Why I Teach Yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi

Sharing God at the gym has strengthened my faith and stretched me in surprising ways.

The shock and anger in her voice surprised me. "What are you going to teach?"

"BodyFlow™, a fitness format that is a combination of tai chi, Pilates, yoga, and relaxation," I repeated.

With that, my friend and I launched into a discussion on Christians teaching and participating in mind-body classes like this.

During 28 years of teaching fitness classes, I have taught a diversity of classes including cardio, circuit training, step, toning, SilverSneakers™, Pilates, and yoga. Yes, I said the dreaded four-letter "Y" word—yoga. Since I've become a Christian, I've been amazed at how Christ has used me, as an instructor in a fitness center with secular music, to reach others for Christ while teaching them to be fit.

As I've aged, I've needed to find new exercise routines that were kinder to my body, but still challenged my physical strength. After I injured my lower back about 10 years ago, I re-entered the exercise world through a Pilates class. By consistently attending the classes, I corrected my posture, strengthened my core, and drastically improved my balance. I knew people of all ages could benefit from Pilates, so I became a certified teacher and have taught it for many years.

Pilates is a unique system of stretching and strengthening exercises developed more than 90 years ago by Joseph H. Pilates. The results are toned muscles, improved posture, increased flexibility and balance, and an increased ability for the mind and body to work together.

Four years ago, I completed certification for a program called Les Mills BodyFlow™, the format I was discussing with my friend. I was hesitant to get certified because tai chi and yoga are based on Eastern philosophies and worship. I watched several videos of this format before getting certified. I prayed before each of my three days of certification, asking God to keep my eyes and ears open to anything that would draw me or others away from him. No "red flags" appeared during the certification, and I had great spiritual discussions. I believe God encouraged me to continue in the practice. Four years later, many class members not only feel stronger, but have increased flexibility, balance, focus, and an ability to relax—all of this without compromising their Christian faith.

The truth about yoga

Let's get back to yoga. I have had both negative and positive experiences with yoga. A dozen years ago, several of my cardio class members were talking about the new yoga class and how great it was. After praying about it and asking the Lord to protect my mind and heart, I attended the class so I could give feedback.

It began very innocently with stretches and releasing outside distractions. Then we did sun salutations, a position where we put our hands in prayer position close to our hearts, and adored the sun. The placement of the hands was no accident, as the instructor stated only the heart can know the truth. Uh-oh.

So the question isn't, 'Should a Christian do yoga?' The question is: 'Am I open and obedient to the Holy Spirit's promptings in all choices in my life?'

We also did standing movements where we had to envision the energy coming into our feet and bodies from the Earth, sitting movements where we had to feel the sky pulling us upward, and we ended with the traditional "Namaste" (the Sanskrit word namas means "to bow to" or "to adore," and te means "you", so "to bow to you"). A big uh-oh.

We finished the class with relaxation, but I felt agitated and distracted. After class, I talked with the yoga instructor, explaining my Christian beliefs and how I couldn't fully participate in the mind-body aspect of the class. She appreciated my honesty, and I appreciated her commitment to what she was doing. I took the opportunity to share with my class members privately about my yoga experience, especially those who were Christians.

I also had a wonderful experience with a yoga instructor who invited me to stay for her class and get individual help when she found out I was having back pain.

"Oh, thank you, but . . . but I can't," I stammered.

She was surprised and asked why, and I explained about my Christian faith and previous yoga experience. She stated she didn't focus on the worshiping of the sun or Earth, but how the yoga poses could benefit each person. Yeah . . . we'll see, I thought.

Reluctantly, I stayed. It was a great class, with private attention from the instructor including explanations of how various poses improved various parts of our bodies. I left feeling stronger and with my Christian faith intact.

Faith-based alternatives

If none of this is sitting well with you, there is a Christian alternative to yoga. Check out Yo-Gal™ at FaithfullyFit (http://faithfullyfit.com), developed by Donna Clemons, the owner of Christian Aerobic Resource, Inc., and president of Starbridge Faithfullyfit Ministries. Donna has helped establish more than 1,000 Christian group fitness ministries and provides education, tools, and support to group fitness instructors, personal trainers, and pastors.

Yo-Gal™ is a Christian gal's version of what the secular world calls yoga. "Yo" in English means "to call upon." The two words "yo "and "gal" are separated by a cross in the logo, so Yo-Gal means a gal who calls upon Christ (based on Psalm 145:5).

Yo-Gal™ classes include poses that stretch, strengthen, and challenge your balance with all meditation based on Scripture. Instrumental hymns or soft Christian music is the background for the class, and if class members come into a prayer pose, it's praying to God. Any focus on breathing is done as deepening or improving the breath of life God has given us. It's godly; it's challenging; it's uplifting. Check the website to see if there's a class in your area or to become certified in Yo-Gal™.

I know this article may cause controversy. I didn't write it to divide, but to offer my experiences and alternatives. Exercise is a gift of God for us to take care of the bodies that he created for his glory. We don't leave our brains or our spirits at the door when we enter a fitness class. So as we decide whether to participate in any class, we need think about Philippians 4:8: "And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about [and do] things that are excellent and worthy of praise."

As with all choices, the Christian believer has the Holy Spirit as a trusted guide. However, we need to be in the Word daily, have quiet/prayer time with God, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide our choices every day. If we have a personal relationship with Jesus, the Holy Spirit will caution us when we're stepping into a dangerous place. Whether it's a choice about yoga, a movie, or a relationship, Jesus will guide us.

So the question isn't, "Should a Christian do yoga?" The question is: "Am I open and obedient to the Holy Spirit's promptings in all choices in my life?"

We get to choose whether we obey or not.

Jackie Confalone is certified as a group fitness instructor and personal trainer, and has taught group fitness classes for 28 years. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Gary, and they have two grown children.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Exercise; Fitness; Health; Holy Spirit; Weight
Today's Christian Woman, January Week 1, 2014
Posted December 30, 2013

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