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Friday, May 29, 2020

Christian Mindfulness, Yoga, and Contemplative Practices

updated September 17, 2020

Image by reenablack from Pixabay

“A certain amount of silence and solitude is necessary for any appreciation of the sacred… A sense of the sacred is necessary if we are to become truly human, and… it can’t be experienced without the kind of prayer that can be born only in silence.” 
Orthodox priest John Garvey, in Only Wonder Comprehends

I'm writing this post for a couple of different reasons: 

  • A Catholic friend recently told me, “I'm interested in mindfulness, but some of the meditation doesn't resonate with me. And I’m so so tired of the attitude [among some secular mindfulness teachers]* that Buddhism is better.”
  • I've also had a few conversations with Protestant Christians who were drawn toward mindfulness and yoga but told by their families that these practices are against their faith. [This is a complex issue, as there's a wide range of mindfulness and yoga practices and a wide range of Christian denominations.]*

I hope the following resources will be useful both for Christians and for secular teachers, to learn about the variety of ways Christians engage with mindfulness, yoga, meditation and prayer.

*[added for clarification because of Facebook comments]*

Christian Contemplative Practices

Many Christians find that they benefit from a more conscious and reflective approach to prayer than what they may have gotten used to over the years. 

Gari Meacham puts it this way: 
“I’ve discovered that often what I think is prayer is really worry with a few God words at the beginning and end: ‘Dear Father, worry, worry, worry… In Jesus’ name. Amen.’ 
(Spirit Hunger: Filling Our Deep Longing to Connect with God)

If you're a regular here at Mindful Teachers, you know that my sister, Rev. Deborah Sunoo, is a Presbyterian pastor who's active in interfaith efforts.

She wrote a post on A Lesson in Mindfulness and Compassion from the book of Job.

We wrote a post together on Realistic Self-Care: Is It Possible to Keep All the Balls in the Air?

And I've included excerpts from her sermons in posts on:

Pastor Deb has a couple of recommendations for any of you who are interested in Christian contemplative and devotional practices:

Meanwhile, my Catholic friend has been benefiting from the Ignatian exercises, which include different types of meditation and Christian contemplative practices, under the direction of a spiritual advisor.

And I had a good experience at an ecumenical mindfulness retreat inspired by the Benedictine tradition. Benedictine monasteries tend to be very welcoming of anyone who is respectful of their beliefs and practices. Many of their retreat centers are listed on the Order of St. Benedict website.

Christian Approaches to Yoga

"We find that practicing yoga as Christians helps to heal the divides we find inside ourselves, between our minds and our bodies, between us and God, between us and others. In an increasingly polarized world, healing these divides is part of Christ’s mandate to us—to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and body, and to love our neighbor as ourselves." 

Christians Practicing Yoga is a “multi-voice, multi-denominational blog” with a spirit of respectful discussion of different points of view. They certainly don't represent all Christians, but they are grounded in a deep understanding of both yoga and Christianity.

These posts are a good place to start

Another interesting youtube channel is CrossYoga: Christ Centered Yoga by Rie Frilund Skårhøj from Denmark.

Her English-language playlist includes: 

(links below will launch video with sound)

Christian Approaches to Mindfulness 

“Meditation helps us live in the present rather than being stuck in the past or anxious about the future. It helps bring clarity and compassion to our relationships with anything and to the events of our life.… A Catholic nun, Sister Jeanine, sat with me a few times [in meditation]. She said that to her [it] is a form of prayer. She saw no conflict with her deeply held beliefs or with her vocation. ‘Silence is the deepest prayer you can speak,’ she said.”
Zen teacher Terrance Keenan, St. Nadie in Winter 

My colleague Dr. Irene Kraegel, who teaches mindfulness at a faith-based university, has written several guest posts for Mindful Teachers on how to integrate mindfulness practice with Christian faith.

Dr. Kraegel runs the website and is the author of The Mindful Christian: Cultivating a Life of Intentionality, Openness, and Faith.

  • Can Evangelical Christians Practice Mindfulness?“Some evangelical Christians have visceral reactions to mindfulness – it is also true that some mindfulness practitioners have visceral reactions to evangelical Christians. We are too often reacting to caricatures of one another rather than taking the time to actually know one another’s perspectives.
  • How Christians Can Benefit from Mindfulness Practice“God is always in the present moment -- joining Him there allows us a deeper level of spiritual rejuvenation than can be found by rushing mindlessly through each day or simply “talking at” Him in prayer.
  • Mindfully Meditative Christian Practices"Contemplative practices related to present-moment awareness have been nurtured by Christians throughout the centuries as avenues for connection with God. Recently, a number of these practices have become particularly common – while not identical to traditional, formal mindfulness practice, they have significant overlap with the practice of mindfulness meditation. "
  • What Does the Bible Say About Mindfulness and Compassion? : a selection of specific passages from the psalms and the Gospels.


Whenever we're discussing the views of Christians, it's important to keep in mind which specific people we're talking about. There are 350 denominations in the World Council of Churches, and the Christians I know personally belong to at least half a dozen different denominations. Even members of the same denomination, or the same congregation, don't see eye-to-eye on all issues.

I have no interest in playing Battle of the Bible Verses, nor in telling anyone which types of practices are better than others. My only goal in this post is to provide accurate information about some of the wide variety of perspectives among Christians.

Different people find it beneficial to practice in a secular or faith-based way, or a combination of the two. I hope we can all find what resonates for us personally while remaining respectful of other traditions. 


related posts:

Can Christians Practice Mindfulness? (That's the Wrong Question.): includes suggested questions to reframe the conversation between secular mindfulness teachers and concerned Christian students or parents. 
How Christians and Buddhists Can Teach Each Other About Mindfulnessdrawing comparisons and encouraging a reflection on the potential value of unfamiliar teachings.
Mindfulness and Compassion in West Africa: interview with Dr. Emmanuel Ande Ivorgba, an award-winning peace educator and activist from West Africa. Dr. Ivorgba is a seminary-trained Catholic who has met with the Dalai Lama. 
Tales of Generosity: Lessons on Gratitude and Compassion: includes two passages from the Gospels and a story of the Desert Fathers.
Three Different Approaches to Lovingkindness Meditation includes an option for Christians who may be uncomfortable with the phrasing of this type of meditation. I also have suggested phrasing in an excerpt on lovingkindness meditation from my book Being You.

You may also be interested in:

About the Author

Catharine Hannay is the founder of and the author of Being You: A Girl’s Guide to Mindfulness, a workbook for teen girls on mindfulness, compassion, and self-acceptance. (Sales of the book help me continue to run with no sponsorship or advertising.)