Recently I heard of a discussion amongst some friends about whether or not Christians should do yoga. The strongest opinion against it comes from Pastor Mark. His main point is that yoga cannot be separated from Hinduism where each pose is a worship posture to their gods…so therefore, Christians have no business participating in something that is antithetical to Christian beliefs.
While I’m aware of yoga’s Hindu/pagan roots, I don’t agree that it necessarily warrants a complete ban. A number of “yoga” postures are regularly used in the physical therapy world as good stretches to do. Whether you call it a full back extension or Bhujangasana for the “Cobra” pose…it’s just a stretch position. Call it what you want, but I don’t think anyone can monopolize a stretch position. But here’s my thoughts on yoga which are based on these two verses:
“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Cor 6:12
“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 1 Cor 10:23
Mainstream appropriation of various cultural practices are rarely aware of all the traditions or religious implications behind it; even if they know something of it, it’s not adhered to. Or it’s “practiced” as a novelty. This goes for anything pagan or Christian. I do believe it is necessary for Christians to be aware of the historical and spiritual roots behind something before blindly falling in and unknowingly being influenced in a spiritual manner that detracts from their walk with Christ. But I do not agree that everything with pagan roots needs to be banned. To say one should ban yoga because of its Hindu roots is like some churches’ reaction to ban Harry Potter because of it’s magic/occultic references, or to ban drums in worship service because of its Satanic rhythm. Even our Christian holidays have very pagan roots. Though some of those pagan festivals have been “redeemed for Christ”, our mainstream culture has made Christmas and Easter to be something different from what Christians meant for it to be. (“Santa” spelled differently is “Satan”. =P) Celebrating Christmas or Easter does not make one Christian. Neither would celebrating Diwali, Hanukkah or Eid with friends who graciously invite us, make us Hindu, Jewish or Muslim.
Take Kung Fu or Tai Chi…they have roots in Buddhism and Taoism/Confucianism respectively. It’s used for meditation, strengthening of the mind and body, regulating deep breathing, self-defense and channelling energy. But once mainstream, the focus really is on core strengthening, de-stressing and other health benefits…similar to why I do yoga. Again, practicing these martial art forms does not make one any more Buddist or Taoist. Nor would, I believe, doing yoga make me Hindu.
Not to say there aren’t dangers or elements of eastern traditional practices that do not align with Christian beliefs, but this is where being well-informed regarding its history and spiritual influences, as well as having spiritual discernment, is important. We need to be discerning of what types of yoga or yoga studios one should be part of. If the studio/instructor’s focus is on channeling energy, finding spirit guides and aligning chakras, the discerning Christian should have alarm bells go off. (I like going to classes that focus just on the stretching postures, and I avoid classes that are filled with “Empty your thoughts, breathe in the one spirit and feel the energy of incredible goodness happening on your mat” type stuff.) Likewise for practices like Tai Chi/Kung Fu or anything else with nonChristian roots, exercise discernment! My uncle had taken a Tai Chi class with a segment on qigong…the instructor came around to students to assess and provide “qi” if they were lacking and when he came to my uncle, he told my uncle there was already “qi” in him (my uncle is Christian) and that he didn’t need to receive more “qi”. THAT should set off alarm bells to not take this Tai Chi class.
The easy way is to ban anything that has roots in pagan belief systems…but as my Pastor believes, I think it’s better to develop an informed and discerning mind as to what is beneficial, what might master you, what is constructive. etc. If someone’s faith does not allow them to do something like yoga, fine. But there are those who’s faith allows them to do yoga. Personal conviction based on the leading of the Holy Spirit should determine which it is. Either way, both sides should be respected.
My friend Superesc had the thought that stretching is stretching so if the term “yoga” cannot be separated from Hinduism, even if you could separate the spiritual philosphy from the stretching poses, then maybe just rebrand the exercise and posture names as something else. And well, someone’s done that…check out http://praisemoves.com/ =)