yoga and christianity p.III

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i thought i’d put together a ‘yoga and christianity’ FAQ that is specifically tailored for christians who have relevant and valid questions on yoga and decide for themselves whether they should practise it or not. these are some of the questions that i’ve thought up, heard of and have been asked myself. these answers only stand for my own opinion, having had a background in being a yoga teacher (albeit brief period) and student.

if you have any other questions, feel free to leave it in the comments area and i’ll revise this as and when i can. you may wish to read p.II first to have a further understanding on my background 🙂

Question #1: Can I practise yoga simply as form of exercise?

I’d be honest and tell you that I’ve gone through this particular struggle especially during the time whereby I was going through my 2nd teacher training course. Having studied the human anatomy and knowing which exercise can strengthen and/or stretch a particular muscle, it is hard not to see yoga as a complete workout system. The point I’d like to emphasize here is that alot of postures being used in yoga are actually religious and used in Hindu meditations. Series of yoga postures like the Sun Salutation may work out the entire body but has no reason to be called that without being used for that specific purpose. So the same goes for Moon Salutation. The lotus pose is used in Hindu meditations and for most yoga traditions, it is the most difficult of poses because the ultimate aim for yoga is to achieve stillness of the mind and body by keeping the body in that upright position.

The bottomline of yoga is that asanas (postures) are but one of the 8 limbs that helps one to achieve moksha, which is a release (spiritual? physical?) from this world. My personal view on this is that there is power in prayer postures, especially who you choose to salute to. There ought to be only the Creator in our hearts and never the creation. Through the postures alone, it takes the focus of the practice off the Sovereign God.

God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the less light to govern the night. He also made the stars.’ Genesis 1:16

Question #2: I’ll just skip the meditation portion of the whole practice and treat yoga as an exercise. Is that alright?

While going through my first teacher training course, what I realised about meditation is that I had the wrong concept of what it was. It wasn’t simply about zoning away into another state of being. It wasn’t about just being still and doing visualisations. I did a meditation which my teachers called Cyclical Meditation which consisted of just yoga postures mixed with relaxation to achieve a state of relaxation and stillness. In other words, meditation can be relaxation with yoga postures. The term seems to be used more loosely than I thought. This is one of the examples where yoga postures are used to create multiple physical movements in an attempt to ‘confuse’ the body while maintaining a still mind. Stillness of the mind is the bigger objective of yoga as yogis believe it is through that state of being that moksha is attained, where one goes into a higher state of being.

Question #3: Alot of yoga teachers tell me that yoga has nothing to do with religion. Isn’t that true?

The tradition of yoga was written, advocated and advised in the Bhagavad Gita, which is kind of like the Hindu Bible, of which the inspiration is said to come from Lord Krishna himself. It is tied very closely to Hindu traditions. Alot of Hindus themselves will deny that yoga has absolutely nothing to do with Hindu – yoga is everything Hindu. While going through the teacher training course, we went through Hindu philosophy, Patanjali’s yogasutras, chanting and meditation. Although it is not something that most yoga teachers will carry into class, they will be teaching the classes with these as background knowledge and wisdom. Should spiritual questions arise, they will probably direct you to those very sources as well.

Alot of Hindus will be quick to say that yoga cannot be divorced from Hinduism – it is all Hinduism is about. While attending the Yoga Talk by Ashok Kumar of Bedok Methodist Church, he highlighted this article to us, written by a Hindu professor in a Hindu university. In the writer’s words: ‘Efforts to separate yoga from its spiritual center reveal ignorance of the goal of yoga.’

Question #4: My yoga teacher says if I’m a Christian, all I need to do is to focus on Jesus during meditation or replace the words ‘Om’ or ‘Brahma’ with Jesus. Can that work?

My teacher did say that, by the way. However it just did not seem spiritually sound. It is as good as saying every religion leads to Jesus so let’s just take whatever man-made practice, plonk in the name of Jesus and invoke His name. This may not be the best analogy but it will be like going to a mosque and praying to Jesus. When God calls us to meditate on His word, He wants us to hide His words in our hearts so that we will not sin against Him. His focus is also on our spiritual salvation and how might we be able to achieve that while focusing so much on our physical body through such a practice?

