Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Should Christians Practice Yoga?

by Michael R. Burgos Jr., PhD

Yoga is one of the few Eastern religious practices that has made inroads into every day American life. It has been reported that over thirty-six million Americans practice yoga on regular basis,[1] many of whom undoubtedly profess Christianity. It is important for Christians to consider if this practice is compatible with a biblical worldview,[2] and therefore I will seek to answer this question biblically. 

The term “yoga” is derived from a Sanskrit verb meaning “to yoke.”[3] Yoga as a discipline, is designed to yoke the participant with a panentheistic world.[4] The notion a Christian might take the freedom that was purchased for them at the expense of the life of the Son of God and yoke it via yoga is incomprehensible. Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”[5] Within Hinduism and other vedic religions (e.g., Buddhism, Jainism) there isn’t a complete distinction between God and the creation. Rather, God is viewed as the soul of the creation and is therefore part of the creation. This view of God is in sharp conflict with the Christian faith since one of the most fundamental doctrines of the Bible is the distinction between the Creator and his creation.[6] The notion of being yoked in this manner ought to be disturbing to Christians since Paul told the church, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?"[7]

But can’t a Christian participate in yoga without participating in its spiritual aspects? While there are those who claim to have ‘Christianized’ yoga, it is impossible to separate the practice from is eastern spiritual aspects. The many postures utilized within yoga are designed to be offerings to some of the many Hindu deities.[8] Consider the hand gesture entitled anjali mudra. The phrase is translated “prayer”[9] or “offering,”[10] This gesture is commonly accompanied with the pronunciation of namaste, which is defined as “I bow to you.”[11] According to yoga expert Aadil Palkhivala, “The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra.” So too, the postures present in yoga are the sacrament of the vedic religions. That is, in the same way that Christians practice the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper, Hindus practice yoga. One need only examine the Bhagavad Gita (a primary Hindu sacred text) to see that yoga and its postures are not merely exercise but rather an intrinsically religious practice. Subhas Tiwari, professor of yoga philosophy at Hindu University of America stated, 
The simple, immutable fact is that yoga originated from the Vedic or Hindu culture. Its techniques were not adopted by Hinduism, but originated from it...The effort to separate yoga from Hinduism must be challenged because it runs counter to the fundamental principles upon which yoga itself is premised…[12]
Tiwari concluded, “Yoga is Hinduism.”[13] Moreover, the breathing and meditation techniques that are part of yoga are intended to calm and empty the mind. This notion is the opposite of the Bible’s teaching on meditation. Biblical meditation is does not consist of emptying the mind, but rather filling it with the Word of God.[14]

The Bible tells us to avoid every appearance of evil,[15] and that we are to "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”[16] All religions that are contrary to the Christian faith are of demonic origin,[17] and what pagans offer to their gods are actually offered to demons. Therefore, yoga is a practice that is demonically inspired. Yoga did not come from God, but rather God's enemies. What business then, does light have with darkness? 

There some very strong parallels between the issue of food being offered to idols within 1 Corinthians chapters 8-10 and yoga. Within those chapters Paul teaches us that we are to avoid engaging in activities that could be taken by weaker brothers or sisters as participation in false religion. While participation in yoga is participation in false religion, consider the new convert who came out of an overtly religious form of yoga. That new Christian, seeing a mature Christian freely practicing what they left behind for Christ, would likely be caused to stumble as in 1 Corinthians 8:7-12. The life of a Christian is a testimony of the work of God. It would be a tragedy to cause a weaker Christian to stumble by our participation in something a new believer left behind.[18]

Christians should not practice yoga for the simple reason that it is pagan. Moreover, the notion that one could bifurcate yoga’s spiritual aspects from its postures is itself preposterous. We can no more turn baptism into a bath than we may turn Yoga into merely exercise. 

[1] See the study entitled, 2016 Yoga Study in America Study, January 2016. This study, undertaken by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal found the following:
The number of American yoga practitioners has increased to over 36 million in 2016, up from 20.4 million in 2012. 28% of all Americans have participated in a yoga class at some point in their lives.
https://www.yogaalliance.org/Portals/0/2016%20Yoga%20in%20America%20Study%20RESULTS%20-%20TOPLINE.pdf
[2] See Prov 3:5-8; Acts 17:11; Col 2:8; 1 Thess 5:21; 1 John 4:1.
[3] Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Pub., 2002). 853.
[4] While there is great theological variation within Hindu source texts and in Hindu practice, the predominant view among yoga practitioners in the West is panentheism. See Jeffrey D. Long, Historical Dictionary of Hinduism, (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2011), 128.
[5] Gal 5:1.
[6] Gen 1:1-224; Ps 95:3-7; 139:7-12.
[7] 2nd Cor 6:14.
[8] Suresh Chandra, Encyclopedia of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, (New Delhi: Sarap & Sons, 2001), 178.
[9] Shiva Rea, “Anjali Mudra,” Yoga Journal, Jan-Feb 2000, 44.
[10] The Little Book of Yoga, (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2014), 175.
[11]Rita Geno, “The Meaning of Namaste,” Yoga Journal, April 21, 2017, https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/the-meaning-of-quot-namaste-quot.
[12] Lisa Takeuchi Cullen/Mahtomedi, “Stretching for Jesus,” Time, March 29, 2005, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1098937,00.html.
[13] ibid.
[14] Josh 1:8; Ps 1:2; 119:97.
[15] 1st Thess 5:22.
[16] Eph 5:11.
[17] 1st Cor 10:20.
[18] cf. Rom 14:13-19.

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