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