Baptist politician's book reignites Christian yoga debate

Whether Christians can do yoga without falling into heresy is an ongoing debate, and this week, more fuel was added to the fire thanks in part to the conservative American politics magazine, The National Review.

On Thursday, National Review writer Betsy Woodruff posted excerpts from E.W. Jackson's book, Ten Commandments to an Extraordinary Life, to accompany her profile of the Republican Party candidate for lieutenant governor in the commonwealth of Virginia who has stirred recent controversy.

The book is a self-help guide for Christians, teaching them to change their lives by following a set of 10 spiritual principles.

In book, Jackson, a Baptist, writes, "When one hears the word meditation, it conjures up an image of Maharishi Yoga talking about finding a mantra and striving for nirvana. ... The purpose of such meditation is to empty oneself. ... [Satan] is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it."

Jo Ann Bauer, the director of communication for Holy Yoga, a Christian school of yoga, said the yoga community is used to this accusation.

"I'm not surprised," she said of Jackson's remarks. "I think the statement is based in ignorance and the reality of not understanding."

While Holy Yoga is "Christ-centered," as Bauer says, and about "connection with the triune God," she does not believe Christians should be afraid of more conventional forms of the practice.

"I think that the reality is, if you are a Christian, and you want to experience the fullness of Christ in a yoga practice, utilizing a Christian yoga, such as Holy Yoga, is an opportunity for you to do that," she said.

"That being said, do I think that prohibits Christians from going to their YMCA, or their health club or their studio? I don't believe that to be true."

Furthermore, Christians who believe in an omnipotent God, said Bauer, should not be afraid of yoga.

"Scripture tells us that the Lord is sovereign over all things," she said. "And if we believe that to be true - and in Holy Yoga, we believe that scripture is the offered word of God - then that includes yoga."

Holly Meyers, a Washington, D.C.-based yoga instructor agreed with Bauer's assessment
of Jackson, calling his claims "fear-based" and "uninformed," and for that reason, she said she does not take offense to them.

"This is not the first time - and it won't be the last - that someone who does not practice yoga has mistaken it for something potentially harmful," she said.

Meyers, who was raised Jewish, now holds worldview drawing on the teachings on light and darkness found in all religions - including Christianity - and she writes about both yoga and interfaith issues on her blog, Urban Yoga Den.

It is because of her interfaith studies that Meyers said she is able to bear no ill-will toward Jackson and his beliefs.

"I feel 100 percent confident that my 20 years of yoga practice - in concert with my healthy variety of spiritual and faith-based observances - have yielded many non-harmful, and quite helpful, contributions to our world," she said.

Virginia voters head to the polls November 5 for what is expected to be a close race.

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