I had an unusual e-mail conversation with a potential reader a few days ago. Unusual in that we disagreed with each other, yet the tone of our conversation remained respectful, supportive, and honest. At the end of the conversation, I lost a reader.
It still makes me sad. This lovely woman had originally entered a contest to win Murder Strikes a Pose, and she was very excited. She asked me to mail her some bookmarks so she could spread the word. She is a huge cozy mystery fan and she loves German shepherds. What book could be more perfect? Then it hit her.
Murder Strikes a Pose is about a yoga teacher.
She became concerned. She and her friends are Christian, and they believe that yoga conflicts with the teachings of the Bible. I myself was raised in the Christian church, and although The Yoga Sutras use terms that sound unusual, that’s primarily because they are from a different language. But as far as religion, The Yoga Sutras teach that for a believer of ANY faith, the most effective path to mental clarity is by practicing that faith. The sutras never say what form that faith should take. For nonbelievers, there are other tools that can bring clarity as well.
Still, I wanted to be honest with this reader and respectful of her concerns. My protagonist is an often-not-yogic yoga teacher, but she tries to follow the teachings, and she does occasionally throw out a Sanskrit word or two. So I found what I thought was likely to be the most concerning passage in the book and sent it her. I’ve included it below.
“Less than twenty-four hours later, I was elbow-deep in my least favorite activity—updating the studio’s database—when the Power Yoga class entered Savasana, a pose of quiet rest. Vedic chanting flowed from the studio’s speakers, filling the lobby with sounds of cherubic bliss.
Ahhhh … just the excuse I was looking for.
I cracked open the door to the yoga room, intending to eavesdrop as the instructor lulled her students into a state of samadhi—yoga-induced ecstasy. I returned to my chair, leaned back, and closed my eyes, mentally transporting myself out of the lobby and into the practice space.
In my mind’s eye, I savored the room’s peaceful atmosphere. Dimmed incandescent lights reflected off unadorned yellow-beige walls, illuminating the space in a soft golden hue; meditation candles cast dancing light beams along the maple floor; a fresh-cut bouquet of soft pink tulips decorated the altar, symbolizing the rebirth of spring. The room currently held twenty practicing yogis, but in my imagination, it was mine. All mine. I practically purred, feeling as content as a recently-fed kitten.
The teacher’s voice soothed my nerves and dissolved salt-like grains of tension from behind my eyes. “Release your weight into the mat. Imagine that your muscles are made of softened wax, melting on a smooth, warm surface.” My jaw muscles loosened. My shoulders eased down from my ears.
She continued her spoken lullaby. “With each inhale, imagine a white light entering the crown of your head and pouring through your body, illuminating every cell.” A soft sigh escaped from my lips. “With each exhale—”
The now-familiar sound of barking drowned out the teacher’s voice and jolted me awake.
Loud, angry barking.
My momentary tranquility vanished. As if in one motion, my jaw tightened, my shoulders lifted, and my hands clenched into tight fists. An embarrassing litany of swear words spewed from my lips.”
Reading this passage confirmed the reader’s fears. She said she couldn’t read Murder Strikes a Pose without violating her ethical principles, and she couldn’t in good conscience recommend it to her friends. She donated her copy and the bookmarks to a bookstore.
All-in-all, I was thoroughly impressed with this woman. She was kind, respectful, ethical, and honest. And I’m sad. Sure, I think she would have enjoyed my book. Sure, I want to find every reader I can. Sure, I was hoping she’d become a rabid fan and spread word of the series to everyone she met.
But I’m mainly sad that she’ll never try yoga, and even sadder that some people think my life’s work is unchristian. Yoga teaches us compassion, honesty, and faith, among other principles. It simply calls them ahimsa, satya and sraddha. My Bible studies as a child and teenager taught me the same concepts. To me, yoga IS Christian. And Hindu. And Jewish. And Buddhist. And Athiest. It is for all faiths and all belief systems. Yoga teaches you how to become clear, understand your own values, and live in alignment with your own spiritual beliefs.
What do you think? How can we, as people who practice and teach yoga, make this work accessible to all faiths?
Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out my author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series. MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!