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Joshua 1:8

“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. “ Psalm 1:2

Meditation in the bible is definitely NOT about emptying your thoughts (as what the yogic definition of meditation would be) and NOT about dwelling on the infinite universe of God within (ie that God is within every man and man can become God and that everything is God) but rather to dwell on His words so that we will know Him more and more in a personal relationship.

Question #5: I don’t feel anything spiritually wrong after a practice. In fact, it feels great! I feel at peace within too so it can’t be wrong, right?

I think alot of Christians actually feel this way. The practice feels great, I feel great, so how can it be wrong? This is just my personal thought on this: With the fall of mankind, we have lost the spirit of God within us and our soul has taken over the lead. What makes up our soul? Our intellect, feelings and emotions. When Jesus restored our relationship with God, we have His spirit in us once more and He wants us to lead a Spirit-led life when He gave us the Holy Spirit.

“I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:49

Hence, what is the benchmark for our feelings and emotions? What does it mean to ‘feel’ right anyway. I’ll be worried if I based my judgements solely on my feelings instead of the Spirit of God. This verse comes in very timely:

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Proverbs 16:25

Hence if you’re a Christian practising yoga right now, I ask that you take some time to seek His wisdom on this matter and I also pray that His spirit of discernment be with you.
Question #6: My pastor promotes yoga classes in church. Wait a sec, isn’t there something called Christian yoga for Christians? How about that.

I have to say that this may be my own opinion on this and my personal stand. This is a question I struggled with and have questioned myself countless time. Aren’t alot of Christians practising yoga? Don’t they look fine? Don’t they still sprout spiritual goodness? Doesn’t that kind of make it seem right? And alot of them seem to have a good walk with God. In a way, if I had continued to practise yoga with my background as teacher and student, I would stumble other Christians in their faith. Won’t I? I cannot explain why my student had an experience I cannot explain, and that none of my teachers could explain fully. And given what they taught us in a training course, I cannot say that yoga is divorced from its Hindu roots. I couldn’t sit on the fence anymore but make a choice (circumstantial too but nonetheless a choice).

I very much agree with this Hindu writer when he put together this article (same article as seen in Answer #3) because let me emphasize again that what your yoga teacher has gone through in training drips Hindu philosophy and religion. I’m not sure calling it Christian yoga or giving it a new name altogether such as PraiseMoves or changing around the postures is making it any different from it being yoga at the core of it all. People will still call it yoga. Christians hence will still be stumbled. The line is drawn too dangerously thin for me to even wanna go there.

On a side note, I can think of one reason why yoga teachers will tell you that it is perfectly ok for Christians to practise yoga. Swami Sivananda himself (whom Hindus name as His Holiness, byt he way) said that Jesus went to India from the age of 13 – 31 and practised yoga. Yes my jaws dropped on that one. I can find nothing in the bible on this but I recall one possible account is that Jesus stayed with His earthly parents and worked as a carpenter to fulfill His duties as a son. An article of Swami Sivananda’s writing can be found here. I’m also saddened to see how Scriptures have been misquoted and taken out of context to suit the yogic philosophy.

———————————

For further reads:
Probe Ministry on: Yoga and Christianity: Are They Compatible?
Yoga and the Body of Christ by Dave Hunt

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30 thoughts on “yoga and christianity p.III

  1. *guffaws* tha’s the funniest thing i’ve heard in a long time. Jesus doing Yoga! LOL
    can’t people do pilates, then, it’s got almost the same benefits without the spirituality?

  2. This is a very in-depth look into this topic as you have a great understanding of it. If anyone was to ask me about yoga, I would refer them to this site as I have very little knowledge of the topic. Thanks for such an eye-opening post. Also great scriptural references.
    Be blessed always:
    timbob

  3. timbob & totaltransformation: hope you’ve been blessed by it and sure, feel free to have people ask me questions. i’ll try to answer whatever i can.

    simplequirk: pilates is ok. the focus is on body conditioning and not freedom from your body, which is seen as a very base element. it is not the flesh that is sinful but the heart. yoga’s concept of spirituality attempts to cleanse the body, not the heart.

  4. Thanks for another great post on this subject. I so appreciate your insight on this. I’m grateful to simplequirk for asking the question about Pilates, too. I had wondered whether it was similar or close to yoga.

