noun: yo·ga \ ˈyō-gə \
1: capitalized : a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation
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.
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.”
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.”
As reported by Kelly Geraldine Malone of Canadian Press, April 25, 2018:
BOISSEVAIN, Man. — Lindsay Alvis was excitedly preparing to open up the first yoga studio in the small southwestern Manitoba community she calls home when a letter showed up in the mail boxes of some of her neighbours.
“PLEASE DON’T DO YOGA” the letter began.
The typed letter left in mailboxes around Boissevain cautions people in the community of about 1,500 not to do yoga because of its Hindu roots, before closing with a dire warning for Christians.
“If you do yoga or are thinking of joining a class, prayerfully search your heart.”
The letter, which warns about “yoga missionaries” and that “no part of yoga can be separated from the philosophy behind it,” is only signed with the name “Marie.”
Alvis was astounded and disappointed that it was being circulated just as she was preparing to teach her first class at Soul Worx Yoga and Fitness.
“If you don’t like yoga don’t do yoga,” Alvis said.
“(If yoga) doesn’t fall within your beliefs then don’t do it, but I don’t think you need to send out a letter warning people of dangers, telling people not to do yoga and saying it in response to a yoga studio opening in your town.”
Alvis was born and raised in the former town, not far from the border with North Dakota. She ended up moving to Alberta, living there for 13 years, before she came back so her husband could take over the family farm two years ago.
“I know religion is big in Boissevain but, when I decided to open the studio, I only had positive feedback,” Alvis said. “I never intended to offend any religion and I don’t believe that yoga is any sort of religion, especially like in my yoga studio.”
She teaches Buti yoga, a cardio-intensive version of the traditional practice which involves stretching and dance. It was created by a celebrity trainer in the United States. Alvis said it’s far removed from having any religious overtones.
While her studio will be the first yoga-dedicated location in Boissevain, yoga has been in the community for a while. Alvis previously taught classes through the local municipality.
“It went very well in town. So it was kind of a first for me hearing about this,” said recreation director Samantha Dyck.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve never heard any issues with yoga with regards to religious beliefs.”
Ken Warkentin, executive director of Mennonite Church Manitoba which represents one of the churches in Boissevain, said he understands that some people may be “opposed to yoga as a spiritual discipline of Hinduism.” But he said it’s important to have meaningful discussions with people of other religions and beliefs.
“By and large, we would continue to value a conversation around those things and try hard not to become overly judgmental,” he said.
Avis said she won’t let the letter dampen her excitement over the studio opening.
While a few people may share the letter’s sentiment, she said a lot more have reached out to show their support.
“I just want a great thing for the community,” she said.
Click on the link to see the entire letter. Marie is in fact correct in her warning that Yoga is a HINDU practice, that it’s spiritually dangerous, and that Christians should avoid it. Ms. Alvis’s comment that “I don’t think you need to send out a letter warning people of dangers” shows the truth of the passage in John 3 quoted above–those in darkness hate the light. Contrary to the assertion of Professor Barter, there’s nothing in Marie’s letter that’s “decisive about not allowing Christians to attend yoga”–no threats, merely warnings that Yoga is a Hindu practice, and that Christians should prayerfully check their hearts if they’re involved in it or are thinking of doing so.