Friday, May 6, 2011

Can Christians Practice Yoga?

I was recently asked the question, "Should Christians practice yoga?" Let me say a few things in preface to my answer. First, I've never practiced yoga, which for some would disqualify me from answering the question. As a pastor, however, I often address issues of which I have no personal experience. I've never been divorced or committed adultery. I'm not an alcoholic or addicted to drugs, gambling, or pornography, but as a pastor I feel qualified to speak on all these and many other subjects from a Biblical prospective. Second, the Bible says nothing explicitly against yoga, which requires great caution on my part. I never want to bind the consciences of others with my ideas or opinions. I think the Bible, however, gives us sufficient implicit teaching to cause us to question the validity of yoga for Christians. Third, I recognize that there are some who are greatly invested in the practice of yoga and so my words will seem inflammatory and they will find many ways to dismiss them. To them I must raise this caution. We must always pay great attention to those things that we are passionate about. As Christians, our great passion must always be Christ and we must always be willing to bring all things under His dominion. Fourth, there are men who are much more able than I who have already dealt with this subject in the past. For example, Albert Mohler posted a blog on the subject in September, 2010. I surely don't claim as much knowledge as some of my colleagues in the ministry. With that said, let me say a few things about Christians practicing yoga.

Yoga has always been associated with the Eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, both of which are in distinct contrast with Christianity. The Eastern religions look to the divine within; the idea that we ARE God, and if you are quiet enough and still enough (or hold a pose long enough) you can discover it. The goal of yoga is the attaining of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility. Christianity, on the other hand, looks for God outside of ourselves. Although we believe the Holy Spirit resides within us, we see God as transcendent, greater than us and above us. We seek God outside of ourselves through His Word and through His appointed means of grace. This means the concept of yoga and Christianity are diametrically opposed to one another.

An important element in yoga is meditation. Meditation in yoga, however, is an emptying of the mind, often including the chanting of the same word, phrase, or sound over and over in order to direct the attention inward. Meditation in Christianity is not the clearing of the mind but the filling of the mind and directing our thoughts outward. "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things" (Philippians 4:8).

So can a Christian practice yoga? Certainly it is permissible for Christians to do various stretching exercises, but yoga is more than stretching. Yoga is inseparably connected to religion which is contrary to our life in Christ. One must question why a Christian would want to be involved in anything that might in any way direct himself away from the centrality of Christ. As Christians we give ourselves completely over to His lordship. "I urge you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:1-2). Notice, the Christian is renewed through the transforming of the mind, not the emptying of the mind.

God gives us the rule of life in His Word. The Bible never prescribes for us to empty or clear our minds and then focus all of our attention inwardly upon ourselves. Instead, we are commanded to focus on God and His Word.
"When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches" (Psalm 63:6).
"I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways" (Psalm 119:15).
"And I shall life up my hands to Your commandments, Which I love; And I will meditate on Your statutes" (Psalm 119:48).

Again, yoga is inseparably connected to the Eastern religions. You can no more have Christian yoga than you can have Christian Buddhism. Knowing the dangers of yoga, sound counsel for the Christian would be to avoid it. There are so many other ways to exercise and stay in shape.