Yoga and Christianity: The Meaning of Namaste

Even though yoga fits in well with the Paleo lifestyle (see previous post) I am certainly not a yoga expert. In fact it was not all that long ago I was reading “Yoga For Dummies”. But finding yoga to be amazingly helpful in relieving stress and increasing strength and flexibility has motivated me to learn as much as I can about the practice. One of the things I have learned is there is controversy when it comes to Christians practicing yoga. It does not come into play as much if you are attending classes where the focus is primarily on the physical fitness aspects. The problems arise when encountering the more spiritually focused yoga classes.

Rather than trying to tackle that subject in one post I will share just one aspect of yoga that is present in almost all classes regardless of type or location: use of the word “Namaste”. For those of you not familiar with the practice, it is a tradition at the end of class for the teacher to say “namaste” with students repeating the word. The spoken word is accompanied by a gesture in which your hands are brought together in a prayer position at your chest and you bow your head. Paleo Spirit Fitness Yoga NamasteIn fact, the word “namaste” comes from a Sanskrit word for bow. More specifically, the word “nama” means “to bow,” “as” is translated “I” and “te” means you. So “namaste” literally means “I bow to you.” It is used as a sign of respect from one yoga practitioner to another.

Namaste has also been translated to mean, “The divine in me bows to the divine in you”. For some Christians this can present a slight problem if taken literally. It could be argued it is wrong to bow to another human being, that we should reserve that type of respect only for God. I have even heard the argument that saying namaste is pantheistic and tantamount to worshiping other humans or elevating humans to a godlike level. If you are of this view or if the practice simply bothers your conscience my advice is to refrain from the gesture. Not participating will certainly not take away from the other beneficial aspects of yoga practice. However, I will give my personal view of the matter for those of you on the fence and questioning whether or not it is acceptable or wise for a Christian to participate in the namaste. I believe saying, “namaste” with the accompanying gesture is merely a sign of respect and is not in any way compromising to our faith. Remember, we are ALL created in the image of God:

“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him: male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NASB)

C.S. Lewis spoke to this point in “The Weight of Glory” in which he points out there is divine in all of us:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

As with some other aspects of yoga there is a need to have an understanding of just what we are doing and saying and the significance of those words and actions. I hope to explore this further in future posts. But while it is important to be careful with our words and actions it is also important to remember we are all, regardless of religious faith, created in the image of God. Saying “namaste” at the end of yoga class is a moment to reflect on this fact. It is a small gesture that shows respect for others as creations of God and dearly loved by Him. Namaste!

20110830-100544.jpg

Paleo Spirit Fitness: Overview

I have some really good news!

Getting fit and staying fit does NOT mean toiling away doing endless cardio. Though it may be difficult to believe, achieving optimal health does not mean you have to be an exerholic.  Since adopting the Paleo lifestyle I have embraced the “less is more” idea with regard to exercise. My new-found common sense approach to fitness is inspired by Mark Sisson. When I began gathering information about the Paleo Diet I started by researching the differences between the Paleo Diet and the Zone Diet.  Having read “Mastering the Zone” by Dr. Barry Sears in the late 1990′s I was well-acquainted with the idea of eating more lean protein and good fats, keeping insulin levels in check, etc…  But I wanted to know how the Paleo Diet and the Zone Diet differ and why I should follow one versus the other.  The website that came up in my searching was Mark Sisson’s blog www.marksdailyapple.com.  After reading about the dietary aspects of Paleo (or as Mark calls it, Primal) I began to explore more of Mark’s site and was immediately hooked.  Mark is a former world-class marathoner and Ironman triathlete who has created what he calls the “Primal Blueprint” as a way to health and wellness.  Included in the Primal Blueprint is what he calls Primal Blueprint Fitness.  According to Mark Sisson, following this “blueprint” leads to “functional, diverse athletic ability, and a lean, proportioned physique”. 

Primal Blueprint Fitness recommendations:

  • MOVE frequently at a slow pace: walking, hiking, cycling, easy cardio at 55-75% of maximum heart rate, 2-5 hours per week.
  • LIFT heavy things: Brief, intense sessions of full-body functional movements, 1-3 times per week for 7-60 minutes.
  • SPRINT: “All out” efforts < 10 total duration, once every 7-10 days.
  • PLAY

Using this as a guide, I have attempted to find the most efficient, effective (and fun!) exercise regimen for myself.  Right now the following activities comprise my weekly workout routine:

  • 1 hour willPower & grace
  • 1 hour Zumba (Play!)
  • 1 hour yoga or “yogalates”
  • 1-3 hours walking or hiking
  • 20 minutes of sprinting, once a week
  • 20 minutes weight-lifting, twice a week

That adds up to 5-7 hours per week but according to Mark’s Primal Blueprint it could be as low as 3 hours per week. If I have the energy, opportunity and desire for more physical activity I will most likely put in additional time in the “Move” category. For me that would probably include walking, hiking or yoga. I try to stay away from too much high intensity cardio or “Chronic Cardio” which

“requires huge amounts carbohydrate (sugar) to sustain, it promotes hyperinsulinemia (overproduction of insulin), increases oxidative damage (the production of free radicals) by a factor of 10 or 20 times normal, and generates high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in many people, leaving them susceptible to infection, injury, loss of bone density and depletion of lean muscle tissue – while encouraging their bodies to deposit fat.”

I would add it also leads to a misperception that fitness can only be achieved by those who have the time and will to put themselves through an intense workout schedule.  My husband, G, because of work commitments and a significant commute, simply does not have the time in a given week to follow the standard “Chronic Cardio” method.  He has lost weight and feels great following this more manageable fitness program in his relatively limited time.  We have both gone from discouraged to ecstatic that we do not have to kill ourselves to be fit.

In future posts I will go into more depth about what I have discovered in my search for the most effective and efficient way of exercising.  I will also get into more detail about my own experiences with my current regimen.  Until then, I’m going for a walk with my boys, SP and BB!

Me with SP & BB and Renoir’s “Rowers” at Grounds for Sculpture in Trenton, NJ