In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, diversity; in all things charity. Rupertus Meldenius
Circumcision, transubstantiation, keeping the Sabbath, believers versus infant baptism, acceptable languages for Bible translation, music–divisions and controversies in many forms have fragmented the church over the centuries. A new hot button issue: Christians practicing yoga.
Thoughts on this controversy have been percolating in my mind for months. Yet as a person who hates argument and dissension, major mental and emotional blocks hindered actually writing this post. Help arrived from an unexpected source. A few nights ago I took my daughter to a talk by the popular graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang. During the Q&A session one young man asked how Yang was able to make his first comic good, something that others would actually want to read. Yang replied that he never said that first comic (co-authored with a buddy in 5th grade) was good, and then advised, “Never let perfection stand in the way of completion.”
So taking those words to heart…
What distinguishes Christ-centered yoga? If Christ is at the center, is the practice truly yoga anymore? Although I can’t claim to have solid answers, this is what I have learned so far:
- Is yoga a religion? Many say no, but this is also a contested issue. Undeniably its roots are in ancient Indian (Vedic) culture and religion. Whatever its roots, today yoga is closely linked with Hinduism, although one need not be a Hindu to practice yoga. Can yoga be separated from Hinduism? Today many westerners think so. Yoga is viewed either as exercise, science, philosophy or some combination of the three. A court in California has ruled that yoga may be taught in public schools when it is “devoid of any religious, mystical, or spiritual trappings.” Christians use the physical postures (asanas) and breath as a way to unite heart, soul, mind and strength in prayer, while focusing and meditating on the the word of God.
- Concerns about eastern meditation: emptying the mind with the goal of connecting to the divine within. In this Psalm 1 study guide David Guzik clearly explains the vast difference between eastern and Christian meditation. He says, “In eastern meditation, the goal is to empty the mind. This is dangerous, because an empty mind may present an open invitation to deception or a demonic spirit. But in Christian meditation, the goal is to fill your mind with the word of God. This can be done by carefully thinking about each word and phrase, and applying it one’s self and praying it back to the Lord. ” In Christian yoga our intention is to seek the Lord, to sit quietly in His presence, to meditate on His word, and to listen to His voice. We do not seek to find union with God or empty our minds, but instead to submit to God and to renew our minds by filling them (Romans 12:2) with scripture and prayers and praises to Him. We acknowledge that the Lord alone is the source of truth, wisdom, and salvation. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus (Acts 4:12).
- For Hindus who practice yoga the postures themselves are linked to the worship of their pantheon of gods. Are Christians engaged in the worship of idols or open to demonic influences while engaged in these postures? When a Christian is born again we are filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), we belong to Jesus, nothing will snatch us out of His hand (John 10:29). Putting our bodies into a stretch or exercise does not constitute idolatry or give a lifeless idol power in the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). However, as believers we must be careful that our heart and intention and fully centered on the Lord that we may not be as a house divided (Mark 3:22-26).
To summarize, in Christian yoga we seek submission to the Lord, not divinity within ourselves. We seek not to empty our minds, but to renew them through meditating on the word of God and sitting quietly at the feet of the Lord in prayer to listen to His voice.
Should the practice still then be called yoga? Believers have landed in different places. Ministries like Praise Moves and WholyFit rename the asanas (postures) to scripture based poses and make a point to call themselves Christian Alternatives to Yoga. Holy Yoga maintains the English translation of the asanas original Sanskrit names as well as solidly maintaining that the practice is yoga.
Where do I land personally? I am still praying and seeking the Lord’s clear guidance. However I do respect the conscience of the individual believer and take my stand on John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Sources (not already linked to above):
Boon, Brooke “Holy Yoga”
Brown, Candy Gunther “The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America”
(This post was originally published on my other site, praisestretchpraisebreathe.wordpress.com. The mysterious, disappearing content means 3 posts are resurfacing here).