Posted by: rhenderson8110 | January 28, 2014

An Unpopular Stance on a Popular Practice: Christian Yoga? It’s A Stretch…

As a young adult growing up within a Christian community I felt the need to study into and write about a topic very much at the heart of our generation. It’s popular. It’s hip. It’s healthy. It’s Yoga. What I want to share with you today is some of my thoughts along with a good bit of research I’ve done on the topic in relation to Christianity. 1My main source is a book called Yoga and the Body of Christ by Dave Hunt. It’s extremely informative and you can and should purchase it here. Should yoga have a place in a Christian’s life? Can health-oriented Christians practice yoga without drinking in it’s spiritual intentions? Can yoga help us as Christians convene more intimately with God the Father and Jesus Christ? This is Part 1 of a 3 part series that I will spend devoted to answering those questions.

Before I go on to explain the answer to those questions I want to make one thing clear. The purpose of these blogs is not to condemn those who practice yoga. It is not to condemn Buddhists, Hindus, New Agers or any other group of religious believers. My purpose is concise and clear- to inform Christians of what yoga is and that it is completely antithetical to the Bible and Christianity. Please do not mistake my passion on this subject as a lack of compassion or worse, an expression of hate towards those who disagree. I believe part of what God calls us to as Christians is to be informed and stick together as we rid our lives of those things that disagree with what God says in His Word. So, here we go!

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What is yoga anyways and where does it come from?
Yoga literally means ‘union.’ The purpose of yoga is to unite the individual spirit within each of us to the Universal Spirit. Furthermore it can be said that yoga is the practice of getting in touch with God to achieve the realization that we are all gods. So, basically, yoga was invented as a means to achieve god-hood. Right off the bat this should be sending red flags up in our minds as Christians but we will come back to that. Let’s take a look at an excerpt from the Katha Upanisad 6.10- a book of teaching used by Hindus and Buddhists:

2“When the five perceptions are stilled, together with the mind,
And not even reason bestirs itself; they call it the highest state.
When senses are firmly reined in, that is Yoga, so people think.
From distractions a man is then free, for Yoga is the coming-into-being, as well as the ceasing-to-be.”

Sorry to get all philosophical on you but basically what that said was that yoga is the practice of numbing the mind (even reason) so that you can realize that you are a God. It is recognized in the East, where it originated, as a way of dying- hence the ‘ceasing to be’ from the above quote. This is also why yoga entails exercises encouraging you to slow your breathing. Yoga was created as a way to free oneself from the ‘illusion’ of this life. The point then is to completely numb your mind so that you can connect with the Universal spirit.

This brings me to another well-known aspect of yoga- the chanting of ‘om.’ Most people believe the chanting helps to quiet down, relax and center themselves. 1But did you know that ‘om’ is believed to be the basic sound of the universe and chanting it is used to unite you, the chanter, with the universal deity? Chanting ‘om’ is a surrender to the basic force of the Universe.

So, what does God have to say about all this? Let’s journey back to the very beginning. 1In the Garden of Eden we see here in Genesis 3:5 Satan telling Eve that through something physical (the apple) she could achieve enlightenment and become a God herself. Is this not the exact premise and message of yoga? That through physical ‘asanas’ or poses you can achieve self-realization and become a god. It was a lie in the Garden of Eden and it is a lie now. And the bottom line is that the pursuit of human deification is completely antithetical to the pursuits of a Christian. Yoga promotes the realization of one’s self; Christianity teaches the ridding of one’s desires and wills to that of Jesus Christ. The two do not coincide. They are not compatible. They do not agree.

Secondly, let’s address this purposeful numbing or emptying of the mind stuff. Let’s look at Romans 12:2 ‘Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.The command to discern what is good and pleasing and perfect in God’s eyes is the most basic for a Christian. Nowhere does the Bible encourage us to empty our minds in order to connect with Him- but rather to exercise discernment and fill our minds with biblical knowledge so that we can obey and convene intimately with Him.

Finally for this segment- does the Bible teach a Universal Spirit? No it does not. The Bible speaks of the spirit in man which separates us from the animals and the holy spirit given to us at baptism. There is no Universal spirit so any actions taken to convene with one makes no sense for a Christian.

Please stay tuned for Part 2- Can I do yoga just for the health benefits and not be affected by the spiritual stuff?

Sources:

  1. Yoga and the Body of Christ by Dave Hunt
  2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ira-israel/so-where-does-yoga-come-f_b_3463463.html
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Responses

  1. Wow, you know I don’t agree with your perspective here, but I respect your right to have one different from mine! We are, in fact, so far apart in our perspectives, that I don’t even see the value in debating or offering a different one at this time! Always love your blogs,though! Love you!

