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Should Christians Practice Yoga?

Recently, my wife, Laurie, started taking yoga classes and has gotten a lot out of it. (you can see some of her comments here).

Years ago, I heard Christians murmur against yoga as an “eastern” or “spiritual” practice that ran against fundamental Christian teaching. I never concerned myself with it since I didn’t really care much about yoga.

But now, my wife is a fledgling yoga darling and I am increasingly seeing my need for it. All of this got me remembering the good ol’ days of warnings against yoga and got me reflecting again.

Mohler’s argument is essentially that yoga is a New Age practice and you can’t really divide the exercise from the spiritual purpose. He cites postmodern spiritual confusion for the reason many Christians (like my wife!) ignorantly practice it resulting in a form of syncretism meaning the mixing of religions.

As passionate as Mohler seems in his position, I’m prone to disagree for several reasons.

First, Christianity is fundamentally an eastern religion. These were the first words out of my wife’s mouth when I told her about Mohler’s blog. The context has that truth ringing deeper in my mind than ever before. As much as modern Christians imagine Christianity as a “western” religion, its roots are undoubtedly eastern.

References to Daniel praying three times a day and to meditation in the Scriptures shows that our historical practices of prayer are quite similar to those of other religions.

As a result, we have nothing to fear because of the “eastern” origins of a practice but it is rather something we can learn from. Perhaps it can even shake us out of the “western” captivity of the gospel.

Second, all truth is God’s truth. In many Christian circles there is a certain refusal to accept any part of another discipline if it doesn’t affirm every single aspect of Christianity. You can see this with science. In other words, some churches reject scientific teachings because those teachings don’t culminate with affirming orthodox Christian teaching.

A more balanced and reasonable approach is to realize that every discipline is imperfect and we should strive to take what is good and noble and reject that which is not. In the case of yoga, flexibility, building body strength, and exercise combined with relaxation and stress removal techniques is good and something we all need on a periodic basis and a part of the "sabbath" principle in Scripture.  Granted some yoga tries to direct one’s energy toward other spiritual teachings and that’s what we should guard against. There is no need to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

Third, Mohler’s blog reveals an even deeper and more troubling aspect, namely a black-white or good-bad way of viewing the world. Just because an activity or even a religion does not affirm Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life does not necessarily mean that it is all bad. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism all have aspects that we should all learn from and redeem.

Life is more grey than many of us care to acknowledge. Living in the grey requires more discernment and humility and is often times more difficult than the black-white world. But it is a more honest reflection of reality.

Fourth, Christians have a long history of re-purposing “pagan” practices. The Christmas tree is a notable example. It would have been hard to divide the tree from its pagan roots, but Christians did. Many of our hymns were adapted from “worldly” bar tunes, even Amazing Grace. So, history has shown us that certain things can be used for new purposes without detrimental spiritual confusion resulting.

Fifth, Mohler’s blog carries the implication that we can be accidentally duped into engaging in a false religion. While undoubtedly there are many people who do not have spiritual clarity about what they believe or what they are doing, the idea that we can be worshipping another god against our knowledge seems quite dubious. I doubt anyone is accidentally worshipping Satan because they have a Christmas tree.

Sixth, as yoga has moved mainstream, there are now plenty of centers and instructors that are devoid of the religious/spiritual aspects of yoga. Mohler acknowledges this but says that you can’t really divorce the spiritual from the physical in yoga. I believe that is true for the Christ follower as well. If you do yoga to the glory of God then it’s a spiritual act. As yoga is secularized or even repurposed as a Christian act, we are again reminded that our spiritual loyalties are a matter of the orientation of our hearts and not the historical origins of our preferred exercise routines.

I would have posted all of this on Mohler’s blog but his is the only one I’ve ever seen that does not allow readers to post comments. Hmmmm….

Comments

Living in Boulder, Colorado, I have taken numerous yoga classes at the Rec Center, and I find there are two kinds of yoga--to put it simply, loud, spooky yoga and stretching yoga. I have never felt comfortable "om"ing in yoga, but when it is quiet, it is not much different than meditation with pain. It all depends on what you focus on. No matter what everyone else is doing, I have a tendency to think on Jesus or mull over Scriptures, or just try to listen to God's Spirit. It seems to me that yoga can carry whatever baggage you want to saddle it with, but is good for getting the lymph system going and increasing flexibility--something I think even Southern Baptists could use, but, I am also comfortable with letting them decide that for itself. That said, when people want to do "yogi" yogi (what I also think of as loud yoga), it does not sit will with my spirit, so there is room for pause. Maybe it should come with a warning like cigarettes or car commercials.

