Recently I’ve been on a spiritual journey that includes deep prayer, meditation, and mindfulness to help me to connect with God. At the same time, I’ve also been on the hunt for some low-impact stretching that could potentially help with chronic pain in a natural way.
Meditation and stretching. Put those two together and what do you get?
So, I’ve said I need to stretch. And I find that meditation brings me closer to God. These all naturally come together in the form of yoga. But, as a Christian, should I do yoga? Am I allowed? Will Jesus love me less?
Well, first, let’s see…what does the Bible say about the word “yoga”? Nothing. Zero. There’s no record of that word being used.
So now what do I do? Since the Bible doesn’t talk about yoga specifically, I have to use the brains God gave me to dig a bit deeper. Then I can determine how best to deal with this current cultural trend.
Let’s start with a few of the basics:
Yoga began as a spiritual disciple in Hindu which includes breath control, meditation, and static postures of the body. Some people who practice yoga are active Hindus or Buddhists. Many are not.
In the western world, yoga is a broad term that is often descriptive of people engaging in the physical body postures that encourage strength and stamina. Sometimes this is combined with meditation for mental strength, but not exclusively. Some yoga classes used sacred words such as “Om”, “Namaste”, and certain chants that hint to Buddhism and Hinduism. Other classes make no reference to the spiritual world at all and are simply a form of physical exercise. Yoga potures have Sanskrit names that have spiritual meanings. Many times these are replaced with English names that simply describe the form the body is taking. (For instance, “lotus” has become “criss-cross applesauce”.)
The word “yoga” in Sanskrit means “yoke” or “union with God”. God tells me to not worship another god, and I must obey.
So I know that yoga started as an ancient spiritual practice of another religion which should lead me to move forward with caution. But I also know that Jesus came to redeem all things.
Is it possible to engage in a moderated form of yoga that feeds our Christian souls, or should we avoid it altogether? Can we be aware of the potential pitfalls and dangers of the spiritual side of yoga and then practice it in a meaningful way with a Christian bent and attitude?
The famous American minister John Piper seems to think that we can’t. He says we should avoid yoga completely, citing it as antithetical to Christianity.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Piper has some good things to offer. But in this situation I tend to think that maybe he’s throwing the proverbial “baby out with the bathwater”.
Christians have often taken “secular” symbols or practices and re-stored them into something that is healthy and even God-glorifying. Take Christmas, for example. December 25, the day on which we now celebrate Jesus’ birth, was reclaimed from the pagans. That date was redeemed from a pagan holiday to a Christian celebration.
Jesus has come to redeem all things. Even pagan holidays. Possibly even stretching and meditation and breathing?
Over the ages, Christians have used wisdom and the discernment to choose what is right for them as individuals and as a Body of believers. To apply Jesus’ redemption to various non-Christian things.
“Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial.” 1 Corinthians 10:23
So I need to decide if yoga could be beneficial (or detrimental) to me. In my case, I truly believe God has given me the wisdom and discernment to be able to stretch and strengthen my body without accidentally worshipping a false god. I even believe that I can meditate and breathe while I simultaneously reflect and contemplate how incredible God is. All without slipping into the devil’s snare.
But I am aware that this may not be the case for all people.
Personally, think that I can apply the idea of a “yoke” or “union with God” in yoga to my relationship with Christ. But that doesn’t mean I’ll just sign up for any yoga class that is offered. I need to be wise and first ask questions about how spiritual a class is before taking it. For my own purposes, I tend to learn at home with videos, so there’s not much of a risk of me getting caught in an awkward situation. If something gets a little weird, I can just turn it off.
Holy Yoga is a practice that is gaining traction, offering the grounding of the Gospel while reframing the positive aspects of yoga in a Christian way.
“Holy Yoga embraces the essential elements of yoga: breath work, meditation and physical postures. In all of these elements, Christ is the focus of our intention and worship.”
So as I‘m making a decision about yoga (or anything in my life!), I need to ask if it creates a risk of becoming a detriment to my walk with Jesus. If so, then I absolutely shouldn’t do it! But if yoga can be practiced in a way that is healthy to my body and mind, while drawing me closer to Christ with mindfulness and meditation, then is it possible that even John Piper can’t argue with that?