    • Love you too Mom and grateful for your being gracious in disagreeing on this one. I love you and thanks for the support of my blog!

  2. Thank you sweetie for researching and writing on this topic! I really look forward to parts 2 & 3! It’s a topic Christians must hold up to the light of Scripture!

  3. So, that was a lot to digest. I actually JUST (like seriously, /just/) started doing yoga! I tried to do some research like yourself, but got bored (and distracted). Sounds pretty Jenny-like.

    Anyways, it was enlightening to read about the background of yoga (I’ll take your word for it now, & do my own research later). From your description, the original intention of “becoming a God” does sound fairly uneven with the Bible and Christianity. So to that, I can agree.

    I’m not sure what you’ll get to, or say in your Part 2 & 3 of this series, but I’ll jump ahead.

    I started doing yoga because I’m really bad about being in the moment, being in my body, and “being still”. It was not so much for stress relief, as it was a background noise of strength training, flexibility improving, life affirming action. I actually saw it as bringing me closer to God (I read yoga had a “spiritual” side; I assumed bringing you closer to God was it); I was able to praise God, appreciate what I have & live in the “now”.

    Some Christians sing hymns, I do “downward dog position” (oh, and “relaxation position”- I’m really good at that one!). I really hate singing. When I come to church on Sundays, I purposely try to show up late (we even have contemporary music). When I was in Girl Scouts as a child, our troupe was the only non-singing girl scout troupe I knew of. It’s just not what brings me closer to God; & I don’t feel like I’m praising him in those moments.

    I think everyone needs to find a way to “praise” God. & I decided yoga would be that thing for me. It reminds me of the singing at church. For some people, that singing brings them some sort of peace, and makes them feel closer to God & that they are praising him. I feel that way about yoga.

    I touched on this a little before, but it also helps bring me into the moment. Which I also know is a Christian thing (being new-ish to Christianity, I may be getting some of this wrong; I apologize in advance). I know that I am suppose to have gratitude for the life I’ve been given, and that “worry” is a bit of a lack of faith and trust in God. I know that God has a plan, and that I should be appreciating the season of that plan I’m in currently. Yoga makes all of that easier.

    I would have never known that yoga was meant to recreate “a way of dying”, because it makes me feel so alive. So in the moment. So in my body. That’s a rarity for me. & I think it’s great that I’ve found a tool to do that.

    & in my yoga DVD there is no chanting. I have the option of turning off the instruction, and turning on my own music. Once I get better, I imagine I will be able to focus on my body, breathing, and praying.

    I’m not really sure where that leaves us. Other than I apparently made-up a new form of yoga, a new use for it; an appropriation of sorts. I think that counts for something- but at the moment, I’m not sure what.

  4. Jenny- thanks so much for your comment; I really appreciate your candor and ‘realness’ (and always have :)). I’m overjoyed that you’re entering the world of Christianity and there are about a zillion types and they will all tell you something different. I guess all I want to say in response is that we all need to search out God’s Word and see what it says for ourselves. Though I’m sure we won’t agree on everything we can agree that Christianity is a religion of compassion and tact and I don’t want you to ever feel that because we disagree we can’t interact and learn from each other. I think Christianity is a journey and we’re going to be in different places at different times- but we can respect each other wherever we are. 🙂 Thanks again for your comment!

    • Oh, I of course do not feel like we cannot interact based on our beliefs! I really look up to you and what you’re doing Rachel! I’m always so impressed! Especially how you handle your marriage and relationship with your husband; I want to strive to cultivate that everyday in my own marriage.

      I am for sure at the beginning of my Christian journey! My parents took me to church, but only up until the point that I sat and played quietly on the floor during sermons. Religion was not really discussed in my house, or with me- as a child. So, I’ve had a bit of a trek.

      You posted a podcast of a sermon on marriage a few months ago, and that just blew my mind! I listened to it THREE times (once with Kevin), and each time, I was still finding something to wrap my brain around. I loved it! I know this sounds odd, but I had never considered that there was a design for marriage. In the current world, people just see it as a commitment you make to display your love and solidify your relationship to others in society (& legal reasons, blah, blah). But everything the minister was saying, made so much sense- like I said, I had to listen to the sermon several times. (So, thanks for sharing that!)