I agree. When ever people talk about this issue you have to stop them and have them define what they mean by "Yoga". There are lots of different kinds of yoga going on that you can't just lump them all in one group. I have been doing the P90X yoga for the past couple months and it is pretty mainstream. It is not the "loud" yoga Rick was talking about, but rather about the workout. I think it is great to stretch and strengthen your body this way.

However, I bet Mohler and others are referring to the crazy yoga that definitely has mystical or Hindu influence. This would freak me out and I would agree that we shouldn't fill our minds with some of that crazy stuff.

All in all, I think Christians need to use discernment. If you find a class or program that is more about breathing, balancing, strengthening, etc., then go for it. It will be great for you. However, if a class is all about opening your mind to Eastern thought/philosophy, then you may want to reconsider if this is the best place for your Christian mind to be in for a couple hours.

Thanks for the article.

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Yoga is not a "New Age" religion; it pre-dates Christianity by a few thousand years. It is not, in fact, a religion at all. Most practioners of yoga in the United States do only the "asana," the physical poses -- stretching and bending, if you will. The more advanced practices, "pranayama" (breathing techniques), for example, prepare the physical body for meditation or prayer. I am Christian, and definitely not a fearful one...and I am a serious student of yoga. Yoga practices and philosophy are one avenue of knowing the truth of God, our union with God. So do yoga and Christianity go together? That is a personal choice. If it brings you further on your journey of experiencing the divine, why not? If it is not for you, that is fine. Will practicing yoga undermine Christian faith? Well, not if that is your faith; faith cannot be challenged -- it is faith. Knowing more about yoga...or Hindu gods...or Buddhist sutra...or Jewish prayers...or what pagans think...or what the Quran says cannot undermine faith, but they all might inform it.

Excellent article! As a Christian, I have taken and taught Yoga classes for years. Granted my classes consist of using the asanas to build strength and increase flexibility. The "spiritual" aspect of the practice has been removed. By doing this, it opens the doors for others to practice without feeling awkward. In all honestly though, I have taken classes in studios where they've touched on personal reflection and meditation, but I use that time to pray or meditate on scripture.

Yoga is not for everyone, although I believe everyone can benefit from the positive results that Yoga brings. I also believe that we as travelers of planet Earth, should be in the world, but no of it. We must use wisdom and discernment with all things, even Yoga.

I say, as with all things, we do it to glorify God! As Christians, let's not become so narrow in our thinking that our lives are ruled by a list of laws we create in the name of righteous legalism. To go there is scary because what would be the next thing added to the list of "can't dos"... working with those of different religions, eating with them? Yes, we must protect ourselves, but we must be careful not to protect ourselves into a bubble and out of life.

Personally, if my walk with God is threatened by taking a Yoga class, then it was weak to begin with, was bound to collapse with the slightest push, and in definite need of serious strengthening, but that's just me.

The reality of it is this... we're all at different places, everyone needs to decide what does and doesn't work when it comes to their own personal journey with Jesus. There's a reason why the Holy Spirit allows some to feel uncomfortable and some to feel at peace. Rule of thumb, if we're uneasy doing Yoga or anything else for that matter, then we need to take a step back and carefully examine the situation to decide whether it's good for us or not.

Once again, you and Laurie write about something I am seeking more truth about. All my life I've been taught good Christians don't do this or that, and much of the time the prohibitions seem entirely man-made doctrinal, not biblical. For example, I learned from my church it's wrong to dance, drink wine, do yoga, and even enjoy sex. Then I read in the Bible we can praise God wonderfully with dancing (obviously not vulgar, but joyful dancing). Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine -- we just are warned against excesses and poor judgement. I haven't found "yoga" yet in my reading, but sure do find plenty of encouragement to meditate on the one true God and His holy Word, and take care of our body (the very temple of the Holy Spirit). So why not approach these things with an attitude of worship instead of guilt and shame....including sex!? Imagine the impact of this kind of approach on the mental and emotional health of Christians who have drug this kind of baggage around all their lives ... and the spiritual growth that would result!

"do you know why baptists speak against pre-marital sex?... it might lead to dancing"
thats one of my favorite jokes, and a great example on how "well meaning christians" just end up sounding self righteous and religious. i do yoga when i can; love it and love Jesus, i usually end up worshiping and praying at the end of my sessions, because ive gotten to such a relaxed place that nothing gets in the way of my clarity and ability to listen to the Holy Spirit. thanks for sharing the story!!

