No Yoga for Christians?

I just completed a month’s membership at a local yoga studio, and I was trying to find some information on the growth of yoga (as well as massage) over the last few decades. I didn’t find the figures I was looking for (so if anybody has a good source, please let me know), but I did find the following peculiar commentary on the “eChristian” blog: “Can a Pagan Practice be ‘Christianized?’ — Yoga.”

First a word about my own limited experience with yoga. There was a class about “chakras” that I simply refused to attend. And I’ve had enough “hare krishna” chanting to last a lifetime. (Thankfully, I think that CD got scratched. I promise I had nothing to do with that.) But, in general, yoga is just a form of exercise that emphasizes stretching. As my neck and shoulders often get tense as I type, for me that works great. I just ignore the occasional mumbo-jumbo. When my wife and I do yoga alone at home, we stick to the moves that work for us and don’t worry about our fifth chakras. As with martial arts, yoga comes from a specific region and contains some superfluous elements that can be safely ignored.

But yoga is a no-no for Christians, at least according to Marsha West, who originally wrote the piece on January 25, 2008, for NewsWithViews.com. At the top of that page, we discover that West is “Battling The Culture of Destruction.” The upshot is that “Christians should avoid yoga and seek other alternatives.” Following are her essential points:

…The Bible says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds but rather expose them.” Exposing evil keeps Christians from being “polluted by the world.” And yes, yoga is evil. …

Now here’s the main reason Christians should avoid yoga. Christian apologists John Ankerberg and John Weldon maintain that, “The basic premise of yoga theory is the fundamental unity of all existence: God, man, and all of creation are ultimately one divine reality.” …

Pope Benedict XVI is not at all happy about the large number of Christians practicing yoga. Recently he gave this warning: “Yoga can degenerate into the cult of the body.”

S. Michael Houdmann thinks yoga is blatantly anti-Christian philosophy. “It teaches one to focus on oneself instead of on the one true God. It encourages its participants to seek the answers to life’s difficult questions within their own conscience instead of in the Word of God. It also leaves one open to deception from God’s enemy, who searches for victims that he can turn away from God (1 Peter 5:8).”

West goes on to criticize “CY,” or Christian Yoga:

[O]ccult and cult expert, Caryl Matrisciana… warns that yoga postures, “are designed to form one’s body into the likeness of man, animals, birds, insects, snakes, fish, and many more–all of which are revered as gods in Hinduism.”

West seems to have forgotten all about the fact that the “Christian” holidays of Christmas and Easter are based on older pagan customs. So, even from the Christian perspective, West’s comments are pretty crazy. Then again, the Christians did go through a period of destroying Roman pagan art, as some Protestants later destroyed Catholic art. So West’s type of insanity is not entirely new to Christianity. Moreover, at least historically many Christians were quite serious about denying the flesh and such, and it’s true that yoga promotes physical health. For some Christians, the “cult of the body” refers to anything whatsoever that feels remotely good or that emphasizes sensory perception.

Of course, I want to make a somewhat broader criticism: West is telling people to reject one sort of mythology as “evil” — and to accept as literal truth another sort of mythology.

Most mythologies, including Christianity, have at least something positive to offer to rational people. If the Hindus gave us yoga, great — that doesn’t mean I have to accept the mystical baggage, any more than I have to accept the mystical baggage of Christmas to enjoy that holiday.

3 thoughts on “No Yoga for Christians?

  1. Neil Parille

    I don’t see what is so crazy about West’s view from her Christian perspective. As you point out, there is a certain religious aspect to Yoga that a non-religious person might want to avoid. So it makes perfect sense that a Christian wouldn’t want to take part in that as well. I don’t think the woman is against exercise or relaxation.

    There are Christians who don’t celebrate Christms or Easter because of their connections with paganism. Maybe West is one of them.

  2. Burgess Laughlin

    I concur with your evaluation of yoga (in some forms) and the need to disassemble the package deal offered.

    I studied Hatha yoga (Iyengar style) for three years. I had the good fortune to share an office space with a yoga teacher who turned her teaching into a successful business.

    The physical part is excellent training for strength and proper posture. (One of the 20 most valuable books in my 63 years of living is Pete Egoscue, Pain Free, based largely on yoga positions for physical therapy.) Also a benefit is learning to control breathing consciously. That skill–reinforced in martial arts–has helped me physically and mentally many times.

    Yoga, which I was told means “union” in Sanskrit, represents the union of mind and body, according to my teacher. Objectively interpreted, that is a good thing. Many people I have observed do fragment their awareness of themselves physically and mentally. Being reminded to “live in the here and now” is a good reminder–as long as it is not dichotomized against long-range planning.

    The mystical elements are easy to dump, for example, “the feeling of being one with the universe.”

    So, I would recommend serious study of Hatha yoga (at least in the much-Westernized Iyengar style or something similar) for those who can benefit from what it offers.

  3. Anonymous

    I just want to know if it is OK for me, as a Christian to use yoga postures for exercise (no chanting, no meditating, etc). I have weak ligaments and can’t do weight-bearing exercises; I am not supposed to run, jog, etc. In addition, I can’t swim and there are few teachers (if any) available in my rural area of Jamaica. I’ve been told by my doctor that yoga is a good way to strengthen my ligaments, but I just don’t know … now I’m pregnant and I just want to strengthen my joints before the baby comes so I can hold him/her comfortably. I am unable to do that now. HELP!

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