Sunday, October 30, 2011

Why is a church offering yoga classes? A glimpse into Northminister Presbyterian Church’s community perspective.

At first glance (and for many traditional Christians), it might seem incongruous for a church to be offering classes in yoga. The discipline of yoga began many, many centuries ago in India, and many aspects of yoga are linked with cultural references that seem far removed from Christianity. The asanas, or poses, in yoga require practice: in breathing, in movement, and in meditation. Meditation might seem part of Christian practice, but breathing? moving? Aren’t cultural lines beginning to blur when a church offers yoga? How can a Christian (or Jew, or Muslim, or agnostic for that matter) practice yoga and still maintain fidelity to a specific faith?

Good questions, every one of them. Here are some insights as to why Northminster Presbyterian Church offers a yoga class, free to the community.

It’s no surprise to anyone living within a 21st Century southern Californian suburb--life is hectic, rushed, crowded with “to-do” lists, and multiple obligations. Cellphones, text messages, and e-mails compete for our attention. Even when we are alone, we have the freedom to devote undivided attention to the larger aspects of our lives; becoming enmeshed in minute details has become the norm. Yoga offers an opportunity to turn down the competing demands on our attention and to focus on the simple human act of “being” instead of “doing.” Yoga is one place where we “practice” and accept our bodies; we don’t “perfect” and judge. There are enough high standards and judgments in our lives. For the hour of yoga practice, we suspend all distractions, all competition, all energy-draining noises. We recharge ourselves and discover new resources within ourselves.

Whatever a person's spiritual perspective (or even if there is none), there are benefits in taking time to enjoy being alive, noticing the small details that enrich living, and treasuring those moments with gratitude. Yoga presents a non-judgmental approach to accepting life's gifts and appreciating what every moment presents. This appreciation of life is part of who we are at Northminister. We would like to share that perspective with everyone, without reservation. An active yoga community such as the one at Northminister meets twice a week to breathe together, to practice together, and to encourage one another.

Diamond Bar is one of Los Angeles County’s more diverse communities with multiple faith traditions. Yoga is a spiritually-inclusive discipline that urges its practictioners to examine their own intentions, relationship with self, and with others. Whether it be setting an intention prior to beginning practice (a prayer, a psalm, a mantra, a personal goal) to honoring those at the end of the session--each person can use the practice time on the mat to focus on spirituality. Respecting and honoring each person’s perspective makes our practice together not only joyful and nonjudgmental, but a way to see how much more we have in common.

And we have much to learn from one another. Whatever we might call the practice--meditation, prayer, contemplation, breathing, mindfulness--we share together the benefits of a spiritual focus.

Northminster Presbyterian Church is active with the larger life of our community. Our facilities and campus are used by the Boy Scouts, a karate class, a community preschool, and the Red Cross, to name a few.  We believe that a church is more than a collection of members who meet every Sunday; We believe that a church is more than its facilities. We believe that a church is intended to extend beyond its property line and parking lot--to make positive changes in the community.

Yoga is one way that NPC offers spiritual growth, uniting body and mind in a nonjudgmental setting. Whether the benefits of yoga practice are physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or all of the above--Northminister Presbyterian Church is pleased to have you.

At the end of every practice, the instructor says the word namaste. A Sanskrit word, namaste can be translated as “I recognize the divine within you.” As we conclude our sessions, this recognition could sum up the reason for Northminister’s commitment to offer yoga classes. We acknowledge that every one of us has a divine spark within us, and through our practice, we hope to cultivate and nuture our spirituality.

Until next week, namaste

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