Annie

When my daughters were in Christian school, the running joke was that the school didn't allow dancing at school functions, "because dancing can get you pregnant." Joking aside, it's too bad we aren't talking more about how we honor God with dancing and other practices, as opposed to the all or nothing approach. Discernment is one of the most important tools we should be developing in all disciples of Christ, as many here have said in one form or another. Thanks for the great posts.

Bravo! I hear the same warnings from many well-meaning people in my Church as well. I understand their concerns about demonic influences assailing unwary believers - they think any risk is too great to take where your soul is concerned - but I think they are being illogical.

The nay-sayers' argument seems to be:

Yoga originated as a devotional practice honoring pagan gods.
Pagan gods are really demons.
Devotional practices are a form of worship.
Yoga is therefore a form of demon worship.

I think the argument is weak on the first premise - it implies that things always remain in essence what they were at their origin. I think it's the genetic fallacy is at work here - the idea that a thing is contaminated by its origin, and must have the same nature regardless of who is using it or doing it.

Its clear from other examples that this isn't always true.

Putting one's hands in a prayer position is a Hindu practice done in worship of their gods - does that mean Christians should avoid this position? Kneeling? Singing? Fasting? If Christmas trees really were pagan ceremonial objects, does that mean they are toxic for us? Baptism as a ceremonial practice pre-dated Christianity - surely Christ was not unaware of this when he issued the Great Commission.

I also have to wonder what the yoga-is-occult faction thinks of schools of exercise that use the same or similar postures as yoga asanas. If you call it a Pilates "resting position" rather than a yoga "Child position", have you closed any demonic gateways? Is it the body position they believe is tainted, or the nod one is giving to Hinduism by calling it "yoga"?

Here's another thought - we always assume that ancient pagan cultures are the originators of the practices that filter back to the West as New Agey innovations. Some sociologists and historians point out that Christianity has had a very long presence in India and the rest of Asia. Asian religions are not immune to influence by "foreign" cultures any more than ours is. Some suggest that many elements of modern Hinduism are not as ancient as they are purported to be, and actually developed from a Christian influence that dates back to the first century.

We might go further and assert that the whole human race has a common cultural origin. We might suppose that many healthy and wholesome practices were taught to our distant ancestors, which were later retained even after people turned from monotheism into paganism.

We forget that we don't really know for sure where these practices really originated. We see that for the past few hundred years, only pagans did them. We assume the pagans, therefore, invented them. But we don't know that for a fact.

If they really do improve the mental and physical health of people who practice them, consider the possibility that their origin is from God. Satan can't invent things that do us good; he can only hijack them. For all we actually know, they may pre-date Eastern religions and be part of the original gifts to the human race back when we were all speaking one language and worshiping one God.

Great comments, everyone! I truly appreciate and value your input.

You know, I am not really sure where I would stand on this debate, but what does concern me is that there is no scripture referenced in this article that would backup you position for or against Yoga. So it kinda feels like it is a personal opinion instead of a professional opinion, so here is what I think about the discussion.

The issue then was Food and the issue now is Exercise.
1 Corinthians 8

1. Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge.[a] Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. 3. But the man who loves God is known by God.
4. So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), 6. yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

7. But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

9. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? 11. So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

And I would highlight verse 9

Yes, I don't see anything wrong with practicing yoga and being a Christian. There are far worse things out there than focusing on breathing and relaxation. team building exercises for teenagers

Please, do read the following article,
http://www.pastornet.net.au/response/articles/104.htm

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Very good article on a catching topic!
I don't think practising yoga has to be necessarily connected to beliefs as long as you keep your inner attitude to the sport itself.

When my daughters were in Christian school, the running joke was that the school didn't allow dancing at school functions, "because dancing can get you pregnant." Joking aside, it's too bad we aren't talking more about how we honor God with dancing and other practices, as opposed to the all or nothing approach. Discernment is one of the most important tools we should be developing in all disciples of Christ, as many here have said in one form or another. Thanks for the great posts.
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Never thought of thinking abuot it, but you're absolutely right! Gotta discuss this at my yoga-club next time.

Yoga is really nice. I'm doing yoga for 4 years and it really helps me to relax. I can not live without it anymore.

Thank you for sharing this interesting point of view!
Rahmen

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