The internal struggle of living as a Christian practicing yoga has sapped my heart to write. I felt pulled in two directions: to give up yoga for the sake of Jesus and to give up my legalistic beliefs that caused such angst over the practice of yoga. The fear of potentially leading others astray drew me into myself and reawakened an unhealthy relationship with junk food. Isn’t it ironic that one of the main objections that many Christians pose to yoga is that it teaches people to turn their attentions inward, but that in my case yoga brings scripture to mind and the removal of yoga reawakens the old demons of unhealthy coping mechanisms? Perhaps it is true that I am depending on something other than Jesus, but I would venture to say that my dependence is sugar and comfort food and that yoga helps me to lay those burdens and dependencies on Jesus.
A few days ago I read this post about the compatibility of yoga and Christianity. It is the first time I have seen my own thoughts put into words so clearly: The difference between big “Y” and little “y” yoga. The Merriam-Webster definition:
1. Yoga: a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation.
2. yoga: a system of exercises for attaining bodily or mental control and well-being.
Truly, whether one practices capital or lower case yoga is the issue. Even Albert Mohler says, “There is nothing wrong with physical exercise, and yoga positions in themselves are not the main issue. But these positions are teaching postures with a spiritual purpose. Consider this — if you have to meditate intensely in order to achieve or to maintain a physical posture, it is no longer merely a physical posture.” There is nothing wrong with the physical exercise and yoga positions are not the main issue. So for anyone engaging in yoga, we would be simply living and moving and breathing and praying and meditating on scripture, and not involved in Hinduism at all.
In this audio transcript John Piper seeks to answer the question, “Is yoga sinful?” Piper seeks to answer one question with a series of many questions. ” He queries: “Will it make me more Christ like? Will it make me more devoted to Jesus? Will I be more powerful and full of the Holy Spirit? Will I be more effective in prayer because of it? Will it make me more bold in witness or weaken me? Will it help me be spiritually discerning of the ways of Satan in the world and will it help me lay up treasures in heaven? Will it help me find joy in God and all that he is for me in Jesus?”
I wish I had a simple answer for all this, but I know that saying an unequivocal yes would only open a can of worms. Practicing yoga is not a bridge to Jesus. Yoga has nothing to do with the path of salvation. A person who has never practiced a day of yoga is 100% saved and redeemed the minute they put their faith in our risen Lord. But yoga is a gift. Stretching, breathing, and taking time to be still, lay down our burdens before the Lord, and take time to rest and delight in him is truly a gift. The release of mental stress and physical pain is a gift. The opportunity to share scripture and meditate on the word together with like-minded others is a gift. It is a good gift when used by God’s children for His good purposes. Some might use it for evil, but that does not negate that Jesus died to save and redeem what was lost.
For many Christians yoga will remain sinful. It is not my intention to be a yoga missionary and change anyone’s way of thinking. Yoga will never be a Christian doctrine, nor should anyone make it out to be. It is “a system of exercises for attaining bodily or mental control and well-being.” It is not a path of salvation, but it is a tool to help us walk in peace. I am thankful to be at peace with my relationship with yoga. I am thankful that perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18). I don’t know how to integrate my yoga practice and my relationship with the conservative church my family attends. It will be an interesting journey to see how that all unfolds. But I am glad to be able to write and share the lessons of the journey.