  5. journeytomom: i hope i answered it for you! but nevertheless pray about it. the way i see it, yoga has its roots deep in Hinduism and even if most of the major fitness centres offer it as a exercise, the small yoga-only studio definitely offer it as more than a good workout. pilates takes its roots in body conditioning and healing of injuries so from my perspective, it’s ok to practise it.

    DW: thanks for the link and thanks for stopping by again! i’ll check out the article.

  6. I wonder if Paul’s teachings on meat offered to idols would not pertain to this subject. His conclusion was that since the idol (or false god) had no power, that anything connected to the worship of said idol held no sway on him. he did however warn us not to let our liberty cause others to stumble.

  7. markrmorris2, thanks for stopping by. let me ponder on that a bit. here in Singapore, with a mish mash of Buddhism and Taoism and Chinese culture, some Christians struggle with food that have been offered to idols. however in the case of yoga, you’re presenting your body as a form of worship (through yoga poses) to another god. i can see where you’re going at with your example but perhaps this is in a somewhat different light 🙂 my take on it! and yes i agree with you on the part where it may stumble others.

  8. I am sure that the spiritual implications are much greater in that cultural setting ergo Paul’s warning about the safety of others would be much more relevant I believe than, say, here in the states where many people would be mostly ,if not entirely, ignorant of yoga’s origins. In fact for me it was a very informative article i was truly positing the question and you bring up some really interesting points.

  9. I like your blog a lot. I have yoga tapes that I’ve been using, but always tried to think of Jesus and God when combining prayer in the poses. I didn’t know all the details that you wrote about how closely integrated it is to Eastern religions (the specific poses, etc). I think you bring up an interesting point, but I can’t help but wonder about Acts Ch 15. There, the church council decided that one does not have to change their culture, in order to become a Christian. For examples, gentiles do not need to be circumcised (like the jews) in order to fully receive Christ. What I have learned, is that the greatest task in missions is to have people worship Christ in a way that is keeping their own culture. By telling people, you can’t do Yoga as a form of exercise, in order to worship Christ…seems akin to saying you need to change your culture. I think the greatest barrier to accepting Christ for some people groups, comes when they think they have to completely change their lifestyle (what they eat, what they love)…But I don’t know if it matters all that much. You can still be a vegetarian and worship Christ. I think the biggest mistake comes when Westerners try to change other people to their “brand” of Christianity. Jesus is what matters.

    I like your post though, a lot. What a thinker!

  10. Good afternoon,

    I have read this post and found it intriguing. I have no experience with yoga and have never heard this discussed before, but I know some day I will need this material. Thank you for such an indepth discussion and disclosure.

    Only in general have I ever thought of yoga, and knew in a superficial way it was to be avoided.

    Again, thank you sincerely for this work and these words of warning.

    Blessings always,

    Shirley Buxton
    http://www.shirleybuxton.wordpress.com

  11. “I can’t help but wonder about Acts Ch 15. There, the church council decided that one does not have to change their culture, in order to become a Christian.”
    This was not speaking so much about changing culture as it is about adding to Christ’s sacrifice for salvation. “11No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

    When reading Jadunhams comment, Luke 14 came to mind where Jesus speaks of the cost of being a disciple. Of course this is not in order to be saved. I think it has a purpose of protection. Sort of the same reason that God commanded against the Israelites marrying people from other cultures. When the Israelites failed to obey in that, they were led astray to idol worship every time. There is certainly a place for discernment in ANY culture. I think that is what this post is speaking of.

  12. cumby

    Christianity is in the heart and through a relationship with Jesus Christ, not based on what exercises a person does.

    If the motivation in someone’s heart to do yoga is to secretly worship strange gods, then they would have a problem with the Lord. While I’m not about to twist myself into a pretzel, 😀 thanks for all your research into this.

