Should Christian Do Yoga

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Yoga has its origins in ancient Indian philosophy and spirituality, deeply rooted in Hindu traditions that date back thousands of years. The word “yoga” itself comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj,” meaning “to unite” or “to join,” reflecting the practice’s goal of uniting the individual self with the universal divine consciousness.

The foundational texts of yoga, such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, are heavily influenced by Hindu teachings and concepts. Yoga was initially developed as a spiritual practice to achieve moksha, or liberation from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. It was seen as a path to self-realization and a means to connect with the divine.

Many of the postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayamas) in yoga are derived from Hindu mythology and symbolism. For example, the popular “Surya Namaskar” (Sun Salutation) sequence is a tribute to the Hindu sun god, Surya. Similarly, the “Natarajasana” (Lord of the Dance Pose) is inspired by the Hindu deity Shiva, who is often depicted as the lord of dance.

Certain terms and practices in yoga also have deep spiritual and religious significance in Hinduism. The sacred sound “Om,” which is chanted at the beginning and end of many yoga sessions, is considered the primordial sound of creation in Hindu philosophy. The greeting “Namaste,” often used in yoga classes, literally means “I bow to the divine in you.”

While the physical postures and breathing exercises of yoga can be practiced separately from their spiritual roots, it is important to recognize the intrinsic connections between yoga and Hindu beliefs and traditions.

The Case Against Yoga for Christians

For many Christians, the Hindu roots and spiritual underpinnings of yoga make it an unacceptable practice to adopt. Yoga originated as a Hindu spiritual discipline with the ultimate goal of achieving moksha, or liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth. The physical poses (asanas) were designed to prepare the body for long periods of meditation and spiritual exploration within the Hindu tradition.

Yoga poses are often named after Hindu deities or sages, with some even mimicking the poses of these gods. For example, the Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) is a sequence honoring the Hindu sun god Surya. Chanting mantras like “Om” and saying “Namaste” (which means “I bow to the divine in you”) are meant to revere Hindu principles. Even the lotus position used for meditation represents the divine non-duality and detachment from the material world.

From this perspective, practicing yoga is an act of venerating Hindu gods and adopting pagan spiritual beliefs and practices. The Bible repeatedly warns against adopting the religious practices and idolatry of other faiths (Deuteronomy 12:30-31, 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, etc.). Embracing yoga, even in its modern exercise form, could be seen as disobedience and opening oneself up to false teachings that are incompatible with Christianity.

Adapting Yoga as Physical Exercise for Christians

Many Christians who practice yoga argue that in its modern Western form, yoga can be viewed primarily as a system of physical exercise and mindfulness rather than a religious practice. While yoga originated from Hindu spiritual traditions, the versions taught at most gyms, studios, and online platforms today have largely removed the religious elements.

Proponents of Christian yoga contend that the physical postures (asanas) and breathing techniques offer proven benefits for strength, flexibility, stress reduction, and overall well-being. From this perspective, yoga can be a healthy activity for the body and mind when practiced with discernment and the overtly spiritual components are removed or reinterpreted through a Christian lens.

To make yoga more compatible with their faith, some Christians adapt the practice by:

  • Removing any chanting of mantras or references to Hindu deities
  • Replacing the common Sanskrit terms with Christian equivalents (e.g., using “praise” instead of “namaste”)
  • Treating yoga postures as physical exercises without ascribing symbolic meaning
  • Using the practice as an opportunity for Christian prayer, meditation on Scripture, and communion with God

Ultimately, many Christians feel that with the right intentions and adaptations, the physical disciplines of yoga can be beneficially incorporated into a Christ-centered lifestyle focused on honoring God with their bodies and minds.

Christian Alternatives to Traditional Yoga

For Christians who wish to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of yoga without the Hindu spiritual elements, there are alternatives that adapt the practice to align with Christian beliefs. One approach is to replace Hindu terminology with Christian equivalents. For example, instead of using “namaste” (a Sanskrit phrase meaning “I bow to the divine in you”), participants could say “The Lord be with you.” Poses named after Hindu deities could be renamed with Christian symbolism, such as the “Christ Pose” instead of the “Lotus Pose.”

Another adaptation is to treat yoga sessions as a dedicated time for Christian prayer, meditation on Scripture, and reflection on one’s relationship with God. Rather than chanting Hindu mantras, practitioners could recite Bible verses or sing hymns. Some “Christian yoga” programs incorporate these elements, guiding participants through physical postures while also leading them in prayer and biblical reflection.

Examples of Christian yoga programs include Holy Yoga, Breath of the Lord Yoga, and Praisemoves. These programs aim to combine the physical practice of yoga with Christian spirituality, creating an experience that nourishes both body and soul from a distinctly Christian perspective. Instructors teach postures and breathing exercises while also incorporating Christian music, Scripture readings, and opportunities for prayer and worship.

By adapting yoga in these ways, Christians can enjoy the well-documented physical and mental health benefits of the practice without compromising their faith or engaging in aspects they find incompatible with Christianity.

Perspectives from Indian Christians

Many Indian Christians, living in the land where yoga originated as a spiritual practice tied to Hinduism, view yoga as fundamentally incompatible with their Christian faith. They argue that the physical postures and breathing exercises of yoga cannot be fully separated from the religious and philosophical underpinnings of Hinduism. Even if the intention is solely physical exercise, the act of practicing yoga postures itself is seen as a form of reverence to Hindu deities.

However, there is also a perspective among some Indian Christians that yoga can be practiced purely as a means of physical exercise and improving flexibility, without any spiritual or religious connotations. Proponents of this view argue that as long as the Hindu chants, mantras, and symbolic gestures are removed, yoga can be adapted as a Christian-friendly form of exercise and meditation on Scripture.

These contrasting views within the Indian Christian community reflect the broader debate around the world on whether yoga can be truly secularized or if it inherently promotes Hindu beliefs and practices. Indian Christians who have grown up in a culture where yoga is deeply rooted in Hinduism offer a unique perspective on this complex issue.

Seeking Wisdom and Discernment

The debate around whether Christians should practice yoga is a complex and multifaceted issue, with valid arguments and perspectives on both sides. While some Christians feel that yoga’s Hindu roots make it incompatible with their faith, others believe that the physical practice can be adapted and performed as a form of exercise and meditation, separate from its spiritual origins.

Ultimately, each Christian must prayerfully study the issue, consider the various viewpoints, and decide for themselves whether to embrace, adapt, or avoid yoga based on their personal convictions and relationship with God. It is a matter of seeking wisdom and discernment, guided by the Holy Spirit and a sincere desire to honor God in all aspects of life.

Those who choose to practice yoga should do so with caution, intentionality, and a firm grounding in their Christian faith. This may involve removing overtly spiritual elements, replacing Hindu terminology with Christian equivalents, and using the practice as a time for prayer, reflection, and connection with the Lord.

Conversely, those who decide to abstain from yoga should do so out of a genuine conviction and not merely cultural pressure or fear. The Bible encourages believers to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:2) and to test everything and hold on to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Regardless of one’s stance, it is essential to approach the issue with humility, grace, and respect for fellow believers who may hold different perspectives. Christians should seek to build one another up in love and avoid divisiveness or judgment over non-essential matters (Romans 14:1-4).

Ultimately, the goal should be to honor God in all areas of life, whether through practicing yoga in a Christ-centered manner or finding alternative forms of exercise and relaxation that align with one’s convictions. By prayerfully seeking wisdom and discernment, Christians can navigate this and other complex issues with integrity, faithfulness, and a heart devoted to the Lord.

 

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