Yoga classes are offered everywhere – at your local gym, as a school activity, and even as an exercise class in the church hall. Many Christians feel uncomfortable with the spiritual origins of the practice, chanting “om” or ending the class with “namaste.” Is yoga a religion? Should Christians practice yoga?
Yoga is not a religion but originated as a spiritual, mental, and physical discipline associated with Hinduism. Churches are divided in their teachings about yoga, some offering Christian yoga and others rejecting it un-Christian. Practicing yoga postures as physical exercise is not sinful.
In some parts of the US, yoga is banned in schools by conservatives who see yoga as violating Christian tenets. Others feel that yoga is okay so long as none of the Sanskrit terminology appears and you focus only on the physical aspects of exercise. Let’s look at the religious origins of yoga and whether it is appropriate for Christians.
Is Yoga A Religion?
Yoga is not a religion—however, yoga’s origins lie inHindu, Buddhist, and Jain religious and philosophical traditions. Many of the instructions for and beliefs behind asana (poses or postures), mudra (hand gestures), and pranayama (breathing discipline) come from Hindu texts like the Hatha Yoga Pardipika, the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, and the Bhagavad Gita.
Many Hindu and Buddhist people practice yoga and meditation to achieve the spiritual goals of unity with God or the Lord, unity with nature, and unity with your divine self. Yoga guided by a guru aims at spiritual enlightenment and faith formation.
However, as practiced in Western, secular society, modern yoga involves only the asana and pranayama, with no overt or intentional religious connotations.
What Does The Church Say About Yoga?
With the variety of different Christian denominations, you will find several churches speaking both for and against the practice of yoga. Let’s look at both sides of the yoga argument.
Christian Churches That Oppose The Practice of Yoga
Up to 50% of Evangelical and Bible-based churches reject the practice of yoga as unChristian because they believe that you cannot separate the physical postures from the faith traditions and teachings underpinning them. They believe that Christian concern about yoga is valid.
Yoga developed froma religious view of the spiritual and physical make-up of the body. The asanas developed as a means of opening chakras or energy points in the body, energies which are not of Christian spiritual origin. These churches are concerned that yoga practitioners may unwittingly open themselves to destructive spiritual forces.
According to Evangelicals, the religious teachings of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism conflict with the teachings of the Bible and Jesus in particular. Yoga means “union,” and the unity of God, nature, and the universe are not tenets of the Christian faith. Humans are not divine beings that unite with God.
The practice of clearing your mind to transform your consciousness is not Christian either – Christians should meditate only on the word of God, not sacred Sanskrit words like “om.”
While your intention in practicing yoga may not be spiritual, it is easy for someone whose Christian faith is still developing to unknowingly accept and internalize seemingly harmless and appealing teachings that muddy Christian beliefs.
What about if you combine the physical benefits of yoga with Christian spirituality? These churches also oppose so-called Christian yoga, arguing that it is impossible to transform a practice based on Hindu philosophy into a Christian activity. The energy or spirit behind yoga is not the Christian God or Jesus Christ.
Learn More!!!! Can You Do Yoga Without The Spirituality Aspect?
Christian Churches That Accept The Practice of Yoga
There are two approaches from churches that accept or even encourage the practice of yoga.
On the one hand, some Christian churches argue that physical movements are not religious in themselves unless explicitly connected with faith or ritual – does making the sign of the cross mean you are a Christian? The person’s intention of doing yoga is central and will determine whether the practice is religious or not.
Therefore, it is possible to divorce yoga’s physical health benefits from religious or spiritual practice altogether and simply enjoy the asanas as exercise, like pilates or aerobics, or a method of creating body awareness, especially for children.
On the other hand, many Christians feel that, despite yoga’s Eastern spiritual origins, the practice can be relevant to all religions. The “Lord” spoken of in the Yoga Sutraapplies to many religious understandings of God, whether Vishnu, Jesus, Allah, or Mother Nature.
Among these groups are Christians Practicing Yoga, Holy Yoga, or Ignatian Yoga. They practice yogic asana, pranayama, and meditation to deepen their Christian spiritual journey, much like the process of contemplative prayers. They see yoga as a tool to access God by accepting the link between mind and body, rather than a specifically Hindu spiritual practice.
The Catholic Church, for instance, states the following in the Nostra Aetate, from the Second Vatican Council:the church “rejects nothing that is true and holy” in non-Christian religions – many Christians take this to include the practice of yoga.
Is Yoga A Sin In Christianity?
Where Christians see yoga as sinful is not in the physical activities of stretching or standing in a specific posture. What is sinful is embracing spiritual values that oppose Christian teaching.
You are not sinning if you do yoga to glorify God and develop your Christian spirituality. If you are doing yoga as an exercise to strengthen your body and improve your health, you are not sinning.
So long as your Christian beliefs have a strong foundation and you are exposed to regular good teaching, yoga practice is not sinful. However, if you are new to Christianity and unclear about what you believe, yoga’s philosophical underpinnings can confuse, muddle, and subvert Christian beliefs and lead you into dubious spiritual waters.
Any Christian who feels uncomfortable or unsure about practicing yoga should approach a Christian friend, mentor, or leader, for counsel and spiritual discernment.
Christian opinion differs on whether yoga is an overtly Hindu or non-Christian practice, a tool for developing Christian spirituality, or a method of exercise. Yoga is not a religion but did develop as a mind-body approach to divine energy and spirituality via the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain faiths. Today, most Western yoga practitioners see yoga as a harmless physical activity, but you should seek Godly counsel if you are concerned about taking a yoga class as a Christian.