Monday, September 20, 2010

Should Christians Practice Yoga?

Al Mohler has an article on this today that seeks to answer this question.  You can check it out here.

Full disclosure... I have a couple yoga DVDs (and the one that comes with the P90x system) and have enjoyed doing them over the last three years.  They are quite spiritually sterile and they simply focus on the movements without importing Eastern religious messages about self-love and self-actualization.

Much like the issue of alcohol for Christians, yoga could be sinful but doesn't have to be.  Dr. Mohler hints at this when he writes:
There is nothing wrong with physical exercise, and yoga positions in themselves are not the main issue. But these positions are teaching postures with a spiritual purpose. Consider this — if you have to meditate intensely in order to achieve or to maintain a physical posture, it is no longer merely a physical posture.
Here is my take:

If a Christian were to go to a yoga class that was explicitly religious that would be one thing but simply following a pattern of physically strenuous movements in order to achieve greater strength and flexibility is not wrong.

It's kind of like saying drums in church are wrong because the drums have been used by drug abusing, womanizing, rock stars for much of the history of rock and roll.  Guilt by association.  The drums are not bad and can be used for great purposes if in the right context with the right motives.

Same with yoga.  Yoga has a religious and sexual past but that doesn't mean that the movements of the body that it gives you are in and of themselves wrong.  Maybe it needs a different name than "yoga" since that has so much negative baggage for some people.  What if I called it my stretching and strength training but did all the same bodily movements in the privacy of my living room?  Would it still be wrong?  Of course not.

To be clear, I have never meditated or been to a yoga class.  I have never sat cross legged with my hand on my knees while I droned "OMMMMMMMMMMMM".  I have never been tempted to have yoga deviate into some sort of aberrant sexual practice.  But I have greatly benefited from the flexibility and core strength that comes from these exercises and would actually commend them to you to try.  It's great and will greatly improve your health.

Are Christians free to practice yoga?  Maybe, maybe not.  The question has more to do with the how.  Once that is answered then you'll find your answer.


Peter said...

I'm not taking a stand on either side, but just as a point of clarification, your "drums" analogy is skewed and little off.
Drums were not invented explicitly for usage by "drug abusing, womanizing, rock stars", then co-opted for normal usage. Yoga, on the other hand, is the explicit product of eastern religions created for meditative usage, then co-opted for 'healthy' uses.

So, in reality, its not "kinda like saying".

Andrew said...

I'm with you on this. It seems to be that there would be great value in defining what exactly is meant by "yoga". For me (like you), it's a name for a category of stretches. There's no spiritual aspect at all.

I imagine this isn't the case for all believers who do yoga...but it seems to be for some of us.

Mark said...

Here are the results of my research so far as posted in my blog.
I would suggest that yoga is a spiritual technique that utilizes stretching,breathing,and meditation. If one wants to stretch and exercise fine,but there is no need to be involved in a foundational practice of Hinduism. If nothing else,your example could lead others into yoga and they may very well start meditating. It's all about a state of mind which many westerners don't even classify as "religious".The stretching and the breathing are designed to set up the meditative state.One can do non-yogic stretches and breathe in a manner befitting the exercise and
not be doing yoga.And if it's not yoga,don't call it yoga.The very meaning of the word yoga means "to unite,join",and its English cognate is the word "yoke".

Vitamin Z said...


Thanks for the clarification. Probably not the best analogy, you are right, but you get my point.


Anonymous said...

I had read Mohler's article before finding your response. I have to agree with Mohler. As a foreign missionary, I have seen a lot of syncretism in the name of "redeeming the culture" (a non biblical concept), and I have seen the sad results in the lives of who adopted pagan elements and tried to use them for the gospel; "redeeming the culture" was just another compromise in their lives.

You mentioned the P90X program. I ordered it a few months ago and found some of it offensive. On the yoga DVD, I think that some stretches could be innocent enough, but Tony used the Hindi terms to describe various aspects of yoga. At one point, referring to yoga, he said not to knock it if we hadn't tried it. My wife, who teaches world religions, couldn't believe that I was watching it as she recognized immediately the terms and the compromise. We did not feel that we could in good conscience expose ourselves and our two nine year olds to that kind of philosophy especially since I would be participating in it. I also felt that his language was sometimes unnecessary and unprofessional ("bad a**," etc.) and did not want to hear it or have my children exposed to it. So I sent it back with the aforementioned reasons and was kindly reimbursed.

I understand that there are Christians who can watch and engage in things that I cannot. For example, I read Charles Colson's email and respect him, but I couldn't watch all the films that he watches. I don't believe that we are dealing with sin here, just something that could be insidious. Nonetheless, there is a call to "come out and be separate." I understand that that has to be balanced with the call to relate to this world (1 Corinthians 5:9-10). At the same time, we need to beware of what we participate in (1 Corinthians 10:20).

Unknown said...

I had recently listened to a message from Ravi Zacharias on the same topic ( I like how he mentions that with yoga you have to differentiate the aspects or the totality of the system. But I agree with you, c=you cant completely dismiss the practice but it is better to move with caution!

JRB said...

An excerpt from the book A Tribute to Hinduism - The Book at says "Yoga is an integral part of the Hindu religion. There is a saying: 'There is no Yoga without Hinduism and no Hinduism without Yoga.'" They are the experts on their religion. We Christians aren't. They ought to know! On this subject, I'll trust THEM. And by the way trying to use a Hindu name for physical exercises and stretches just confuses the issue. (Maybe like the term "gay".) And scripture tells us God is not the author of confusion. (I wonder who is??? Maybe "the angel of light"?)