Is it Okay for Christians to Do Yoga?

Looking at some of the common objections to yoga.

A few months ago, Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle was giving a sermon called “Jesus and Demons.” As a part of this sermon, he invited his congregation to text him with specific questions, which he would answer on the spot. One question in particular has since gotten a lot of attention: “Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots?”

Driscoll's response was clear: “Totally.” He went on to point out several common Christian criticisms of yoga and its Hindu background.

His concerns are shared by many careful believers. Yoga's growing popularity in Western culture has stirred a lot of debate over whether or not Christians should practice it, as well as many misconceptions surrounding the practice. As someone who has been passionately following Christ and doing yoga at the same time, for years, I have become best friends with looks of confusion.

So can Christians safely do yoga? Or is it, like Driscoll argues, simply too dangerous and not worth the risk? Let's take a closer look at some of the most common criticisms Christians level at yoga.

Yoga is Hinduism.

The term “yoga” (from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means “yoke” or “to unite,” as in uniting the body, mind and spirit) was first used in Hindu texts in the fifth century BC. Yoga originated in Hinduism, and remains a large part of some Hindu practices today.

However, things have changed in the last few thousand years, and most yoga currently practiced in America only slightly resembles the original practice. In fact, most of what we call yoga in the West is not truly yoga at all—it is only asana, the physical postures, and pranayama, the breathing exercises. There are myriad schools of thought in modern yoga and to sum all of them up in a few paragraphs would do them no justice. Hinduism involves yoga; all yoga is not Hinduism.

Yoga is pagan worship.

Lots of things that were once pagan have been co-opted by Christians and used for worship; the most obvious examples being Christmas and Easter.

Christmas traditions of gift-giving, evergreen trees and even mistletoe and holly originated in ancient Babylon during the feast of the Son of Isis, which was held on (drumroll, please!) Dec. 25. Even though most biblical historians believe Jesus was born in September, Pope Julius I declared in A.D. 350 that his birth would be celebrated on Dec. 25—most likely to make it easier for the predominately pagan Romans to convert to Christianity.

And Easter originally celebrated the Assyrian fertility goddess Ishtar (hence the eggs and the, erm, rabbits). Yikes!

To say that Christians can't take a practice that was intended for something else and use it to worship God is to ignore not only history, but the transformational power of Christ.

Meditation is a dangerous practice.

Is meditation, as Driscoll argued, “opening to demonism”? Or is there a way we can participate that is pleasing to God?

Jesus tells us that when we pray, we should pray in solitude and with few words (Matthew 6:5-8). During His ministry, Christ often withdrew from His disciples for hours to be alone with God (Luke 5:16). He was gone for hours, but praying with few words—He was meditating.

Meditation is referenced throughout Scripture—Jesus did it, David did it and the Lord exhorted Joshua to do it (Joshua 1:8). Meditation is as integral to Christianity as it is to Hinduism, but because of cultural influences Christians have been convinced that the only way to meditate is by sitting still and coaxing yourself into a trance. It's not! You can meditate on the Word, creation or even gratitude. For a practical guide to Christian meditation, I highly recommend chapter two of Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline.

Yoga is about looking inward, when Christians should be looking outward to Jesus.

As Christians, we agree that nobody can come to the Father but by Christ (John 14:6). Jesus gave us His Holy Spirit to dwell within us and speak to us—and others—on His behalf (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19; Romans 5:5, 8:9; Acts 2:38, 5:32).

One of my teachers refers to yoga as “the process of noticing.” At its most basic, yoga is a physical discipline involving stretching, strength training and breathing exercises. By practicing the physical aspects of the discipline, we develop an acute awareness of the natural state of our bodies, increased focus and heightened self-control (Galatians 5:22). If we are more aware of the natural state of our bodies, how much more can we be aware of when the Holy Spirit is moving within us?

Why do we pray? Why do we read Scripture? To be more fully connected to God, of course. If the Holy Spirit is dwelling within us, an inward practice is not selfish or demonic—it's necessary. For someone with the spiritual gift of discernment, this practice can be extremely valuable in cultivating your ability to recognize truth.

Is it really necessary to be that aware of my body?

Paul says that offering our bodies as a living sacrifice is a spiritual act of worship, and is holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12:1-2). Yoga is a fantastic way to do that! Research has proven that yoga lowers blood pressure, increases musculoskeletal health and circulation, and decreases stress (prison yoga programs have reduced recidivism by as much as 80 percent in their participants). It can be used for insomnia, depression, arthritis, asthma, hypertension and more. It helped eliminate my frequent anxiety attacks, and my roommate is using it to heal a spinal injury.

