Teresa Cocke: Kim Leeson

Teresa Cocke: Kim Leeson

When you take a yoga class at the neighborhood gym, the practice typically is no more spiritual than running or weightlifting. Yoga is a series of exercises that, for some, is used to strengthen not just the body, but also the spirit. Those who practice Holy Yoga say they invite Christ into their workouts. A little research into Christianity-based yoga reveals that the exercise is controversial. The traditional yogis don’t seem offended; religions that tend to utilize yoga have been relatively quiet on the topic. Some Christians, on the other hand, are scandalized, calling yoga “pagan” and warning that yoga — even that interwoven with biblical readings — will lead participants into an un-Christian “Hindu” or “New Age” lifestyle. Neighborhood resident Teresa Cocke teaches a Holy Yoga class at North Highlands Bible Church. The course has become so popular that the Dallas Ballet Center in Lake Highlands now offers her classes. Here Teresa responds to some of our questions about yoga and its Christian counterpart.

I’ve read a lot of criticism from Christian evangelists who say yoga is inherently Hindu and that Christians should not practice it. What do you think when you hear that?

Personally, I haven’t dealt with much criticism. When there is criticism, I think primarily it comes from a misunderstanding. No one knows exactly when yoga began but it predates written history. Hinduism incorporated some of the physical practices of yoga — so have other religions throughout the world. We are not trying to incorporate the practice into religion. We use the time in yoga class to meditate on biblical scripture and invite God into the practice. As with any exercise, activity or situation, inviting God’s presence allows the experience to be richer and more beneficial. I do not blame anyone for being skeptical. I totally respect the views of other people. As Christians we absolutely need to ask questions and hesitate if we are unsure about something. We must go through our lives utilizing discernment and seeking the Lord’s will, so asking questions and seeking assurance that we are on the right path is good.That’s why I, myself, asked a ton of questions and spent the better part of a year researching this before I became involved. I came to the conclusion that the ministry was a wonderful way to incorporate more of Christ in all parts of my life, heart, soul, mind and strength.

What were your main questions?

I wanted to understand the technicalities. What would the training involve, would it be accredited if I wanted to teach in another yoga studio, for example? I of course wanted to make sure the physical training and practice was equivalent in quality to traditional yoga, which it is. The instructor training is first-class. Then I needed to pray, to seek guidance, both from prayer and by consulting leaders of our church, North Highlands Bible Church. I spoke with the founder of Holy Yoga Foundation, Brooke Boon, who confirmed her love of the Lord and the intention of the Holy Yoga practice — to grow deeper, love, nurture, worship, surrender, heal and grow in God’s word and spirit.

“As with any exercise, activity or situation, inviting God’s presence allows the experience to be richer and more beneficial. I do not blame anyone for being skeptical.”

How, originally, were you drawn to yoga?

I’ve been interested in dance and aerobics and was a certified aerobics teacher. After dealing with some disc problems with my back, I turned to yoga. After practicing consistently for several months, I saw improvement in my back, flexibility and overall health.

And your religion?

My husband, Jim, and I are Christians and belong to North Highlands Bible Church, which is non-denominational and focused on The Bible’s teaching. We’ve been there since ’94, and he has been the worship leader since ‘96.

And how did the two finally merge for you?

The merging of yoga and religion happened through my instructor training. The Holy Yoga ministry is great yoga and 100 percent about Jesus. I entered into Holy Yoga to have another avenue to share God’s love with people and the Lord has allowed just that.

Physically, there are many types of yoga, so what type is Holy Yoga, and what is your class like?

It is a Hatha/Vinyasa style, which focuses on physical stretching postures and linking the breath to the movement. So we read a scripture before class — today’s was about thankfulness, for example — and then weave the word of God into the poses. A class usually has 10 or 12 people and sometimes as many as 20. Anyone is welcome, and being Christian is not a requirement. I think having a healthy body and healthy mind, which yoga promotes, goes with having a healthy spirit. That is only enhanced by the fellowship and friendships fostered in the class and by just having a space to gather and center your mind for 75 minutes. We like to say we practice on our mats what we wish to practice in the world.

Free Holy Yoga classes are held Tuesdays and Thursdays at North Highlands Bible Church at Audelia and Church roads. Classes also are offered Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at Dallas Ballet Center. Visit dallasballetcenter.com for schedules and prices.