  13. jadunham and journeytomom: thank you both for stopping by and contributing your thoughts.

    jadunham: perhaps it is fair to highlight that i’m writing from Singapore and observing from a eastern-western mix of culture and understanding. i see fitness centres that teach yoga and they state clearly that they are teaching it as an exercise ONLY with no religious attachment.

    perhaps it is also worthy to note at this point that in Singapore, the requirements to be a yoga instructor that is acceptable in most fitness centres is a certificate of graduation from the yoga training course (and most mainstream fitness centres will require a basic exercise certificate obtained from the government sports body). also, all your yoga teachers will go through the basic same training of knowing the background, philosophy that is very Hindu in religion (note again the use of meditative postures and focus on Brahma in practice). sounds like a new area that i can cover in a new entry.

    i read Acts 15 not so much about different cultures but that the circumcision of the heart matters more to God than the flesh. Which is an argument about grace over law once more – that what matters is our interior rather than our possibly Pharasaic behaviour.

    jadunham, somehow i think it’s hard for Americans to draw lines between culture and religion but i could be wrong. for us Chinese (in heritage), there are certain traditions and cultures that have been passed down from generations to generations but are not religious in nature (which i need to ponder about deeper because alot of them tend to be superstitious in nature!). in my bible study yesterday, we talked about how different cultures have different expressions of worship. that to me, is one way of seeing cultural differences, yet embracing all of them as fellow Christians despite differences that does not stray from our focus on Christ Jesus.

    journeytomom answered what i would have said to your comment 🙂

    Shirley: thanks for stopping by! i’m always enriched by your post and glad i can do the same back in return.

    have a blessed weekend, y’all!

  14. heh. this discussoin seems to be going way of topic. but in response to the culture thread by jadunham:
    there are some things one must forego when “accepting Christ “.
    From what i can tell, yoga seems to be not so much a cultural as a spiritual excercise and hence, should be avoided. Not all Indians practise yoga, so i think calling it a ‘culture’ would be somewhat off the mark.

    To me there is a distinction between eg. offering Mandarin oranges to your elders as a sign of respect (culture re: ‘honour your father and mother’) as opposed to performing an act conceived as an intrinsic form of worship to another ‘god’ with a different set of teachings (spiritual).

  15. Brian

    I enjoyed reading your blog entry. I tend to agree with jadunham though. I am reminded of Ephisians 2:8-10 where it says (in paraphrase) “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and not by works alone. It is a gift from God, so that no man may boast.” I would think that complete trust in Jesus Christ should define us as Christians, as opposed whether or not we do yoga. Journeytomom talks about Acts 15 “adding to Christ’s sacrifice to salvation”. I agree with that statement, but I believe that culture is one of those things we try to force upon others along with the promise of salvation through Jesus.

    “In order to be saved, you must worship God by being circumsised”
    “In order to be saved, you must not eat pork” (I’d be outta luck because I love sausage 😛 )
    “In order to be saved, you must not worship God by doing yoga”

    I believe that it is important to not do things that take the focus away from God, but I don’t see why we can’t take something that is typically used in Hinduism and use it to worship God and use it to witness to those who don’t know God. God often reveals himself to people using their own culture (eg: Muslims seeing visions of Jesus). I would think that if it was used to meditate on God and scripture, it could glorify God. If God wanted everyone to worship him in the same way, I would believe that he would have made everyone the same.

    *Stepping down off of Soapbox* 🙂

  16. Great post!! We had this conversation a little while ago as we were putting together a teen girl conference. It is unbelievable how so much of other “stuff” is marketed to Christians without us really knowing what we’re “buying”. thanks!

  17. Brian: thanks for stopping by! in response to your comment, i think Ephesians 2:8-10 emphasizes that our salvation is not gained through works (eg doing good, earning brownie points with God) but by His free grace, we’re redeemed. however how we live our lives subsequently matters to God too which is why He wants our hearts circumcised, not just outwardly in flesh.

    “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. ” Deut 30:6

    You said:

    “I believe that it is important to not do things that take the focus away from God, but I don’t see why we can’t take something that is typically used in Hinduism and use it to worship God and use it to witness to those who don’t know God.”

    Yes, yoga is typically used in Hinduism but it is used as a form of worship to the Hindu god. it was never meant to be an exercise to begin with . I need to emphasize here that Hinduism believes in pantheism – all pathways lead to God. hence they will not see anything wrong in being able to substitute any god into their practice. However we must remember that when we believe that only through Jesus are we redeemed and He is the only way to the Truth.

    my personal experience is that yoga has become a gateway to other new age practices such as tarot, chakra, aura reading and similar mystifical experiences that share the same ‘scientific’ reasoning.

    thank you nevertheless for your opinion! it’s good to see what others think as it challenges my own growth as well 🙂

  18. I just found your blog and what a great service you are providing to the Christian community.

    I beleive that one can practice and enjoy the benefits of yoga exercise without getting caught up into all of the issues of what eastern yoga is all about. Yoga, as practiced by a lot of those of us in the West, is about the exercise not the spirituality of hinduism.

