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21 December 2015

Should Christians do yoga?

Should Christians do yoga?

Ever since yoga hit the western world's fitness scene in the early 2000s, much of the UK has been hooked on the spiritual, mental and physical discipline that originated in India around the fifth century BCE. And ever since our neighbours and friends have been attending the classes, Christians have been debating whether we should join them.

Can we participate in a practice that has roots in Hinduism and asks yogis to clear their mind? In our recent survey into health and wellbeing, 50 per cent of evangelicals said Christians should never do yoga. Of the rest, 23 per cent wouldn't try it themselves, 14 per cent weren't sure it works as a form of therapy and nine per cent might try it if other options didn't work. But three per cent of evangelicals polled admitted they had used yoga as a form of therapy and it worked.

So what do you think? We asked two Christians who have tried yoga to give us their thoughts.

The most important thing about doing yoga is, like a lot of things, going in with your eyes open. Both literally and figuratively. 

by Alexandra Davis

Yoga is a great way to exercise and keep fit. It's low impact if you've got dodgy knees, but you'll get a good burn if you do it right. It's also undeniable that it has its root in eastern religions and there are some spiritual dimensions that Christians should be aware of. 

So, like a lot of things we Christians do, it's something that we can take part in despite the fact that it originated in a context from which our one true God was absent. We just need to be aware of what's happening around us, discerning of what is good and right, and courageous to remove ourselves if we know what we're doing is putting distance between us and God. Bit like being in the pub on a Friday, or out shopping on a Saturday.

This might mean that the yoga class at the local gym isn't for you - maybe the teacher has fully bought into not only the physical movements of yoga, but also the spiritual disciplines of emptying the mind and acknowledging the gods in each participant and teaches them as an essential part of the yoga course. So go in with your eyes open, aware that this kind of spiritual teaching might occur and being confident enough to choose not to participate. The important point here is that it's not the physical exertion of yoga that can lead you away from God, but the spiritual values that can get taught with it.

As Christians, everything we do should be for God's glory and that includes exercise. An increasing number of Christians who enjoy yoga are linking their own faith and spiritual journey to their practice of yoga. Holy Yoga is a great example of this - a place that acknowledges that our bodies and our spirits are linked and uses the physical shapes made popular through yoga to allow people to connect worshipfully and spiritually to God through their exercise. Again, it's the not the physical exertion of yoga that can lead you towards God, but the spiritual values that can get taught with it.

Christians should apply the same principles to yoga as we apply to going to the pub on Friday and the shops on Saturday - these things don't lead us to God, they can't save or satisfy us, but we participate in them because our workmates are in the pub on Friday and a drink or two with them allows us to share life and the gospel with them, or because the shops provide for us the same necessities as our neighbours and allows us opportunities to share common grace with them.

In the same way, doing yoga is an opportunity to use our bodies to glorify God, to meet with him through physical exercise, and maybe to share the good news of Jesus to the person next to us in the yoga class, even if it's because you've decided to give it up.

Hatha yoga more than just posturing? I think so. 

by Paul Gosbee

Some claim that Hatha yoga is an excellent, non-religious exercise regime. However, I think that Christianity and Hatha yoga are incompatible. In the early 1980s, I attended Hatha Yoga classes, so many of the issues mentioned, I have experienced first-hand. 

Yoga means "union". People think it relates only to Hatha yoga, because they are unfamiliar with the deeper levels of philosophical and spiritual teachings. 

Hatha is a simple form of yoga. One could argue, what could be wrong with just gentle exercise? The practice is based on a far eastern view of the spiritual, as well as physical, makeup of the body. The exercises have been created to 'open up chakras'. These seven chakras are spiritual energy centres in the body. Through these, the kundalini – the latent 'serpent power' coiled at the base of the spine – passes through a person as they move toward greater enlightenment. Each chakra is also linked with a certain Hindu deity. What does Ephesians 4: 4-6 say?

Practitioners may have no knowledge of these things. Hatha yoga allegedly prepares one for these kinds of spiritual experiences. The Bible says the presence of God can only be accessed through being "born again". This leads on to a higher consciousness of God, but is totally different than anything offered through yoga. Biblical salvation is not the result of some 'serpent power' travelling up through the spine from within, it's a gift from God.

The 'serpent power' is not from the Holy Spirit, but from Satan. Some Hatha yoga postures are actually worship, like the 'sun salutation'. What does the first commandment say? 

By practising Hatha yoga, it could be argued one is penetrating a spiritual realm beyond the natural realm; a higher sphere that the Bible teaches is dominated by powers subservient to the Prince of Darkness. The Bible even warns that Satan can counterfeit spiritual experiences.

If the teacher of the class subscribes to the whole yogic philosophy, there will be a subliminal spiritual transference from the teacher to the student. Perhaps those who are weak in their Christian faith may have their faith eroded over a period of time and end up being drawn into this darkness.

Even if the class atmosphere is relatively harmless, there is a temptation for those involved to learn more about the whole yoga philosophy. So it may become the bait into a vast belief system that involves much more than physical exercise.

We must also consider spiritual endorsement. Those who see Bible-believing Christians participating in Hatha yoga classes could easily construe it to be a Christian endorsement for the whole yoga philosophy, not just the exercise. This issue is very similar to Paul's admonition to early Christians in 1 Corinthians 8: 9-11 about eating meat sacrificed to idols and the confusion it may cause nonbelievers. We will be held accountable, as is written in Mark 9:42.

In conclusion, Christian yoga is a contradiction. It's full of spiritual seduction and danger. Those who practice it will knowingly or unknowingly connect with a power that is not from God as revealed through His word. 

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