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For a growing number of Christians, yoga is now an important part of Lent

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Christian season of Lent is a time of reflection and repentance and now yoga. As Deena Prichep reports, more and more churches are offering yoga as a Lenten practice.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEENA PRICHEP: In a lot of ways, the yoga class at Resurrection Lutheran Church outside of Saint Paul, Minn., feels like any other yoga class - the mats, the music, the settling into your body.

CARRIN MAHMOOD: Shift your weight to your right foot and move into tree pose when you're ready.

PRICHEP: But this is Yogadevotion, a Christian yoga practice, led here by Carrin Mahmood.

MAHMOOD: Lent moves its way towards Good Friday, which, of course, is where Jesus is on the tree. So when you're ready, shift your weight to the left.

PRICHEP: A half-dozen women are breathing deeply, envisioning themselves on a calm beach, but also envisioning that Jesus comes up and talks with them.

MAHMOOD: We'll stay in this pose for another two minutes. You realizing that this conversation is what prayer is.

PRICHEP: Using a practice outlined in Hindu scripture to reflect on the life of Jesus may seem a little strange, but it's become popular in churches across the country.

MEGHAN DAVIS-BRASS: We need to take care of our bodies to be not only temples for God, but to be instruments of God's peace in the world.

PRICHEP: Meghan Davis-Brass is a pastor in Newton, Iowa, and serves on the board of the group Christians Practicing Yoga.

DAVIS-BRASS: I'm Presbyterian, so we still don't move much in worship (laughter). But that's my chance in yoga to pray with my body.

PRICHEP: The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit for union - union between body and spirit or human and the divine.

SHREENA GANDHI: You have yoga showing up in Jainism and Buddhism.

PRICHEP: Shreena Gandhi teaches religion at Michigan State University.

GANDHI: In this country, starting in, like, the 1970s, you had Jewish yoga. Right around the time of Vatican II, you had nuns practicing yoga.

PRICHEP: In some ways, this is how religious practice always works. It borrows. It exchanges. It grows. But Gandhi says there's an important difference between exchange and appropriation.

GANDHI: You have to think about it in terms of who has power and who doesn't.

PRICHEP: Gandhi says adopting and adapting the practice of yoga can bring awareness, not just bodily and spiritually, but also politically.

GANDHI: If you can be OK with, you know, stretching your hamstring and feeling uncomfortable, why can't you be OK with stretching your mind a little and thinking about your power and privilege?

PRICHEP: While Gandhi sees the need for Christian yoga to consider the bigger picture, she also sees it as part of that picture. For thousands of years, yoga has used breath and physical movements to connect those who practice to something larger. And at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Minnesota, that's what's happening.

SUE SORENSON: It grounds me for the week. I attend church on Sunday, and I can hardly wait for Tuesday evening.

PRICHEP: Sue Sorenson has been coming to Yogadevotion for five years.

SORENSON: You're taking care of your body, and you're taking care of your faith and your spiritual life.

PRICHEP: And according to Pastor Meghan Davis-Brass, that's especially important during these 40 days leading up to Easter.

DAVIS-BRASS: Lent is a time when we prepare ourselves for the celebration of the resurrection of Christ - Christ, who was born into a body, lived in a body, and then was resurrected into a body.

PRICHEP: The season of Lent starts with ashes and a meditation on mortality and ends with resurrection. Christian yoga helps those who practice embrace their faith with their whole bodies, acknowledging their strength and their frailty and their holiness and prepare for new life.

For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deena Prichep