees yoga as "the gift our brothers and sisters of another tradition have given us, as we strive to follow the way of the One who embodied God, Jesus Christ."

Roth's book is practical as well as inspiring for Christians--and I think for others of no official faith who are open to the spiritual harmonies of the psalms and the Lord's Prayer. Selections from psalms that are appropriate to different yoga positions are suggested for meditation, and the Sanskrit names of the asanas or postures are given in English.

For a meditation that might suit the posture of the "Folded Leaf" (also known as "the child pose") Roth offers Psalm 131:3, "Like a child quieted upon its mother's breast, my soul is quieted within me." Lines from The Lord's Prayer are matched with the positions of the basic yoga posture the "Salute to the Sun," originally a Hindu practice for greeting the dawn.

While Reverend Roth's book puts the movements of yoga into a Christian context, the practice itself may be adapted to any spiritual path, or to none. Yoga means "yoke," or joining together, and what joins us as humans on a spiritual path is the recognition stated for Christians by Paul in I Corinthians 6:19, but applicable to all seekers: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God...?

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