Q: #168. Should a Christian be practicing yoga?
By: Steve Shirley
A: While I admittedly have little knowledge on the subject of yoga, let me share some of what I learned by studying this. Yoga, which comes from the east Indian Sanskrit word "yuj" meaning "union" or "to yoke," apparently was first taught thousands of years ago by a man named Bhagvan Krishna. It was introduced to the U.S. by a Hindu "missionary" in 1893. Since that time, it has increasingly gained in popularity here to the point where it is now being taught in numerous forums including elementary and high schools, colleges (in my pre-Christian days I unwittingly took a class on Transcendental Meditation in college), television shows, nearly all health clubs, and even in some churches!
Hindus basically believe that God is everything and everything is God. Of course, this means that man is also a god. The problem is that man has not come to the full realization that he is a god. This is what yoga was created for. Without getting into all the specific details, yoga combines different postures (asanas) with breathing control (pranayama) to help a person come to the self-realization or "enlightenment" that his soul (atman) is "united" with the "ultimate or higher reality" that is God (Brahman).
Each of the numerous postures (asanas), in combination with several other rituals (i.e. purification, meditation [dharana], emptying the mind), is designed to help the individual hopefully reach what they consider "salvation." (Karma- ones fate is determined by the cause and effect of one's actions, and reincarnation also play a part in their salvation.) It should also be noted that each of these postures are meant to be offerings to the numerous Hindu gods.
Today, many Christians are trying to separate yoga from its Hindu roots and simply practice it as a way to relieve stress, find inner peace, draw closer to God, and improve their overall health. This attempt to "Christianize" yoga (i.e. by replacing Hindu mantras such as "om" with Christian words) is reported to give many a better prayer life and help them to more personally "experience" God. These desires to "experience" God prey upon a growing desire amongst Christians today. Ultimately, however, when we base our relationship with God on our "experiences" with Him, we will never have a stable relationship because it will fluctuate based on whether we have had the "experiences" or not. This is not something God desires. He wants our lives to be balanced and always under control (1 Pet 5:8)(Acts 24:25)(Gal 5:23)(2 Pet 1:6)(Titus 1:8)(Titus 2:2)(1 Cor 9:25).
However, perhaps the greatest danger I see in yoga is the "emptying of the mind" or altered state of consciousness that is a part of meditation. Nowhere in the Bible is this concept condoned. In fact, the opposite is true. We are to continually fill our mind with, and dwell upon (sometimes called "to meditate" in the Bible) God, and the things of God (Phil 4:8)(Ps 63:6)(Ps 77:12)(Ps 119:15,23,48,78,99)(Ps 143:5). Emptying the mind of all thoughts (especially Godly thoughts) simply opens a door for Satan to destroy ones mind by filling it with evil. In fact, it is very interesting to note that even the leaders of Hinduism report that they have personally witnessed people go insane, become physically and mentally ill, or even die as a result of practicing yoga. (However, they say it is because the yoga was done incorrectly.)
Another thing that is interesting to note is that as a result of evangelism in primarily Hindu countries (especially India), many people have surrendered their lives to Jesus and completely abandoned their former religion, as well as the yoga that was a part of it. They are totally bewildered to see Christians trying to incorporate yoga into their lives. They believe, as do I, that it is impossible to totally separate yoga from the Hindu religion.
This is also agreed upon by Hindu leaders as well. One of these leaders was recently quoted as saying that, "A Christian trying to adapt these practices will likely disrupt their own Christian beliefs." In fact, many of these leaders are apparently becoming quite upset that Christians are trying to "steal" and change" what they consider an integral part of their religion.
If one looks at the whole history of the Hindu faith, there is nothing about it that is Christian, and quite the opposite, it denies every essential Christian doctrine (i.e. there is only one God and salvation is found only in Jesus Christ). I do not agree, as some do, that borrowing and adapting concepts from an anti-Christian religion is "harmless," but rather dangerous. Because yoga is so closely tied to the Hindu faith, I would not want to even remotely take a chance on opening a door to Satanic attack. (The same goes for such things as Ouija boards, hypnosis, psychics, etc...) Yoga was created as a "spiritual exercise" for the Hindu, not for people to become more physically or mentally fit. Christians should not be using it as such.
For the Christian who is seeking an alternative to yoga, I would suggest looking into aspects of ballet or gymnastics.
*** Note: It should also be noted that when one national Christian radio host recently discussed this topic on his show, he stated that his ministry has come under attack (literally!) more when discussing yoga than any other topic addressed. (Once after the show, his headquarters was firebombed!)