Is It Wrong For A Christian To Do Yoga?

can a christian do yoga

Yoga? “Holy Stretching” or Something More?

To: PastoralOffice@watermark.org

From: xxx

Subject: Yoga

Hello all,

I am looking for some  clarity on the subject of Yoga. I am a member at Watermark (about 3 years now) and have been practicing Yoga for about a year. I have really grown to love it physically and mentally. I practice Vinyasa which is a flow type of yoga that is more physically than mentally focused, but I have appreciated the mental aspect because I have used my time in yoga to meditate on the word, and to pray.

I recently have experienced a big life change  and have been looking for something I can do part-time while raising my kids. When I started looking into teaching yoga, I realized how much controversy there is about it among Christian circles. From the research I have done, it is my understanding that yoga is a spiritual method, not a religion in itself. It actually pre-dates Hinduism and Buddhism, and although used in both religions, is not synonymous with either religion. Therefore, I have concluded that as long as my personal practice is for the purpose of giving glory to the Lord, prayer, and meditation on scripture, I don’t see a problem with my personal practice.

My concern is that because there is so much controversy over yoga, I may be teaching something that appears to conflict Biblically, or unknowingly encouraging others toward the type of new-agey, hindu spirituality that often accompanies some types of yoga. Many people believe yoga to be synonymous with the other religions it is used in. Even though I believe historically, it is not, I want to be careful here. I think of Paul talking about food sacrificed to idols. Yes, of course it is ok for us to eat it, but we may not want to if there are those who believe it is bad. This is all very confusing for me!

I have included some articles that have been influential for me. I would love to gain some more clarity and insight into this before I start my certification in September. Before I make such a big career/financial decision, I would love any and all thoughts from the spiritual leaders and community in my life! Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/whole-life/features/23243-is-it-okay-for-christians-to-do-yoga

http://pastormark.tv/2011/11/02/christian-yoga-its-a-stretch 

http://christianspracticingyoga.com/

– xxx 

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XXXX-

I love your questions and the way you have sought to honor the Lord and each other in the way you’ve processed through this.

For starters, here is a quick and I think well-informed response… http://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-yoga.html . Gotquestions.org is always a fantastic first stop when trying to get a hold of a biblical response to thousands of questions.

For me, actually participating in yoga would be a Romans 14 issue. Which is to say: if someone enjoys the physical activity and is convinced they are not compromising the principle of 1 Corinthians 10:31 and they are personally able to say what Romans 14:22-23, 1 Corinthians 4:2-4 admonishes us to be always able to say and they are not violating 2 Cor 6:3, then they should have at it!  Of course they need to be aware that they are potentially confusing others with their participation so there is a need to be clear how their choices is going to effect others. (1 Peter 2:12, 3:15-16).  This won’t be easy, especially in a large or very public class.  If they are in a class with nonbelievers, as they undoubtedly will be, they need to be intentional with them and prayerfully look for opportunities to be sharing the truth of and hope of Christ with them and clear about what they are doing in a “yoga” class.

My guess is that for WAY too many “believers”, doing yoga (and probably most everything else) is something they do without thought or conviction and certainly without either intentionality or a burden of responsibility for those around them. This kind of “unintentional living” is a bigger problem then yoga itself. If they work on 1 Corinthians 10:31 and see EVERYTHING they do as part of their walk with Christ and live their life according to the purpose of Colossians 1:28-29, then they are going to be okay around a yoga class… whether it is a “Christianized” version or not.

Of course there are some classes that are led by individuals who are using yoga as a means to push people toward more than physical exercise and the promise of something redemptive other than Christ, and those classes are problematic. But how great it would be if more believers were in exercise classes, developing loving relationships with non-believers, meditating on Scripture and sharing their faith and explaining the failed hope of becoming one with a perverted and wanting idea of “god”.  I am familiar with Eliot Miller’s writing on the topic… specifically the point that the “eight limbs” of yoga are embraced by (and even find their origins in) Eastern religions as a means toward a “salvific” or religious experience. I know only two of the “limbs” are purely physical aspects (posture, breathing). Obviously, “working the core” and breathing correctly while you do it is not a problem. But why you do, or why others are doing it could well be. I would tell you to be honest about the yoga class you are in, and be wary of supporting it or endorsing it by your presence).

Two last comments on this.

1) If you are leading it, consider calling what you are doing something other than “yoga” (because it is) and work the core of your body. Don’t try to redefine “yoga”, as that may be difficult. Instead focus on the benefit of working out the body that is the temple of the Holy Spirit without confusing it by calling it something that clearly has its roots in pagan religion. Exercise is NOT the problem. YOGA as traditionally defined, developed and deployed may well be. Lose the confusion by losing the name. “Holy Yoga” may be tough to pull off (just like “holy adultery” or “holy voodoo” is), but holy living/exercise should not be. Take away the confusion and keep the core in shape.

