As a follower of Christ, I have spent much time in study and prayer over my yoga practice. I have sought the counsel of my pastor, my elders, my accountability group, and my husband. I have not glazed over the controversy that surrounds Christians practicing yoga. I have put my love of yoga on the altar of God for him to take from me if it did not bring him Glory.
Instead, what I have found is that God has given me innumerable opportunities to talk about the Love of God, which is Christ, from my yoga mat. He has shown me that he is El Elyon, the most High God, and that he is in the business of revealing himself in this world (Genesis 14). In fact, I have even found God’s truth woven throughout many of the teachings and the sacred texts of ancient yoga philosophy.
One such example is the greeting “Namaste” used frequently at the beginning and end of a yoga practice. In this gesture, hands are held in prayer position at the heart center, eyes are closed, and the head is bowed as a sign of mutual respect between teacher and student. The Sanskrit word, Namaste, broken down into its roots means: Namah (bow) as (I) te (you). It literally means “I bow to you.” and is also translated as ‘the divine Light in me honors the divine Light in you’.
Some Christians find this greeting to be controversial because, when taken literally, this might imply that we are bowing and worshipping each other as gods. It is not my intention to argue or talk others out of their personal convictions, however, I do want to share why I have found Namaste to be a beautiful and biblically sound practice which reflects the second most important command as described by Jesus.
One of them, an expert in the law, tested him (Jesus) with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:35-40.
For me, Namaste is a reminder of several of God’s beautiful truths.
To begin, God is the Creator of all. Scripture says that humans were created Imago Dei, Latin for ‘in the image of God’. Each person we meet, whether they have accepted Jesus as their personal savior or not, is made in the image of God. When I use the greeting Namaste in a general sense (to nonbelievers), I am proclaiming God as our Creator and bowing to the beauty of his creation, his image reflected in each person I meet- believer and nonbeliever alike. Namaste calls me deep into the command to love others as I love myself. I do not bow to them as gods. I bow to them in deep respect for, and adoration of the One who created us all. I bow because their Creator loves them and invites me to join him!
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:26-27
Furthermore, when greeting a follower of Christ, the word Namaste takes on yet a deeper meaning. As Christians, we believe that Jesus has done the work to reconcile God and humankind. When we believe and trust that Jesus has restored our relationship with God, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, transforming our lives from the inside out. Believers then, both individually and corporately, become the dwelling place of God on the earth. When using the greeting Namaste with fellow believers, I am recognizing that the Holy Spirit dwells within each of us. To be clear, I am not saying that we are gods; I am saying that God lives in us.
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16
Additionally, in the Gospel of John, the imagery of light and darkness is used to describe the birth of Jesus into this world. Christ is introduced as the “the true light, which gives light to everyone” born into the darkness of the world. When using the gesture Namaste in a Christian context, I am reminded that Jesus is the true Light and that his followers are meant to be a reflection of this light in a dark and hurting world.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5
I am thrilled when I hear the truth of El Elyon, the most High God, being revealed throughout cultures, history, and time. Our God is a big God! It is an honor for me to recognize that truth and to have the opportunity to introduce the person of Jesus into the story that God is already telling. I find this kind of truth being revealed in the Eastern greeting, Namaste. My choice to use this gesture in my yoga classes is beautiful reminder to me that all of humans are made in the image of God, and we are meant to love each other as we love ourselves, as image bearers. At times, I use the greeting Namaste in humble gratitude, remembering that through faith in Christ, the Spirit of the Divine has chosen to live in his followers and to reflect His Light through us into the world.
The truth held in the greeting Namaste is a truth that contains the power to heal many of the great divisions in this world. The power to unite people regardless of their cultural, racial, religious, social, political, or personal differences. In viewing ourselves, and each other, as smaller parts making up the whole of God’s great creation, we can come to realize that we need each other and perhaps develop a deep respect for each other in spite of our differences.
In closing, I pray that God would be glorified on earth as it is in heaven. Lord, help us to look for your image in each person we encounter, and enable us to live out the beauty and truth held in Namaste in light of Imago Dei.
***Shared with permission from Kelly McClellan, CYA Founding Master Trainer. For more of her musings please follow her blog @ http://gettingstill.com
Kelly has been practicing yoga and making art for over 20 years now and teaching for 15 of those! She is a YogaFaith ambassador (www.yogafaith.org) and a faculty member at Montreat College (www.montreat.edu) where she teaches classes that blend the ancient practice of classical yoga with sacred Christian scriptures. She is a lover of God and follower of Jesus- studying His life and teachings and learning to live and love with His heart. Kelly believes that “all truth is God’s truth”. She is passionate about studying the Bible, as well as searching for Truth in unexpected places such as the natural world, eastern philosophies and even children’s literature!
Kelly lives in Black Mountain, NC with her husband and their two children. When she is not on her mat, you can find her hanging out with friends and family, homeschooling her teens, gardening, making jewelry and other art, playing with her dog or reading and contemplating life’s deepest questions.