She said the benefits of yoga changed her life. She also admits to having had reservations about practicing yoga, due to its Hindu origin and her own personal beliefs.
“From the very beginning, coming from a Christian background, I had heard a lot of things about yoga,” Darnell said. “A lot of people had a tremendous amount of fears. People in my church and my Christian friends that I hung out with were very concerned that I was going to go off into another religion and not follow the things I had been taught and believed for many years. I myself had those reservations. So I very carefully went into this and I found a very peaceful place.”
Now Darnell said she believes it is possible to practice yoga and Christianity as an informed and enlightened individual who seeks the benefits of yoga while believing in Jesus Christ.
The 46-year-old wife and mother attributes part of her youthful appearance, agility, energy and serenity to yoga, which incorporates physical and mental exercises, breathing techniques, postures and concentrated meditation to reduce tension, increase vitality and even lose weight.
Darnell, a native of Michigan, said she was living in Pennsylvania when she was first introduced to yoga.
“I went into a gym in Pennsylvania where I lived at the time and I took a muscle conditioning class, which was perfectly fine for a Christian to do,” she said.
“Then at the end of the class, for about the last 20 or 30 minutes, the teacher said, ‘Ok, now we’re going to do some yoga.’ I said (to myself), ‘Oh, no! Yoga! I don’t know if that’s going to be OK for me to do.’ She took us through some stretches.
“Then at the end she instructed us to get quiet and still in our bodies and mind — and just rest. I was a mother of four kids — home with my kids all day, everyday and nobody ever told me to be still, quiet and rest. I said, ‘I need this! This is something I really need!’ So I began to search for yoga elsewhere. I found a yoga studio and practiced at that studio, but kept it quiet for my Christian friends because I didn’t want to take the backlash and deal with all the negative things I was going to hear.”
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines yoga this way: “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.”
A second definition calls it “a system of physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation derived from yoga but often practiced independently especially in Western cultures to promote bodily or mental control and well-being.”
Darnell said she did some more reading and studying while practicing yoga and decided she absolutely loved it, adding, “But I did still have those reservations as to whether it was OK for a Christian. I continued to ask myself that. What I have found after I studied, practiced and took my training in Ashville (N.C.) — 230 hours of training, which was very intensive — is that it is OK.”
“I saw that people who practiced yoga had a tremendous amount of peace. They knew how to get to those peaceful places. They knew how to meditate and go deep inside to what yoga calls the Atman and Christians call the Holy Spirit. Getting in touch with the Holy Spirit that lives inside of us.
“The Bible teaches us that’s something that comes upon us when we accept the Lord as our Savior. But how exactly does that play out in our life? I see these people who practice yoga being able to get in touch with that spirit and it was so fascinating to me. So I’ve been on a journey of learning to meditate and finding tremendous places of peace. It’s a powerful, powerful thing. It’s life-changing.”
According to the website: Hinduwebsite.com, “Atman is the immortal aspect of the mortal existence, the self, which is hidden in every object of creation including man. Atman is Brahman Itself, the very Self which descends down into the elements of nature through self-projection and participates Itself in the game of self-induced illusion and pure delight.”
The fear of being possessed by a different kind of “spirit” is one reason why many who believe in Jesus have avoided practicing yoga. The Hindu American Foundation said, “Yoga and yogic practices date back more than 5,000 years — the Indus Valley seals depict a number of figures in postures identical to various asanas (postures used in yoga).”
“The great concern, I think for Christians, is that as you practice and study yoga, you may be going on a different spiritual journey than what the Bible teaches,” Darnell said. “But my experience has been — since I continue to read and study the Bible, and because Christ is the center of my life — I have stayed on that path. We have always borrowed from other cultures. We borrowed our architecture from the Greeks and the Romans. We borrow food — look at all these restaurants from other cultures. So we can borrow some things from this Indian culture that started out as a religious practice. We can bring it into our own religion and bring it into our own.”
Darnell said she realizes every person believing in Jesus Christ will not share her views and added, “I would say approach yoga with questioning, just as I myself did. Feel free to ask questions. If you walk into a yoga studio or a room where yoga is being taught, ask what is the purpose here?
“And if you feel or you see that there is a focus on other gods or another religion that you yourself don’t want to go on that path, then you are free to seek something elsewhere. There are also Christian-based yoga classes.”
According to the Hindu American Foundation, “Although the Western yoga community fully acknowledges yoga’s Indian roots, and even requires study of Hindu philosophy and scripture in most of its teacher certification programs, much of it openly disassociates yoga’s Hindu roots. While HAF affirms that one does not have to profess faith in Hinduism in order to practice yoga or asana, it firmly holds that yoga is an essential part of Hindu philosophy and the two cannot be delinked, despite efforts to do so.”
Darnell, who has taught ‘Christian yoga,’ teaches yoga at the Cleveland Family YMCA, at Five Points Yoga Studio in Cleveland and Be Yoga in Ooltewah.
She recently received her teacher’s certification from Lee University and will begin teaching students at Bachman Academy when school starts in August. Her husband is Cleveland City Police Officer Mark Darnell.
According to the latest “Yoga in America” study, produced by Yoga Journal, 20.4 million Americans are now practicing yoga. The 2012 study indicates the majority of yoga practitioners are women, 82.2 percent, with 17.8 percent being men. The majority of today’s yoga practitioners, 62.8 percent, were between the ages of 18 and 44.
The North American Studio Alliance, the organization for mind-body professionals, now estimates there are 70,000 yoga teachers in North America. Yoga instructors are offering classes at some 20,000 locations that include YMCAs, church fellowship halls, public and private schools, even elementary schools.