2) If we as believers are being honest, more of us probably struggle with the idolatry of body image and yoyo dieting than we do the idolatry of Buddha, meditation and yoga. As leaders of anything we should call others to focus on the “why” as much as the “what”, and we always need to make sure that the “what” isn’t something the scriptures tell us is a “don’t”. (Sex with someone who isn’t our covenant spouse is again a good example – that is a “what” we are can’t ever sanctify no matter what we call it. See 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7.)

Exercise, and using posture and breathing correctly when we do it to maximize its benefit can clearly be redeemed, but exercise itself for the sake of self-glory and beauty cannot (again, 1 Corinthians 10:31). Anything for self-glory, no matter what we call it, is sin and a distraction that will lead to disappointment. Whenever we exercise our physical temple we should double down on improving the spiritual person. (1 Timothy 4:7-8 is clear on this). More believers are lazy about worshipping self (the most common form of paganism) than have ever fallen into Hinduism/Buddhism because of yoga. Call it cross-fit or yoga. If it’s not done for the glory of God it is sin.

Again, greatly encouraged by you ladies’ desire to wrestle with the tough questions and honor the Lord with your temples. May all of us who profess to follow Christ be diligent to live intentionally and make the most of the short time God’s gifted us with! (Ephesians 5:16)

Encouraged by your faithfulness,

Todd

214-239-8809

www.twitter.com/wordsfromwags

pastoraloffice@watermark.org

www.watermark.org

What are your thoughts on Christians taking part / teaching Yoga? Leave a comment below and chime in.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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9 thoughts on “Is It Wrong For A Christian To Do Yoga?

  1. This is well done and well written, thank you. I am blessed by this format of question and answer. While I may not personally be asking this question in particular, it touches on many relevant topics that come up as I participate in sheparding our three daughters. Two of whom are teens and learning to navigate body image, exercise within the world of junior high and high school athletics. I am disciplined in staying connected to the vine and studying His Word but my communication is NEVER as fluid and clear as the dialogue above. 🙂 Just put a few “tools” in my tool belt this morning, thank you for sharing. -Kendra M

  2. Yikes! So glad for this article this morning! I’m not a huge Yoga freak… but I do occasionally “dapple” in it… only for the mere physical aspect of it. I’ve never taken a Yoga class – with others – so maybe it’s a lot different. I’ve only done the Yoga video on TV in the privacy of my own home. Maybe that’s why I haven’t felt any kind of religious connection to Yoga – which is most likely why this article has been such an eye opener for me.

    I guess I really do need to start thinking of everything that I tend to “dapple” in and whether or not it glorifies God. I guess I just viewed Yoga as a form of exercise… something that readies my body and glorifies the temple that God has given me to be a steward over. Never would’ve ever thought of the religious aspects of any type of exercise.. before now. Thank you!

  3. So funny, that this topic came up, I was just talking about this with a friend the other day about the yoga classes we attend and how during that time we are able pray and have conversations with god about our day and meditate on scripture and during holding poses ask for for strength to keep holding. The place we attend is not “too yoga-y” so it allows me to focus on the holy spirit inside. But we’ve talked about opening a studio that is intentionally Christian and encourages prayer, scripture meditation and such. Because they may be a desire for that in this area. Its cool how these classes have allowed me to have a very Christ spiritual workout, more than I ever have been able to in a gym or anywhere else. We have been able to discuss with other classmates to about Christ, so God can use any forum and He looks at our heart and knows our intentions. Thanks for discussing this!

  4. I commend the writer for bringing up this subject. It has the uncanny potential to divide Believers and make everyone squirm. That said, I still want to lovingly encourage everyone reading this to steer as clear from the practice of yoga as they can get. Please seek another avenue of revenue for your part-time work. It sounds as if you have made your decision, based on the articles you posted, but I just want to encourage you to avoid the practice of yoga.

    To post anything remotely anti-yoga is paramount to touching the 3rd rail of the metro line. One doesn’t do it without a major kickback from the source it has just engaged…practitioners of yoga tend to defend the ‘exercise’ as generals on the battlefield would hope their troops would defend their country under siege. But, here I go…and only doing so in the hopes of preventing a fellow Believer from falling into an ‘exercise’ that is truly an eastern religion.

    Unknown to most Americans, who tend to consider yoga to be just a good form of low impact exercise, Yoga, by definition, is rather a religious practice used to ‘yoke yourself’ with the spirit forces of the universe. The poses are in line with bowing to Hindu gods and are meant to ‘open’ the body’s ‘chakras’ (portals of entry) for spirits to indwell the mortal body for ‘enlightenment.’ Yoga is a combination of hinduism, buddhism and jainism. To discount it’s history and true roots, or to encourage Christian yoga instructors to call their ‘exercise’ class something other than yoga is deceptive and concerning. An exercise shouldn’t need to be cloaked in euphemisms in order to gain acceptance by the true Church.