If we are freed of those distractions and limitations, we are better poised to hear that still, small voice and much more equipped to serve others.

How do I know if a class I sign up for is safe?

We know that discernment is profoundly important in the life of a Christian. In a yoga class, we should be continually evaluating our own intentions and actions—just like we should be doing with everything, every day.

Driscoll claimed that “if you just sign up for a little yoga class, you're signing up for a little demon class.” But we know Satan has no power over us that we do not give him! If the class is chanting, you can take that time to pray for those around you (though in five years of weekly classes, I've encountered chanting in only one of them). Invite Christ into your yoga class just like you invite Him into your home, your relationships and your heart.

If you're interested in exploring worship through yoga, there are a few things you can do to make sure your practice honors God:

  • Look for a class labeled “Hatha,” “Basic” or “Power” yoga. These classes are often focused solely on the physical practice. Most gyms offer this type.

  • Bring a friend. Two discerning minds are better than one!

  • Buy a DVD, subscribe to a podcast or watch free videos online. If you don't like it, you can just turn it off.

  • Pray about it! You knew that was coming, right?

Driscoll's concerns are well-founded, and echo many questions I have encountered in my own journey. However, if you practice yoga with discernment and prayer, you can do exactly as Christ commanded the paralytic in the Gospel of Matthew: be healed, take up your mat and go home.

Top Comments

Nicole S

1

Nicole S commented…

I am a christian and I do yoga. It never occurred to me that yoga could be "demonic" until I started looking online to find some yoga classes that incorporated christian meditations or prayers into yoga, because it seemed to me like the two would go so well together. Then I found a bunch of articles saying that yoga was demonic.... what??!! Yoga is not demonic... most of the yoga teachers that I have had say that yoga is NOT a religion- it is an exercise that can be used to grow spirituality in any religion, if one so desires. Or it can just be good exercise. The yoga classes that I go to have the philosophy that everyone is welcome- every religion, race, and body type. To me that is the very essence of Jesus. I have a problem going to church because of how quick to be judgemental so many christians can be.... I agree with Ryan- the world is not a black and white place. It is all shades of grey. When I do yoga I pray to God and use the last pose to meditate on Jesus... so how exactly is that demonic??? Of course there ARE classes out there that say things like "dedicated to the goddess sarasawati" and of course that is a class that is clearly dedicating themself to a goddess. But that is SUCH a small small percentage of yoga classes... I have really only seen such a thing in online classes, never in my every day in-person yoga classes, and I have gone to many yoga studios. Yoga, like most things in this world, is what YOU make of it. You can kneel down and pray to the devil or you can kneel down and pray to God. It's not the act of kneeling that's good or evil- it's what you are doing with it.

Jon Banks

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Jon Banks commented…

Thank you so much for this article. I was concerned because I recently started a yoga class which has benefited my flexibility and eliminated some pain in my shoulder and back. I thanked God for showing me the path to pain removal. I am clearly not attempting to astro travel or to connect to any other deity. I am filled with the Holy Spirit which won't mislead me. I also liked your comparing Easter and Christmas to Yoga. It helps with the clarity. Thanks again

196 Comments

Jon Banks

1

Jon Banks commented…

Thank you so much for this article. I was concerned because I recently started a yoga class which has benefited my flexibility and eliminated some pain in my shoulder and back. I thanked God for showing me the path to pain removal. I am clearly not attempting to astro travel or to connect to any other deity. I am filled with the Holy Spirit which won't mislead me. I also liked your comparing Easter and Christmas to Yoga. It helps with the clarity. Thanks again

Param Swami

1

Param Swami commented…

This article should read "Is it ok to distort the teachings of Hinduism? If the fact that (real) Yoga is Hinduism is recognized but somehow divorced from it, what is that? Note: the Sanskrit/Hindu word "Hatha" is referring to the worship of the Hindu Deities Siva and Vishnu and the Moon and the Sun. How would you Christians like it if Hindus held Baptism classes--underwater therapy!

Swami Param
www.classicalyoga.org

Heather Mullenix

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Heather Mullenix commented…

Check out www.holyyoga.net to find an instructor near you! It is Yoga that centers of Christ, scripture meditation and Christian music!

