Yoga vs Christianity among parents

“Yoga cannot open people’s hearts to God” says Pope Francis. There seems to be some confusion, which cannot be ignored.

Is yoga a religion? Is it contrary to my Christian faith? Does the word God even feature in yoga classes?

Lets be clear! Yoga is a philosophy, a science of well-being, pre-dating Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism (and definitely Christianity!) and deeply influencing them all. Yoga has existed and flourished for thousands of years (maybe 7000). However, in no text or system does yoga require you to have a belief or faith. Rather, it is a system, a science of well being, very different from religions, since yoga incorporates practical applications on how we exercise, breathe, think, relax and eat.

The definition of religion is one of faith and ritual. Yoga, however, is about experience and practise.

For many Christians, particularly Catholics,  mentioning controlling the mind can be a massive trigger. Many parents are scared that the yoga will “control the mind” of their child. We could, instead, talk of calming or stilling the mind, in order for it to be more positive and focussed.

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Reflections on Africa

Arriving in Charles de Gaulle Paris airport, the cool, clean floor, the manicured hostesses and the orderly queues were a sight that should feel reassuring, comforting and familiar, but after just 8 days – I feel alienated.

The body aches for constant touch, senses ache for comforting sounds, smells, connection, in this sterile environment.

I am confused – we go to Africa to “help”, but as so many aid workers, we come back wondering who is actually being helped? In economic terms, it seems clear; we, the privileged West help the less privileged countries to become more stable, “civilised”, wealthy, healthy.

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From trauma to joy in Africa

The bashed up Nissan appears on time – nods of approval and respect from the onlookers. This doesn’t happen often! Bumping along on sandy tracks into the centre of town, we pass women with massive plastic buckets balanced firmly on heads, filled with more plastic – shoes, flip flops and kitchen rolls. Her vibrant dress sways with her head held high. Boundary between car and pedestrian, between oncoming traffic and us is blurred to the point of questioning –  are we driving on the pavement? Is it right or left hand traffic here? And bump, another dust cloud billows into the car and plasters our sweaty bodies with a film of dirt.

We have a meeting at the Army Headquarters to speak to the officers about the importance of yoga for the army and for the country. Their corporal and many of his soldiers are participating in the course, inhaling every word, every suggestion. Their motivation is unified – “to make the country great again.” After two decades of unimaginable suffering, Sierra Leone is determined to find peace, especially within the army, where they were in the frontline of horrors only known to us through video games, leaving many deadened and numb. These soldiers see greatness differently from our brothers n the WEst, when asked Corporal Felixon says “I believe passionately that yoga can unify us, bring love and peace into our hearts and when we have it in our hearts, then others will follow – schools, hospitals, everyone!”

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The end of Sportivate?

Sport England have funded 1 in 7 active graduates of Teenyoga, either by paying for the course or by grants for teaching yoga classes to young people.

However, this is changing. Sportivate was a fund set up after the Olympic Games running for 6 years, to support more interest in sport among young people in England.

2017 sees the end of the Sportivate funding. Last week, I had a meeting with several managers of Sport England. It is clear, that although the funding has come to an end in half of the regions, there is still some funding for Year 7 in 27 regions. These applications need to be in by around the 17th of February.

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Christmas lesson for teens

This time of year, it can feel like we are working against our own bodies, pushing ourselves up out of bed when its dark, taking vitamins, supplements, coffee, chocolate or pro-plus to keep going until the mid-winter feast which pushes us even further into activity and consumption.   I have had the benefit of slowing down almost to a halt this past few weeks and I watch how the teens are pushing themselves to fill in UCAS forms, preparing for Mocks, getting on buses in the dark and coming home in the dark.

As yoga teachers, we are in such a privileged position, we can nourish and care for these precious souls, offering them solace in this frantic time, teaching them to slow down completely. Their bodies are telling them to sleep (91/2 hours per night between 13-19) yet most of our teens sleep on average 6 hours per night.

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Yoga from a priest’s perspective

If, with your religion, your aim is to deepen your relationship with God, then this will unfold  in a pace with you getting to know yourself. The way I see yoga, other than making your body feel more soft and flexible, is that it will also soften up the tensions between the body and the soul and take you to a place of a better balance, closer to yourself.   This is what we need in order to come closer to God, other people and the everything else. I don’t see it as a way to come to perfection, which may be a criticism from the Christian perspective, where we talk in terms of grace and faith.  All kinds of self development can be transmuted into an ego-project, but that has nothing to do with its roots or practise, but rather has to do with the intention. You can practise yoga to deepen your relationship with yourself and your higher power, whether you are Christian, Hindu or a Buddhist.

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Report on NTNU conference in Norway, next steps in research in yoga in schools.

It was an honour to be invited to spend time in the presence of a very small and select committee consisting of the father of Yoga research in schools, Prof. Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD from Harvard Medical School as well as his esteemed colleagues; Dr Shirley Telles from the Patanjali Institute in India, Professor Usha Nayar from Tata Insitute in Bombay, Professor Ingunn Hagen and Associate Professor Gunvor from NTNU, Trondheim Psychology Dept., Antoinetta and her husband Eros from Bologna University as well as research students in the field of yoga and psychology.

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