'I really don't see yoga as anti-Christian': Reverend, yogis speak out against letter denouncing yoga

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'I really don't see yoga as anti-Christian': Reverend, yogis speak out against letter denouncing yoga

'I really don't see yoga as anti-Christian': Reverend, yogis speak out against letter denouncing yoga

Yoga is supposed to bring about calm and tranquillity, but a letter denouncing the practice as anti-Christian is stirring up controversy in Boissevain, Man.

It started with the upcoming opening of a new yoga studio in the Manitoba town, 222 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg.

"I was startled and shocked about the negativity that could come out of a new business opening in Boissevain," said Lindsay Alvis, owner of Soul Worx Yoga & Fitness, the studio she is preparing to open in the town.

"I was disappointed, obviously," she told CBC's Radio Noon on Tuesday. "I think it's quite prejudiced to say that [yoga] is against a religion, especially in this day and age."

Alvis believes the letter in question was sent to members of one local church. It's not clear who authored it or how many people got copies. It surfaced about 10 days ago.

In it, the author cautions that yoga could disrupt the beliefs of Christians.

"If one desires to physical fitness only, exercise designed for that specific purpose ought rather be chosen," it reads in part. "No part of yoga can be separated from the philosophy behind it."

The author also said with the imminent opening of a new studio in the town, they felt the need to share the letter.

Alvis, who practises Buti yoga — a mixture of traditional yoga and dance — believes the popular exercise has come a long way from its Hindu origins in India.

"I think yoga has changed and evolved with humanity," said Alvis. "It's a form of exercise that has a lot of different definitions. I don't think there's one way that you can define yoga."

Instructor insulted

Wendy Giesbrecht, another yoga instructor in Boissevain, also saw a copy of the letter.

"It was kind of insulting, for sure, and I'd like to see the whole discussion on yoga come to light," she said. "It's an opinion that I obviously don't share."

Giesbrecht said she's hosted community forums in the past to educate people on what yoga is and the sessions were met with many curious residents and questions.

"Yoga is not a religion.… It's a very personal journey," she said.

Rev. Michael Canning, who leads the local Anglican church, said he wasn't aware of the letter until he was approached about it this week.

"I really don't see yoga as anti-Christian," he said, calling it a good way for people to get in touch with their minds and bodies. "I know people who are Christians who find that its a good way of meditating."

Positive reaction 

Alvis says she's had nothing but positive words and thoughts come in from people around town since the letter came to light.

She believes it'll lead to even more support for her new studio, which she hopes to open in the near future.

"I think that people are entitled to their opinion, but I don't think religion needs to be an influence or a decision-making [factor] in yoga."

"I was very surprised by the letter," said Jane Barter, an associate professor of religion and culture at the University of Winnipeg who specializes in Christian thought. 

"It was so decisive about not allowing Christians to attend yoga, which is odd because yoga is a universal practice — it's meant to be a universal practice."

Barter said Christians have incorporated all sorts of non-Christian practices over the centuries, always adapting the religion to the current culture. She said in Roman times, the gospel was explained through the lens of Greek philosophy. 

"I think it's a feature of a lack of religious literacy in a way, because there have been times where people have been more inclined to recognize the value and the benefit of other practices, including spiritual practices, than today. But I suspect the letter writer represents a very small minority of people," she said. 

Barter also doesn't believe that much yoga practised in Manitoba is representative of Hinduism. "But nevertheless, it's a practice that deserves respect and I believe there is absolutely no problem or peril to the souls of Christians for practising yoga."