  19. Hi Rachel.

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I hope you read the portion about how when I was teaching, I taught it with the concept of it being an exercise instead of a spiritual discipline. This did not stop my student from ‘seeing’ things and encountering something that even my senior yoga teachers could properly explain (the why’s and the how-to-deal-with’s). One teacher gave me a spiritual methodology to ‘counter’ this from happening again. It is my opinion that yoga may be more than meets the eye and it’s highly likely that it’s more than just a mere exercise.

  20. Namasthe: Thanks for a very thought provoking blog. It is very true that many good Christians are tormented with the idea of whether to parctise youga or not.

    I support what Rachel Tuller wrote ” I beleive that one can practice and enjoy the benefits of yoga exercise without getting caught up into all of the issues of what eastern yoga is all about. Yoga, as practiced by a lot of those of us in the West, is about the exercise not the spirituality of hinduism.”

    Even though Yoga orginated in Hinduism, YOGA has nothing to do with any religion. It is a Sanskrit word but still it covers the goal of every religion and every culture on earth. When some one prays to Krishna , he is following BHAKTI YOGA. If some one prays to Jesus, he is also following BHAKTI YOGA. Yoga is like Physics or Chemistry; It is universal.

    So, I firmly believe every one on earth should give more importance to spirituality that is developed through practicing different Yogas and less importance to religious dogmas.

    We have to do things that will elevate us spiritually. We have to slowly eradicate negative thoughts and pump ourselves with positive thoughts.

    Eventually we have to even eradicate “positive thoughts” and attain “thought-less state”. We have to raise our vibrations to higher levels so that we can deal with day to day problems in a very constructive manner. Slowly and steadily we will reach there. That is what Hindu salvation process is all about.

    WHAT IS YOGA?

    Yoga means “ Union with divine” or “Self Realization of the immortal soul or Atman within you.” Of course, it has many other meanings too. The word Yoga came from the root word Yuj to Yoke or join. So yoga teaches one to join the individual soul or Atman with the absolute soul or Parmathman or God. The word Yoga is defined by sage Patanjali in his book Patanjali Yoga Sutra.

    He summarized YOGA as CHITTA VRITHI NIRODHA.

    CHITTA means MIND
    VRITTI means VIBRATIONS
    NIRODHA means STOPPAGE

    So according to him, SELF-REALIZATION means
    ” Stoppage of Mental Vibrations or mental activity within a man.”

    Sage Vasishta told Lord Rama in the Yoga Vasishta:

    “Chit Chalathi Samsare;
    Nichale Moksha Muchayatha
    when chit [mind] vibrates”

    When the mind vibrates [when one thinks];
    This whole world come to existence”
    When the mind stop vibrating [stoppage of thoughts];
    This whole world is destroyed;
    And person attains salvation

  21. dear Ed. thank you for the time to reply to my post. a few things i’d like to note here. you mention that yoga is prevalent in all religions. i pray that you will go back again to this article written by a Hindu writer about how yoga can never be separated from Christianity:

    http://www.hinduismtoday.com/archives/2006/1-3/09_opinion.shtml

    Salvation is a free gift that God gave us by His grace when we deserve it not. it is not a state where our mind stops thinking. Salvation is from our final destiny of eternal death but because Christ paid the blood debt that is required, we have access to heaven for all who come to Him through Christ.

    History has seen many great teachers and philosophers who try to derive the meaning of life in their limited lifetime. Through sages of the past and teachers of the old, they formed deep concepts and philosophies about the way of life. Without a doubt I would call people like Buddha and Confucius great men of history because they were great philosophers. But Christ came, God in flesh, to pave the way and provide us the free gift of salvation.

    My post is for fellow Christians to read and hence i pray that you will one day realise God’s own love for you to fully understand what i’m talking about here. God bless and keep you.

  22. Yoga may be taken as kind of exercise in the form of asanas. But it’s also a propoganda used by religious groups to promote Hinduism.
    Hindu philsophy may look very attractive in the surface, but it has sinster purpose to deviate attention from God.

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