ASPEN - For Christians who find the practice of yoga a bit of a stretch, given their personal religious beliefs, a new program at St. Mary Catholic Church in Aspen will let them strike a balance between fitness and faith.
St. Mary parishioner Chantal Howard will offer free classes, on each of the remaining Mondays in April, to introduce PraiseMoves, a Christian alternative to yoga. The classes will meet from noon to 1:15 p.m. at the church.
A gymnast in her youth, Howard has practiced yoga for its fitness benefits, including increased flexibility, strength and balance. Now she is a certified PraiseMoves instructor.
"This stems from my desire to have fitness in my life and couple it with my faith," she said.
Yoga has its roots in Hinduism, Howard explained, and many local yoga classes incorporate elements of those roots - meditation and chanting, for example.
While Howard has no objection to the spirituality of Hinduism, her beliefs are grounded in Christianity, and so is PraiseMoves, though many of the poses are the same.
"Let's be honest. Call it yoga or call it something else. We're calling it something else," she said.
PraiseMoves exists worldwide; the program incorporates more than 140 poses that are each linked to a Bible verse. For the Branch posture, for example, Howard balances on one foot and raises both hands skyward, holding the foot of her raised leg in one hand. The accompanying scripture for the pose comes from John 15:4: "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me."
Howard resides in the employee unit at St. Mary with her husband, Peter, director of evangelization for the parish, and their four children. PraiseMoves is the springboard to a "fitness ministry" that she hopes engages the younger generation in particular.
"For a lot of young people, fitness is their religion," she said. "The whole body, mind and spirit component - I feel like this fits. It's part of that connection."
Nurturing the mind, body and spirit is the philosophy of the so-called "Aspen Idea" espoused by the late Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke, considered Aspen's modern-day founders.
Howard plans to use this month's introductory PraiseMoves classes to gauge interest in the program at different skill levels. There may be interest among other local parishes, as well, she said. The classes are open to everyone; participants should bring an exercise mat.