Heidelberg exercise class like yoga but Bible-based
May 14, 2007
HEIDELBERG, Germany — Since January, the gym at Campbell Barracks has been the scene of a religious skirmish of sorts, with dueling poses — and mantras versus psalms.
In the Vinyasa yoga class, members breathe a certain way and try to move smoothly through poses with names like the “Sun Salutation.”
But there is also a class where members do similar or identical poses with names like “Mount Zion” and “The Angel.” That class, called “PraiseMoves,” is billed as a “Christian alternative to yoga.” Its founder says that yoga is bad for Christians’ souls.
“Yoga’s breathing techniques may seem stress-relieving, yet they can open one to psychic influences,” writes Laurette Willis, the Oklahoma-based founder and marketer of PraiseMoves, a name she has trademarked, in a booklet sold to students. “I remember numerous instances of ‘traveling outside my body’ during yoga relaxation periods. I wonder who — or what — checked in?”
Willis is backed by some conservative Christian theologians. And 18 years ago, Pope Benedict XVI, who was then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, wrote in a letter to his bishops that if good feelings from such exercise were confused with “authentic consolations of the Holy Spirit,” that might result in “psychic disturbance and, at times, to moral deviations.”
Natalie Hannans, Heidelberg’s PraiseMoves instructor — a friendly, energetic 46-year-old former soldier and military wife who started teaching the classes in January — says she has nothing bad to say about yoga or whether it’s compatible with Christianity. What she’s interested in, she said, is providing an experience that helps people feel healthy, strong and relaxed, partially through quoting Bible verses.
“It’s just another option,” Hannans said. “Like the aerobics class or the spin class. I think yoga teachers think I’m trying to take their classes. But I’m not.”
Hannas said that for her the Bible quotes in the class “just sets the pace for how I live my life.”
According to Willis, who charges about $16 for an exercise video and some $300 for PraiseMoves instructor certification, instructors are conducting a “fitness ministry” and a sort of evangelism. “Friendship Evangelism in the form of inviting an unsaved friend or neighbor to a fun ‘alternative to yoga’ class is a wonderful way to introduce them to fellowship with believers,” Willis writes on her website. “They’ll hear the Gospel in a relaxed atmosphere. I believe many will be won to the Lord.”
A recent class at Patrick Henry Village had three women who had already been won. They sang along to the music, did the poses as best they could and recited their Bible verses.
“What attracted me to it was I’m getting older, and I don’t want to jump into anything too fast,” said Brie Hill, who was taking her fifth class. “And the fact that it was Christian-based was definitely a plus for me. It gets in you, the Scripture does.”
PraiseMoves uses many of the same poses as yoga but calls them different names, and, like yoga, focuses on stretching, movement and breathing to improve flexibility, strength and balance.
“It’s exactly the same postures with different names,” said Guru Deva Kaur, at Naad Yoga Center near Campbell Barracks, as she looked through the PraiseMoves booklet. She had no problem with that, though. “It’s fine. I wouldn’t judge it,” she said. “I think it always becomes problematic if you get dogmatic.”
Kaur, who also is known as Annette Wallmeyr, said she was familiar with the argument that yoga, because it’s part of the Hindu tradition, is actually a religion and should be avoided by Christians. She disagrees, however, noting her own Catholic background and the fact that the center has Christian yoga teachers. “It’s a way of living. It’s not a religion,” she said, “It’s a technique, an ancient one, a proven one. We just feel it has so much to offer the people of the west.”
U.S. Army Europe chaplain Maj. Mark Nordstrom said he’d never thought much about whether yoga was bad for Christians. “I think a lot of it is it’s just an exercise,” he said.