We set our intentions for the next hour, we focused on our breathing pattern and we strengthened our core. A group of college students gathered at a Christian university to practice an ancient Hindu practice on a Saturday morning. Is this stretching religion too far?
PLNU offers an intramural yoga class twice a week. Yoga in Sanskrit translates to “union” or “connection.” The exercise originated as a Hindu practice in which those participating can connect their physical movements to spiritual emotions and experiences.
Within the past century, Western cultures have come to embrace yoga as a sufficient means of exercise, stretching and stress relief. Many who practice yoga choose to acknowledge a higher power – Vishnu, God or the universe as a whole. Corporate yoga studios allow their students to meditate to their comfort. CorePower Yoga’s website states, “We turn doubt into security, strangers into friends, rigid into fluid and stress into sweat. We work every muscle and every emotion.”
The Encinitas school district has implemented a required one-hour yoga session for every student in their schools. Not only has this created a large debate about the financial freedom each school should be allowed to have, but parents are also upset about the religious implications of yoga. Those in favor claim that yoga is important for students because it helps relieve stress from a system that thrives on a test and success-driven education.
So why are students practicing yoga at a Christian university? For similar reasons – it improves strength and flexibility and relieves major amounts of stress and anxiety. Noelle Pounds, PLNU junior and managerial organizational business major, is a certified yoga instructor who leads the intramural sport.
Pounds began practicing yoga after she graduated high school. She had a few knee injuries and struggled with anxiety. Pounds was hesitant to become a yoga instructor because she wanted to avoid the spiritual aspect of yoga. Her dad, who is a pastor, and mom encouraged her to become certified and, through this process, she learned how important yoga practice was as a whole.
Each instructor has their own style with how they choose to lead yoga classes and most often the instructors acknowledge the variety of religions in the room.
“I like to pray at the end of classes,” said Pounds. “I was not taught to do that in my certification. It’s something I choose to do. Also, creating a space for people to ask questions because I am a Christian who does yoga… I think that is extremely important.”
Michael Lodahl, Professor of Theology and World Religions, believes that yoga can be very beneficial for Christians, both spiritually and physically. He also does not think that in order to practice yoga, one has to become Hindu.
“We can benefit from that wisdom, about the body and the mind, like we can benefit from Indian cuisine,” said Lodahl. “Eating and enjoying curry or chicken masala does not require my conversion to a Hindu way of life. I think perhaps something analogous can be said about yoga.”
Whether students choose to practice yoga as a form of spiritual formation or solely for exercise, yoga provides a calming environment in which each person can focus on themselves.