    Also! practitioners of yoga, beware. if the breathing part of the ritual is ‘taught’ or ‘practiced’ incorrectly, disease can actually form in the body of the participant. What other form of exercise has that potential? Yoga is not just exercise.

    If you insist on practicing yoga, PLEASE, for your health’s sake, only go to a truly certified yogi. The breathing link to disease is real. Never practice yoga from someone who belittles this point or doesn’t have true training. Then, please research the background of a ‘true yogi’ instructor. The level of spiritism involved to become such a leader in the field should be another major warning sign to what ‘exercise’ you are involving yourself with.

    There are, indeed, spirit forces wanting access to God’s human creation of our mortal bodies.. We were made in the image of God and Believers are considered Temples of the Holy Spirit.

    The Apostle Paul admonishes us to not be unequally yoked. One cannot be indwelled by the Holy Spirit and open to other spirits indwelling the body. We are further admonished to ‘test the spirits’ to see if they are of God. We are commanded to have no other gods before Him. Posing in bows to Hindu gods does not honor or please Him. Even if we don’t realize that we are doing so.

    I know. Most Christian American practitioners of yoga ‘just want a good workout and stretch.’ I wish it were that simple. Yoga is an eastern religion which happens to have benefits of stretching the body. I doubt yoga is the first temptation on this earth that seems so ‘right’ and beneficial at first, but leads to the way of death. (Spiritual and physical).

    Please consider the bigger, spiritual war we are engaged in. If the ‘ladies’ of the church (Todd’s word, not mine) are led astray while their spiritual leaders acquiesce, aren’t we metaphorically right back in the garden of Eden, where this mess we got ourselves into all began…

    • Nancy…thanks for jumping in on the conversation. I love your heart to protect others from what you believe is harmful and dangerous…very Christlike!

      That being said this comment, “The poses are in line with bowing to Hindu gods and are meant to ‘open’ the body’s ‘chakras’ (portals of entry) for spirits to indwell the mortal body for ‘enlightenment.’” made me want to extend the conversation again. Trees in houses were once symbols of worshipping things explicitly inconsistent with Scripture, yet we (at least I think) believe it is okay to have a tree in home with redeemed symbolism (or do I need to do a post about Christmas trees?). Pagans have always bowed to their idols, yet I don’t think bowing in prayer is opening my body’s ‘chakras’ for spirits to indwell me fro enlightenment. If doing the downward dog with you caused you to stumble I’d rather do jumping jack’s, but I think we need to be careful before we assume everyone who strikes a pose once (or currently) used by false prophets is using the pose for the same reasons or with the same ill effects. I think Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 8-9 have great application here.

      Blessings and as I said, so encouraged by your desire to love and serve others.

  5. What a great discussion. I had no idea this was much of an issue, but I totally see it.

    As food for thought, a golden rule in business is to take the point of view that “a problem is really an opportunity in disguise”. Paul did this very thing at Mars Hill — ironically — when he came across an alter inscribed “To and unknown god”. He used this pagan vehicle to connect with the men of Athens and transport the message of the gospel.

    You could do this very same thing with your situation. As an example, you could take a simple approach and brand it as something simple, like “Core”, with a tag line something like “Exercise for mind, body and soul”. How it works in terms of ministry would depend on how the Spirit leads, but it could easily be a place where you could combine the physicality of yoga (body), the discipline of modern exercise routines (mind), and an “intentional” reflection of Jesus Christ as savior (soul). This approach communicates that you deliver the benefits of Yoga, but without the baggage. That’s just an idea of how it could work, I’m sure you’ll find many others if you put your mind to it. Of course, I would also recommend seeking creative consultation from the very best — after all, it’s been made available to us through God’s Holy Spirit!

    Obviously, there are those who are seeking peace through exercise and meditation. Nothing wrong with either one of those, and in fact, how great is that when done for the right reasons and for the right God! Just too bad so many look in the wrong places and too bad there aren’t alternative outlets that cast a reflection on the true Author of Peace.

    Entreating God’s Holy Spirit for direction and guidance should be first and foremost, as well as spending much time in prayer and meditation with thanksgiving. You’re taking the right first steps in seeking wise counsel. Todd’s reply is right on target, and this Sunday’s sermon seems tailor-made for this topic.

    • From writer….
      That’s a great idea, except that I am not sure how to be trained and hired for a generic “core” class with no previous experience or connections, and I think it may be misleading to be doing yoga and calling it something else…I do love the practice and wish there was an easy answer as to representing the health benefits without the spiritual aspects. I have yet to find one!
      Thanks so much for the input!

  6. how would I go about getting in touch with this person for classes? I love yoga and have only done it myself at home strictly for exercise purposes due to the nature of my career. I would like to continue it but obviously not at the risk of being exposed to harmful religious aspects of it.

  7. Try training at soul motivation studio. Joseph Stingly is a Christian minister and a renowned Yogi. The studio is 1/2 a mile from Watermark. My teacher taught me to practice with someone with your same beliefs to avoid religious concerns.