A reader

2

A reader commented…

Driscoll condemns Yoga, but he praises Mixed Martial Arts, which come from the same Eastern religious roots. So.... I would basically ignore everything he says. Laurette Willis of PraiseMoves condemns "Christian Yoga" but her workout videos basically *are* Christian Yoga, she just doesn't call it Yoga. I think she condemns "Christian Yoga" as a way to differentiate herself from possible competitors (i.e. Atoning Yoga, Brook Boone's Holy Yoga etc etc). It's sort of mean-spirited, the way she carries on, when her style of "moves" is basically the exact same moves.

J.D. Nathan

1

J.D. Nathan commented…

YOGA and CHRISTIANITY
When God commanded sacrifice :
Leviticus 1: 8 Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. 9 You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.
Leviticus 3 17 “‘This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live: You must not eat any fat or any blood.’”
Why is it God’s commands to worship Him has rules for eating?. It is common to include in Religious Practice all that is good for Man & Woman. That is why several cleanings, washings keeping the woman away at rest during periods, all are given as commands to observe. This is so in Hinduism also. If you go through the rituals of Hinduism you will find that most of them are in Leviticus also. .
And another important trait of Hindus is that they will make anything and everything found to be beneficial for human being as a Hindu practice / ritual / object. For example, Turmeric is made a symbol of goddess Lakshmi because it is found to be a very useful herb and has many medicinal properties.
When I was a small boy we did not have any medical facilities except a traditional medicine man. For a weak looking Hindu lady, apart from giving some herbal medicine, he told her to go to the Hindu temple and walk around it three times three days a week to remove some bad omen. Of course he gave a graded increase of this worship and asked her to come back to him every few weeks. For another Muslim man, who was not so weak but looked quite a lazy guy he prescribed some other herbal medicine but told him to go to the mosque every alternate day and offer prayers following his traditional ritualistic bending down on knees.
I think you get the point. The worship ritual is a form of exercise and depending on the religion to which each one belonged, the Traditional Medical Siththar of my village gave “appropriate religious” prescription so that each one will follow it without any grumbling.
In order that they do not suspect, such enlightened persons (Siththars) will give additional “rituals” to follow, such as ”offering coins, bananas, coconut, butter” etc., to the god or goddess, which ultimately would help feed the temple priest. It may also be noted that important medicinal herbs were grown in the Hindu temple garden and some of the holy water distributed to worshippers is prepared using medicinal herbs. Apart from this, the temple rituals added another dimension of faith to make the person feel healed irrespective of whether he really got healed or not.
What do you think “Suryanamaskar” is? Worshipping sun God? My foot. It is a morning exercise. The early morning sun has mild health giving UV rays and vitamin D, and not the skin cancer producing scorching rays. . If you mention that it is a good form of exercise, I tell you, no Indian will ever do any Suryanamaskar and all will be obese. On the other hand if you say, “Oh the Sun God will shower you with blessings throughout the day”, then he will fall head over heels and do it as many times as he can. In order to make it worthy of worship and make it real, chants / mantras are added. This is exactly the command to burn all the fat. Do you think YHVH cannot smell pleasant smell and has to get happiness out of the burning of animal fat by mortal men. He made Jasmine, why the hell He needs the smell of burning fat to be a pleasing aroma?. He did not want the fat to be eaten by us the gluttons and get heart disease..
I do not advocate that you to stand in front of shining sun and worship the sun or the moon or the stars as the scripture says, “contrary to my command (do not) worship other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars in the sky”. You are not praising the Sun as God in your heart and mind. You are praising Almighty God for creating sun and its rays to have soothing and energizing effect on you.

If you look at the way God was worshiped,
Genesis 24:26 : Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord,
Genesis 24:48 : Exodus 4:31: they bowed down and worshiped.
Exodus 34:8 : Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped.
2 Chronicles 7:3: they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, “He is good; his love endures forever.”
2 Chronicles 20 : 18 Nehemiah 8:6 -Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
Psalm 95:6 : Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
Ezekiel 46:3: On the Sabbaths and New Moons the people of the land are to worship in the presence of the Lord at the entrance of that gateway.

