Yoga is one of the oldest forms of exercise, boasting roots from around the 4th century. What began with humble roots in India has spread across the world and taken on a variety of forms, goals and temperatures.
To the average person, yoga appears to provide an opportunity to stretch, relax and decompress. Many christian organizations have even developed their own version of “Christian” yoga that continues to grow in popularity amongst churches.
With yoga, there is more than meets the eye however. One needn’t search too hard to find Christians speaking out against the ancient pagan art or idol worship.
So as Christians seeking to honor God with our bodies, how should we feel about this antiquated practice?
What is Yoga?
The word “yoga” is a Sanskrit word meaning “to join”. It is very similar to our word “yoke”. The goal of yoga is to obtain “union” with the Divine Spirit.
Who is the Divine Spirit?
The Divine Spirit is not YHWH God you read about in the Bible. Instead, this divine spirit, or Ishvara, is a Hindu deity meaning “god” or “supreme being”.
Even if you’ve never done yoga before, you are probably familiar with some of the more popular poses. Downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), the Warriors (Virabhadrasana) and Child’s Pose (Balasana) are probably movements that you have seen and/or tried in the past.
While these poses may feel good on tight muscles, they are not without significance.
Right away, our red flags need to be going up. Are we taking part in a Hindu religious practice, attempting to become one with a Hindu god?
Who Owns Stretching?
Things become tricky when we look at what is physically going on with yoga. Contrary to what my lack of flexibility may tell you, I have occasionally found myself in a downward dog position. Does this mean that I am worshipping a Hindu god? Absolutely not.
If someone decided that for their supper they wanted to have a piece of bread and some wine, you wouldn’t assume that they are partaking in the Lord’s Supper. However, if they were in a church with other believers who were doing similar, they better know what it’s about and who it’s for before they participate.
Similarly, you are free to do any of the stretches found in yoga without worshipping a Hindu god - Hindus don’t own muscle lengthening. However, we need to be aware of our hearts and our surroundings.
Getting a stretching routine online or going to a physiotherapist and performing movements seen in yoga routines is not Hindu worship - it’s stretching. However, I think that if you were to go to a yoga studio you better know what you are getting into. Many yoga studios do in fact practice authentic yoga, or yoga that involves Hindu spirituality. I believe Christians should avoid this Hindu idol worship.
Another problem arises for Christian yoga instructors. If you are going to be instructing people in the practice of yoga, you will inevitably commit one of two sins. First off, you may be participating in and leading others in idol worship. Remembering that yoga is a spiritual practice that involves stretching, to do yoga by definition means to lead people in worship of false gods. The second sin you run the risk of is being deceitful or lying. If someone signs up for and pays for your class expecting yoga with all of it’s spiritual practices, but you only offer them stretching, they have been deceived into joining your class. Your class is not a yoga class, it’s stretching.
Even if your “yoga” class is only stretching, calling it yoga may display to other Christians that all yoga classes are acceptable to participate in. This could lead these Christians to join another yoga class with an instructor that practices actual Hindu worship, all under the supposed endorsement from you.
Should Christians Do Yoga?
In preparing for this article, I knew that it would be a tough one to explain well. Many people think that freedom in Christ frees us up to do whatever we want. However, we are not to use our freedom to indulge in sinful practices (Galatians 5:13). A man can’t have an affair because of “Christian freedom”. Our job as Christians is not to make immoral activities moral. Our job is to worship Christ and if any activity causes us to worship anything other than Him we need to cut it off.
Our job as Christians is not to make immoral activities moral.
When the Israelites started chasing after other gods and participating in pagan practices, it was always met with God’s judgement and wrath (Exodus 32). Christ’s death does not make these practices okay, but rather means that if we have found ourselves participating in them we are able to be forgiven.
If you like working on your flexibility and mobility - great! I would suggest looking for stretching routines or participating in a discipline like Pilates, which has its roots in rehabilitation, not pagan spirituality.
However, when it comes to yoga, it is probably best to avoid it. We are not called to come as close to sin as possible, but rather to "be holy, for [He] is holy." (1 Peter 1:16).
Here is former New Ager Steven Bancarz, going deeper into the topic: