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Salvos Yoga - stretching the body and spirit

Salvos Yoga - stretching the body and spirit

Salvos Yoga - stretching the body and spirit

26 August 2019

The classes opened to the community this month and is facilitated by Olivia, a qualified instructor and part of Melbourne Salvos Project 614 community.

By Faye Michelson

Salvos yoga-style stretching classes started this month in three Salvation Army corps in Melbourne, providing an opportunity to take time out from the busyness of life.

After a friendly greeting from the instructor and her assistants, people choose a place to roll out their mats, waiting for the session to start. Contemporary music plays quietly in the background as the instructor leads her class through gentle to medium-level stretching, followed by guided Christian meditation. When the class finishes, they are invited to stay for a chat and have a cup of Fairtrade organic tea.

The stretching classes are an activity that might not immediately be identified with The Salvation Army but, as chaplain Les Smith observes, this is about developing relationships. He and instructor Olivia Smith want the classes to be a safe, reflective space where people can step outside their busy lives for an hour or so.

“While yoga itself has many benefits, we are trying to build the less tangible stuff, such as a space that is relaxed and accepting, and where friendships develop naturally,” Les says. “It’s all pretty relaxed.”

The concept of evolved after The Salvation Army Crossroads family violence service and the chaplaincy team trialled a similar project last year for women and children living in a refuge.

“Our workers and chaplains saw many benefits for the women who participated,” Les says.

“For many, it was the first place of ‘peace’ they’d experienced during the turbulent time they were going through. After a stretching session, they often appeared calmer and more connected with their children. It was a place where they were able to gain resilience, refocus on the challenges ahead and begin to rebuild their lives.”

The women’s feedback sheets reflected this, with comments that the stretching and Christian-based meditation classes helped them to “focus on something other than their immediate situation”, provided “an opportunity to just stop” and helped them to “think with better clarity”. Les says participants often stayed back after their classes to talk with their instructor.

“Sometimes it was just about having someone removed from their situation to talk to, but there were also many informal conversations around faith and spirituality,” he says.

The classes opened to the community this month and are facilitated by Olivia, a qualified instructor and part of Melbourne Salvos Project 614 community. She has taught privately and at YMCA centres, and has completed trauma-sensitive training. 

“I started yoga when I was going into Year 12 and found it helped me to deal with this stressful time,” she says.

“I not only wanted to learn more about it, but I also wanted to provide that same service and courtesy for others who may be struggling with the effects of everyday life.”

In 2017, Olivia took classes at a Salvation Army chaplains gathering, asking for feedback so she could develop a Christian-based yoga-style session. Since then she has worked on an approach that is generic enough for the general community but which also integrates the teachings of Jesus. Her classes are designed to be flexible enough to cater to people who already have yoga experience as well as those trying her interpretation of it for the first time.

The exercise component involves gentle to medium stretching and uses Christian symbols to facilitate the meditation and prayer elements. Les says the meditation focus will rotate around themes from the Bible book of Galatians (chapter 5) about the fruits of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness.

“Jesus taught the need to come aside and pray and throughout his ministry he often withdrew from what was going on around him so that he could renew his mind and his spirit through prayer,” Les says.

“The practice of prayer and meditation goes back to before the time of Jesus; it is part of our tradition.”

The classes are held at Reservoir Salvation Army Corps on Fridays at 9.15am and at Moreland City Corps at 1.15pm. For more information, contact 0438 103 465 or visit

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the WarCry.


  1. Angela Brennan
    Angela Brennan

    To many people, (including Christians); Yoga is simply a form of exercise. Some Christians integrate Yoga and other aspects of eastern spirituality with prayer and meditation. This has been attributed to a desire to experience God in a more complete and profound way. Make no mistake; you cannot mix Eastern occult spiritualism, which glorifies Satan, while you attempt to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ simultaneously. Why would Christians want to borrow an expression from a false religion; from pantheism (a doctrine which identifies God with the universe as a manifestation of God and the worship or tolerance of many gods. Why borrow a term that has been part of a false religion for centuries?
    The word 'Yoga' means to yolk with the Hindu god, Brahma (the universal spirit). In Hindu teaching, it is known that there is no Yoga without Hinduism and there is no Hinduism without Yoga. The two cannot be separated. It's like saying Christianised Hinduism, or Christianised Occultism.

    The very point of Yoga, which was designed by the Hindu Holy Scriptures (the Bhagavad Gita), is for the individual to connect with their 'god' consciousness. Hindus believe that we are all divine, but we don't know we're divine. It is the practice of Yoga, that one ignites the spark through Yoga discipline, for one to realise that they are divine.

    It is believed that there is a sleeping serpent coiled around the base of the spine. This is known as the Kundalini spirit. The serpent is known as wisdom, power and knowledge and through the Yoga stretches, breathing techniques etc, the serpent is awakened and is supposed to travel up the spine to the mind. These techniques would open up oneself to demonic attack.

    Christians can say that they can separate their style of Yoga from eastern mysticism and say they are just doing the spiritual exercises, but many of the positions in Yoga are the names of the deities. These positions are called 'Asanas'. These asanas/positions are a deity that you become and you merge with. These positions are an act of worship to Brahma and the 33 million gods in the Hindu religion.

    There are hundreds of ways to get fit and relive stress; why choose Yoga? Most of us have heard of Pilates.
    We know that Satan is very cunning and in these last days, we need to be discerning Christians.

    In finishing, here are the thoughts of Swami Param, when asked if Yoga can be Christian? He says..."Yoga is a union with the individual soul with the greater soul, a force of love and light and energy. It is for the individual to merge into the force of light and energy and then to become absorbed into the greater soul of love, light and energy, who is Brahma." When asked if it was okay to focus on Jesus Christ instead of Brahma and the other gods, he says "it just wouldn't work, because Christianity and Hinduism are two very different religions. There's no Jesus Christ in Hinduism or Yoga". He says, in his opinion, that a person would be a "shallow individual, a shallow Christian, because they should be adhering to their own Christian principles." He goes on to say that, "we cross the line when we mix these different religions".
    Jesus said, “Do not be deceived.” Let’s err on the side of caution when delving into spiritual practices we know very little about.

  2. Naomi Singlehurst
    Naomi Singlehurst

    Hi, great to be getting healthy, but certainly from my own experience as a Christian would not be practising any form of Yoga. Anyway, no judgement. Just my opinion. Lots for and against online. Eg.

  3. This is very concerning that the Salvation Army is engaging in yoga...

    Yoga is rooted in spiritualism, and many of the postures have a meaning that goes beyond simple strengthening and lengthening of muscles. poses indicate strength, eastern idol worship and some indicate submission, like Child's pose.

    Pilates on the other hand is a form of exercise.... not impressed..... I think the Salvation Army need to take a hard look at themselves at the moment

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