Saturday, October 16, 2010

Christians and Yoga: Bliss or Blasphemy?

This morning I was all set to share my first experience teaching a hoop dance fitness class . . . until I checked my Google Reader and found Clare's latest post.  In addition to sounding off on some ridiculous recent happenings (ahem . . . the Gap "controversy"), she wrote about how Christians practicing yoga are again receiving flak from church leaders.

Clare has already posted a well-crafted argument about how yoga supports her faith instead of hurting it (and I really encourage you to read it), but of course I had to throw my two cents into the bubbling opinion pot as well.  From there, I couldn't resist sharing my thoughts here.  I posted the following in the comments section of Clare's latest post:
As you know, I love Jesus . . . and I practice yoga. What’s more, I don’t think I’m condemned for my practice. *Gasp!* However, just because I do yoga doesn’t mean it’s okay for every Christian to do yoga.

I’m thinking of one of my husband’s co-workers and friends. This man is from Indian, and is a very devoted and introspective Christian. You’d think this would set him up for a beneficial practice in yoga, but it’s quite the opposite. Apparently (if I’m getting the hubby’s telling of it right), while in India this man saw yoga being used as a tool of worship. While many of us American yoginis see sun salutations as an energizing sequence, this man sees them as actual worship of the sun and whatever gods may be associated. So, for him, yoga would hurt his relationship with Jesus, so he stays away.
This issue makes me think of the New Testament-times debate over unclean foods and whether Christians who were formerly Jews could partake of these foods. Paul [a major contributor to the New Testament] has a lot to say about it in Romans 14, but I think this quote sums it up nicely (from the NLT version of the Bible):
“I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good. For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
What I take from this is that I can do yoga…as long as the people in my life aren’t afflicted by it. So I wouldn’t ask my husband’s co-worker to come practice with me, nor would I do yoga in front of him (which would be weird anyway!) or discuss it to the point where it hurts his faith/life.
But, for me, yoga is beneficial. Not just physically, but also emotionally and (gasp!!) spiritually. Because I don’t do sun salutations — I do SON salutations! :)
A quick Google search of "should Christians yoga" yielded a Christian Broadcasting Network article on the subject, written by Laura J. Bagby.  She shared this quote from Laurette Willis, an "actress, singer, public speaker, personality trainer, and author" :
“These are postures that are offered to the 330 million Hindu gods. Yoga postures really are; they are offerings to the gods. If you do these postures and you do this breathing technique and this meditation, then you will be accepted by a god, little “G.” That’s the real danger,” she said.
Um.  Really?  Okay, before I get too cynical, I must admit that yes, yoga has been and continues to be used by non-Christian religious as a form of worship and contemplation.  But I find it really difficult to make the leap from the fact some branches of yoga have a spiritual heritage to "I do yoga, so I must be worshiping Hindu gods."

Take Christmas.  Although it is becoming more and more of a secular holiday, it purportedly is the day that Christians celebrate the birth of Christ.  Was Jesus actually born on December 25?  In all likelihood, no.  In fact, December 25 originally hosted not one but two pagan holidays (read more about the pagan traditions still lingering in Christmas here).  *Gasp!*  Does that mean when we sing Silent Night we're really worshiping the Roman sun god?  I think you know where I'm going with this, but I'll say it anyway -- no, I do not believe that ancient pagan ties with the calendar date of modern Christmas makes it a blasphemous, inadvertently-pagan-god-worshiping holiday.

In my mind, yoga is the same.  When I practice yoga, I focus on my breathing, proper alignment, and flowing from one move to the next.  If my mind dwells on anything spiritual, it is to thank God (the God I love, not a random Hindu god I know nothing about) for making my body so strong.

All that said, it is possible for yoga to be harmful spiritually, I think.  For example, in one yoga class I  attended a couple of years ago, there was a Buddha statue at the front of the room surrounded with burning incense.  This made me really uncomfortable, so I never went back to that studio.  But in every other yoga class I've participated in (live or online), it has been a purely physical practice, with not even a mention of anything religious or spiritual.  So, for me, yoga is a benefit to both my body and soul.  The same could not be said for my husband's friend, and so he does not participate.

So, if you are a Christian wondering if yoga is "safe," the question really is, "Is it safe for me?"  It depends on your past, your opinions, and what makes you feel comfortable or otherwise.  No one can answer that question for you.  As new age-y as it may sound, the answer is within you.  And as for me, as Clare so eloquently stated, "Jesus is WAY bigger than yoga."

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Don't forget to enter my handmade cowl giveaway!  The last day to enter is Monday, October 18. 


  1. Good post, Beth. I've been uneasy about the idea of doing yoga because of its origins, but if I were to practice it, it would be for the physical benefits more than anything else, so perhaps I should reconsider it.

  2. Beth, this is such an amazing post and I'm in awe of your eloquence and balance in stating the "matter."@TraciB- If you consider practicing yoga, go in with an INTENT. It could be simply a physical intent such as strength or flexibility, or it could be finding relaxation or stress release, or it could be finding the interconnectedness of your physical and spiritual selves and deepening your own faith in that regard. Whatever you do, do it with a whole hearted intent and you will be safe in that. And if you give it a fair chance and still feel unease, let it go! :)

  3. I totally agree. My parents are ambivalent towards the practice of yoga too. Since I'm an obedient little child (haha), I stayed away from yoga. I now think that yoga is a form of body stretching and exercise, and its poses really do wonders for the body, which God made. But then, if it tempts you, why do it? It's not worth risking your faith.Your verse from the bible is exactly what I had in mind, and then of course, you mentioned it. Haha! But yeah, a lot of regulations and codes we have are not exactly from God, but designed by man.


"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King