Jessica Markowitz reads a Bible during the "Holy Yoga Toledo" Christian yoga class at the West Toledo YMCA.
Yoga is the physical core of Eastern religion to many people. Even if they don’t know much about its Hindu roots, its strong ties to India make yoga a practice that some Christians condemn.
“Christians are very scared of it because they think it’s honoring Hindu gods or whatever, and I’m of the belief that Jesus comes and he redeems all things,” yoga instructor said Katie Gamby, 23, of Toledo. “I believe yoga can also be redeemed.”
Yoga is a strong program at the YMCA & JCC of Greater Toledo, which has 72 classes on the calendar for the Winter I 2014 session. That list includes one class called Holy Yoga, and it is explicitly Christian. Offered at the West Toledo YMCA, 2110 Tremainsville Rd., Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m., starting Jan. 7, it is taught by Jessica Markowitz, 24, of Sylvania, who owns Holy Yoga Toledo with Miss Gamby.
“The Hindu religion took yoga movement and they put it into their own spiritual practice,” but the yoga movements were created 5,000 years before Hindus used them in a religious way, Miss Gamby said. So for Holy Yoga, it’s not a big stretch to put the Bible into the discipline.
Joel Schutte, the director of Christian emphasis at the YMCA, said, “Yoga isn’t necessarily a religion. It’s a practice, like prayer and fasting.” And he is pleased to have Holy Yoga on the YMCA’s roster. “Our goal is to incorporate faith and values in everything that we do with exercise,” he said.
Miss Gamby said, “I wouldn’t stop praying just because someone who was a different religion than I am was praying, or I wouldn’t stop fasting because another religion was fasting, so why am I taking myself completely out of yoga because another religion has incorporated that into their practice?”
Miss Markowitz has a Christian angle in her yoga instruction.
With Holy Yoga she has a Christian angle in her practice and instruction.
“It’s almost like Bible study incorporated into a yoga class,” said Miss Markowitz, who teaches the YMCA classes. “We set our intention on Christ, and so we have a Bible verse or a story or a section of scripture that we read in the beginning of class, and then kind of weave scripture and lessons into the yoga.”
“We love incorporating healthy spirits, healthy minds, and healthy bodies all in the same type of program,” Mr. Schutte said, and Holy Yoga does that.
Yoga links “your breath, your meditation, and your movement. You really can’t separate the spiritual or the meditative part out of the exercise, there are naturally incredible physical benefits from it, and it is exercise, but you cannot separate the three,” Miss Markowitz said.
“I’ve been to lots of ‘secular’ classes where there’s no religion, no meditative practice, no nothing involved in it, and it’s still a great workout; you’re moving your body, it’s awesome, but there’s something so different about quieting yourself,” Miss Gamby said.
“Holy Yoga is not a replacement for religion. It’s not a replacement for church. It’s not a religion. As an entire ministry, it welcomes every denomination, just is open for anybody. If you can breathe and you can move, then you can do it,” Miss Markowitz said.
Holy Yoga began in 2003 as a nonprofit ministry by Arizonan Brooke Boon. It does not participate in the Yoga Alliance, a nonprofit association that sets registration standards for yoga instructors and schools, primarily because there is a requirement for study of Hindu scriptures.
Holy Yoga instructor training uses Christian scripture instead, and the Yoga Alliance will not recognize the substitution, according to the Holy Yoga Web site. Mrs. Boon has said that because yoga is not a religion, the Hindu scripture requirement should not matter.
Miss Gamby, an editor, and Miss Markowitz, a counseling student at the University of Toledo, both received their Holy Yoga instructor certification in June, and they started Holy Yoga Toledo in July. They met when both attended Northpoint Church, which has a campus at the West YMCA. Miss Gamby now attends CityLight Church. Miss Markowitz said, “I am Jewish, actually, but I’m a Christ follower.”
Though they would like to have their own studio, for now they offer Miss Markowitz’s class at the YMCA, private classes in people’s homes, and an open class that Miss Gamby leads Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. at University Bible Fellowship, 2841 Dorr St., with a suggested donation of $8 per class.
For Holy Yoga, “It’s all about Jesus,” Miss Markowitz said. “It’s not about the yoga, it’s about Jesus and glorifying him, and just experiencing what it means to worship the lord with your body — and not just your body, but your body and your mind and your spirit and everything.”