“We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” – 2 Cor. 10:5b
I’ve been thinking about this idea of taking “captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” In high school and college, I heard this phrase mostly in regards to impure sexual thoughts–where by sheer force of will, one should take the impure thought and repent, then replace it with something else: a prayer for another person, a Bible verse, a jog. If the verse were ever applied to lies I might believe about myself, I never heard and internalized the application. Since the doctrine of “total depravity” means that all people were born sinful, then all the negative things I believed about myself were true: I really wasn’t good enough.
Believing this lie about myself had terrible ramifications. I could never study hard enough or well enough, could never clean completely, could never teach thoroughly enough. I saw myself as a person who was not enough.
This was not–and is not–how God sees me. In Psalm 18, the psalmist says, “He rescued me because he delighted in me.” God sees me as a person worth dying for. A person like that is enough.
But I had a lot of trouble believing this, even when people told me it was true. The lie of being “not good enough” was deeply engrained in my thinking patterns, and even my body patterns to the point of depression and anxiety.
Yoga helped me break this. By working with the body, yoga helped me break patterns of depression in the body and negative thinking in the mind. One of the goals of yoga is to work with the mind: Yoga Sutra 1.2 can be translated as, “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” Negative thoughts are fluctuations, anxieties.
The Bible places a lot of emphasis on right thought and right belief, which is why the debate about yoga and Christianity is so hot, I think. The debate is based on the fact that yoga is a practice codified in the East, so yoga might lead one to believing things that are not Christian. Yet I find that yoga is a helpful technology for doing what the Bible says: replacing lies with the truth–especially the lies of anxiety and depression.
In her book Yoga for Emotional Balance: simple practices to help relieve anxiety and depression, Bo Forbes describes four different ways anxiety and depression can manifest in the body-mind: 1) Anxious Body / Anxious Mind; 2) Anxious Body / Depressed Mind; 3) Depressed Body / Anxious Mind; and 4) Depressed Body / Depressed Mind. In the back of the book, Forbes suggests various breathing exercises and therapeutic yoga poses to help balance each of these four manifestations.
To explain how this works, Forbes writes:
“The practice of yoga draws our focus from the world outside us (the one we’re reacting to) and transfers it into the mind, brain, and body, where the roots of anxiety and depression lie. Naturally, we may want to escape our deep-seated issues as well as the pain of anxiety and depression. Yet through regulating the breath and relaxing the body, we learn to be present with our issues and our pain. We learn to resist getting caught up in our reactions, or letting them define us.
“Beyond these benefits, therapeutic yoga offers something more. It gives us a first hand, embodied experience of our fluctuating emotional landscapes. We can feel how emotions ebb and flow–how they really are short-lived, passing states of awareness. With even a brief interlude of not being anxious or depressed, we can begin to suspect that anxiety and depression are not who we are; they are just powerful emotional patterns that draw us in. We can replace these anxious or depressed emotional patterns with healthier ones” (6).
In short, yoga is a vehicle to “take captive every thought.” For the Christian practicing yoga as a spiritual discipline, those thoughts are then captive in the light of Christ. It is a form of yoga prayer.
*This blog post was inspired by communication from Dayna Gelinas.