[There are superstitious practices in Hinduism. But most have some reasoning behind them and were based on factors existing at that time. Those factors might have changed now but the practice may still continue. For Instance, in Ezekiel 46:9 “‘When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed festivals, whoever enters by the north gate to worship is to go out the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate is to go out the north gate. No one is to return through the gate by which they entered, but each is to go out the opposite gate.
Is this a superstitious thought? Because in Hinduism also, there is a superstition that one should not return the same way and direction one came. I do not consider so. This is just to have an orderliness at the entrance and exit, and to have a smooth traffic flow inside the temple, avoiding any traffic jam. There are such practices that are blindly followed in every culture and may be religion, having lost sight of the real reasons for the practice.
For instance, at least I know of one CSI church (Protestant Christian) in a big city where the worshipers have to remove their foot wear, wash their feet and then enter into the church. It was established because this church is adjacent to market (chandy) and the ground and road through any one would walk to the church would in variably carry all the fine dust and dirt in their footwear and feet. Of course apart from this Moses was asked to remove his footwear by God Almighty.
But neither traffic jam nor removal of footwear is needed when you worship online or play the whole church service on your video equipment and kneel down in reverence to worship.
Of course this is convenient for old people like me].

Matthew 28:9 : Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.

All these worship start with downward bending pose which is the first step of Suryanamaskar. If you look at the Video of Jewish worship: you will find a sequence of kneeling, bending down, squatting, stretching all resembling flow yoga.
Here is a video of a Jewish prayer (Jewish Prayer - الصلاة اليهودية - כריעות בשמונה עשרה)
These rituals are included to provide some form of exercise to increase blood circulation and to make people take deep breaths. Singing also is a form of breathing exercise because you do not breathe normally during singing. You hold the breath then breathe out slowly to extend the sound you make and elongate it long enough to make others feel that you are a singer laurette. But the important thing is the prayer that is said with meaning and completely occupying the mind & heart.
Who on earth will ever believe that by doing physical exercise like stretching you will attain Godliness. ? Bible never advocates any Kabbalah or anything that is similar like Kundalini. But you are commanded to always meditate upon God and his commands and His mercies and His grace and all that He did for Israelites and meditating on His precepts, deeds, grace, and on good things, good thoughts, kind thoughts and also commanded to do such good things, do charitable things, of course to fast and pray for all including your enemies..
Bible does not say do not stretch like this. Do not bend like this. Do not breath like this. BUT SAYS DO NOT CHANT LIKE THE HEATHENS DO. It is not the sound it is the meaning of what you say and think and meditate up on what is needed in Christian life style and every day behavior. There is a command for singing “Isaiah 29:13 : The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. So I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. If so you cannot chant anything for which you do not know the meaning. You cannot say the Sanskrit mantras at all. No Hell No. In fact I feel comfortable if I pray in my mother tongue than in my second language. Instead make your songs, praises, phrases and meditation be pleasing to Him, as I rejoice in the Lord (Psalm 104:34). Confessing and proclaiming God’s word allows His Healing Energy and Power of His word to penetrate your spirit and manifest in your body.

“Lord is my shepherd I fear no one”, “God is strengthening me”, “God is blessing me”, God is empowering me with courage and success. God bless my family, Lord have mercy, “Lord make my office work smooth”, etc.. Hallelujah, Amen, Hosannah, Victory in the Name of Jesus.

Fill your hearts with good “whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.(Philippians 4:8). Fill your heart and mind with God’s strength and wisdom thoughts. Always have positive faith “If God be for me who can be against me”.

What about the stretching exercises advocated by the Western Medical hospitals? Most of them are derived from yoga exercises. As there are about 1008 yoga poses and postures and stretches and exercises any form of body movement could be traced to a yoga pose! Even squatting is “Malasana”. Westerners do not know that malasana is pose for pooping. It is actually poopasana. Recently I saw an advertisement in TV advocating the use of additional stool to put in front of toilet to keep both legs raised like squatting so that pooping is easier (Wisdom is dawning in the West, how to make pooping easier !). So any form of stretching, bending, sitting is a form of yoga exercise only.
Similar is breathing exercise. Now a days after surgery all Western hospitals present you with a plastic contraption with some sponge piston to strengthen your breathing and lungs and heart. Yes I have two in my house forced on us by the hospitals and insurance companies. This is derived from yogic breathing. After running fast, one breathes short breaths but with wide open mouth. Then the speed gets reduced and afterwards it becomes more than normal length for a few times and then back to normal rhythm.
What is important is where your heart and mind is -- at any time including your time of exercise. While doing exercise at a modern Western Style Gym if you look at the person exercising next to you and have evil thoughts, you know you are committing sin in your heart/ mind. Even if you admire your own body you are committing idolatry ! If you think and fill your heart and mind with meaningful, Godly, Jesus Centered thoughts – you can do any form of exercise -- Yoga exercise, Western, anything. If you are doing yoga (I will rather call Indian Exercise not Hindu Exercise or yoga), and fill your heart and mind with Christian faith building praises, supplications, prayers, uplifting promises of God, faith building thoughts it is OK God will accept. You need not recite the whole of Psalm: 119. But phrases like “Jesus strengthen me, Jesus remove this affliction from me, Jesus grant me courage, Praise the Lord He is strengthening me, Jesus grant me peace, Jesus remove my stress, Lord have mercy, Thank you for renewing my strength,
Offer your heart, mind and thinking; your mouth, voice, speech, talk, singing, expression and each and every word you utter; and your movements, deeds, activities, actions and your whole being as living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) reflecting Jesus in everything you do.

