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.