      & I’ve also been meaning to tell you that I was finally able to get my hands on one of the books you suggested! I got “Sacred Marriage” by Gary Thomas. Kevin and I are going to start reading it when we finish reading our current book (we pick out books to read together each night). I’m really excited for it!

      I also remember seeing you talk about a book called, “Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes”, which I was able to snag at my library. When I started this whole homemaker process, cooking was one of my least favorite chores. I have since, cultivated a growing appreciation for it. But, I had a hunch that the book would help focus me on the wonderful aspects of feeding and nurturing a family with food, and the different aspects of what it means to feed people. I think I might read that one on my own.

      & I’ll let you know what Kevin and I think of the “Sacred Marriage” book, once we finish reading it!

      • Hi Jenny! Thank you so much for your compliments- they mean so much to me! And I also LOVE that sermon on marriage! Alex and I actually re-listened to it last Saturday together and I was delighted to find that the man has given parts 2 & 3 since then! I can’t wait to listen to them and I’ll post them here for you to listen to as well!
        Part 2: http://members.ucg.org/sermon/gods-purpose-marriage-part-2
        Part 3: http://members.ucg.org/sermon/gods-purpose-marriage-part-3
        I think that is so awesome that you and Kevin read together. That is such a bonding experience and I wish Alex & I could do that… however we can’t seem to discipline ourselves enough to actually do it! Cheers to you! And yes Bread & Wine was a really wonderful read- spiritually but also physically. It made me enjoy food more as I’m not a natural ‘foodie.’ Please do let me know what you think of Sacred Marriage- can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
        I also want to offer encouragement to you- I really respect how willing you are to learn and I know that God will bless you for having a humble and teachable attitude. How refreshing it is to see that and admire it. You’re doing great- keep going!

  5. Hi Big!

    I’m delighted to hear your thoughts on this! Opening myself to unclean spiritual forces is the last thing I want to do, especially as a Christian (which is to say I care about holding the Christlike standards, not to demean non-Christians). Like Jenny, I actually recently started doing yoga as well, and I must admit I really love it. However, the apps I’ve done (Yoga Studio) and the classes I’ve been taking in Cincinnati (Yoga Alive), as best I can see and experience, are not “spiritual” but physical classes. It was a priority for me to avoid the “spiritual” yoga instructors.

    None of the instructors I’ve followed have given advice that could be construed as spiritual except for things like “breath out, and just let it all go”, “let yourself become still”, “be present in this moment, don’t think about other stresses in your life,” none of which need conflict with Christianity in and of themselves. It’s not at all a spiritual exercise for me, but a physical one. It’s one of the few exercises I really Love doing for the sake of itself, not because I have to for the sake of a healthy body (unfortunately I don’t yet have your love of exercise, though I’m motivated to get there!). To me, yoga is a mix between a massage and a work out. It has helped me to really love my body, and not just think of it as a slave to what I think of as myself–my mind alone. Of course this is not true, we are physical as well as spiritual, intellectual, emotional, etc.

    Yoga stretches have helped me find tension in my body that I did not know was there, and to really take time loving on my body, not just driving it around. It’s a time I just stop thinking about my stresses, quiet my mind, and just focus on loving my body, developing a strong core, working on posture, burning some calories, etc. I suppose others around me could be praying or becoming one with the universe, but it’s not a spiritual practice for me. Hot yoga especially is very invigorating.

    At this point my stance is that even though there are people who practice it in unhealthful spiritual ways, the physical practices themselves are beneficial. That is, depending on the instructors and environment– I would never take a class where the environment is openly welcoming to spiritual forces I do not support. I think Christ can redeem the the healthful physical aspects of yoga, as Christianity has redeemed much that was once pagan.

    All this to say, I’m glad you are thinking seriously about this, as I wish more Christians would, and I’m interested to read your second post! I’m hoping you can suggest alternatives to yoga that do the same sort of thing physically! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Hi Little! I’m so delighted that you read my blog and it’s so nice to hear from you! I really appreciate the time you took to comment and I respect what you said. Most of what I would respond with will be in parts 2 & 3 of this series so I will hold off responding here. I do want to commend you on thinking deeply about these things and trying to guard your mind as I think that is so important. I hope you and Kevin are doing well and your puppy is the CUTEST!!

    • Yes, it’s great to be in touch some, even if it is just the internet! I’d love to find a way to connect in person soon! Maybe this summer would work while we are going through MI. I would be sure to bring Baggins 🙂
      Your blog definitely caught my eye since I’ve become interested in yoga over the past several months.
      I look forward to reading your other posts as we all work through this together!


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