Believe Jesus is strengthening you when you breath in and twist your trunk. Believe He is banishing and forcing out all your allergies while you breathe out and twist back to normal position. Do the same on the opposite side. After five times you will have more strength and less allergic depending up on your faith and the cleanliness of the air surrounding you..

Will any one looking at you who is of weak faith think that you are doing Hinduism? This a valid argument. However if you look at it positively, it is an opportunity to, and it is our duty to, instruct what is correct if we have the Sprit of Him in us. Peter had a wavering mind with regard to eating. He did not want anybody else to fall because of him not observing the commands for eating. But he had a dream and became strong in faith. So if someone else looks at you performing Indian Exercises, it is your duty to explain it is a deliberate trick and falsehood that this exercise will elevate you to attain godliness. But do not chant any other gods name or meaningless words because the Bible says so.. BUT praise our Lord Jesus, not only when doing Indian Exercises, but any other exercise as well.
When food offered to other gods is given to you, it is rude to reject it. But then my God Almighty is the supreme power and He can eliminate any evil and sanctify it, if we ask in Faith and in earnest. I have accepted it and in front of everyone present put a big cross over it and openly say Yesuvae bless this and sanctify this and even eat it, though most of the time I re-distribute it as I do not like the kind of aroma that comes with it.. . If my God can drive the hell out of the evil sprit possessed person, can’t He sanctify it and purify it? In fact any food you eat in India, god knows whether it has some portion coming out of temple food. So my father has taught us to put a cross in any food with earnest request in faith to Jesus to sanctify it and eat only after that.
It is not the exercise or breathing, it is the chanting and emptying of the mind, that the devil is after so that he can bring all his legion and enter into the empty clean mind . On the other hand if you fill your mind with Christian Faith building thoughts, devil cannot do anything. He will be beaten back in his own trick. . IT IS NOT THE FORM OF EXERCISE, IT IS THE THINKING AND WHERE YOUR HEART AND MIND ARE. IF YOUR FOCUS IS ON JESUS YOU CAN DO ANY FORM OF EXERCISE CONVENIENT TO YOU. In fact you can start your Indian exercise kneeling down in prayer so that He takes care of your heart and mind and drive the devil out of the place where you do the Indian exercise. All the soft-form of exercises are good for health and suitable for older people. These do not build stronger looking muscles and intimidating physical looks. .But remember you want to be in good health to do His work. You do not belong to you. You belong to Him and live healthy life for Him. You are a living sacrifice to Him. Always remember this.
I do play some Christian song, and sing-along while doing soft-exercises. Some of these songs are : “Palipeedaththil yennai paranae (On the sacrificial alter my God, I sacrifice myself – Tamil Song)” “Nee unakku sontham allavae (You do not belong to you, , you {a} saved sinner)”, “This is the air I breathe”, “Above all powers”, “Bless the Lord Oh my soul”, “Hallelujah-Our God Reigns”, “Here I am down on my knees again _ I surrender”, “There is a wind blowing – Sweet wind”.

Basically, Indian Exercises are like stereo music and have two channels. The physical -- stretching, bending, twisting, squatting, prostrating; and the mental – chanting of mantras, concentrating, driving out every thought that comes to mind and emptying of the mind. If we separate these two channels and change the content of the mental channel and fill our mind and heart with good Christian thoughts it would definitely be beneficial. The physical is just a shell, outer cover, envelop. The real content is the mental practice. If we change this content to completely Christian thoughts then the cover/ envelop has served its purpose. It is like a postal cover carrying messages inside. Cover or envelope is the same, but we can change the content or the message sent using it.
It must also be noted that not all of us are like Apostle Paul to understand high philosophical thoughts. Even Apostle Peter has expressed difficulties in understanding Paul. There are many less educated and uneducated, who cannot say long prayers. Jesus Himself appreciated the short prayer “Lord have mercy on me a sinner”.

God bless.
J.D.Nathan

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