Yoga as spiritual formation

Phileena Heuertz

September 19, 2011

Strengthening those ties between head and heart? I know mine occasionally become loose and this could be a way to take up the slack. Should they become completely untied, yoga offers to “Reconnect our mind and heart” through “Conscious breathing” and ancient Hindu movement techniques. I am not wanting to mock here, simply trying to de-construct the language a bit. These disciplines help one to “listen to our heart’s connection to the body and the wisdom that lies within.” What exactly is that inner wisdom that the millions of teachers and practitioners of Hindu yoga, are tapping into? Can it be articulated? What inner wisdom do the Sanskrit texts on yoga, the Bhagavad Gita and other Sutras offer? Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means to “yoke” or connect. Drawing an analogy to a practice labeled "christian" does not make it acceptable. There are christians who practice the discipline of self flagellation. Repeating a 10 word prayer over and over in your head, thousands of times may bring detachment and the illusion of peace as any mantra would. It’s not OK simply because its called the Jesus prayer. “The longest journey you’ll ever make is from the head to the heart. And yoga invites us to make that journey.” Its also the shortest journey you’ll ever make. Its also the bluest journey you’ll ever make. The words have no correlation with reality. The Buddha is usually pictured sitting in a Mudra yoga pose. And of course, he is completely at peace. “Some Christians are concerned about practicing yoga because they think if they do, they are practicing Hinduism.” Without a doubt, they are. This is simply syncretism, the basis of a universal one world religion. No wonder 92% of believe that “engaging in yoga as a spiritual practice is not compatible with evangelicalism.”

September 19, 2011

sounds more like you are trying to justify something that may not be spiritually healthy for the Christian to partake in

Monica Selby
September 19, 2011

It's pretty harsh to accuse someone you don't know of syncretism based on one blog post.  I don't believe this article at all sounds like she's justifying anything, but sharing how one practice has helped her personal walk with Christ.

In my experience, there are certainly some yoga practices that should be prayerfully considered before engaging in.  Kundalini yoga is one such example.  However, as the author points out, modern, Western yoga practice is a far cry from ancient Hindu yoga.  Yoga acquaints you with your body and your breathing; when you throw in Christian meditation, of course it can help your walk with Jesus.

Should Christians engage in  yoga practice with caution?  Of course.  As should we attend movies, drink alcohol, and watch sports.  We all pick and choose which aspects of culture to include in our lives.

September 19, 2011

I've read Phileena's work before this. The survey she quotes is a global survey of Evangelical leaders conducted by the Pew Institute at the Lusanne convention in Switzerland. The study says that "There is also widespread agreement that practices associated with other religious traditions are incompatible with being a good evangelical Christian: More than 90% of the leaders say that engaging in yoga as a spiritual practice "is not compatible with evangelicalism." This is not just my opinion, nor is it just the opinion of American Christians. 

Syncretism “consists of the attempt to reconcile disparate or contrary beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought.” Indians consider Yoga as a religious practice. The Hindu-American Foundation argues that yoga (including what you call "Modern Western Yoga") is a spiritual discipline leading to moksha ‘liberation’. They are upset that Americans so glibly borrow their religious disciplines. The practice of yoga originated in the Hindu Vedas, Sutras, the Bagavad Gita and teachings by various Yogis. The physical postures and breath practices are an ancient form of Hindu religion. 

As Phileena says, "Conscious breathing, movement and postures train our mind to listen to our heart’s connection to the body and the wisdom that lies within."

September 19, 2011

Thank you for your post, Phileena. I am a Christian who loves, practices and teaches yoga. Yoga develops awareness in all aspects of our lives - mind (mental), body (physical) and soul (spiritual) - which promotes a healthier sense of self and clarified values. To your point, "when these are divided or one part is deemed lesser than another, we are a fractured person who is more easily misguided in our faith journey." 
I went into my teacher training knowing that yoga is spiritual (pertaining to the soul or spirit) and not a religion. What a sad world if I felt as a Christian I could not learn the philosophy and history of a different culture and then apply it in a way that I identify with. Meditation? Why not use it for a quiet time of devotion and prayer? Perhaps it's the fact we might be sitting in Lotus that bugs people.......

September 19, 2011

Is the Bible sufficient to meet all my needs? Is grace sufficient to meet all my needs? Our riches are in Christ, including scripture, prayer, the indwelling Holy Spirit...are they not enough or adequate to meet people's real needs? Do I have to add things to the sufficiency of Christ? Do I have full confidence in the sufficiency of Christ? Just swap the word 'yoga' with "therapy". Satanic assaults are very subtle.

Monica Selby
September 20, 2011

Is the Bible sufficient to meet all my needs?? Nope.  It's a book.  A holy, divine, Word of God book.  But how many people have used the Bible to abuse others?  The Bible must be accompanied by the prayer and indwelling of the Holy Spirit that you mentioned, but also Christian community.  (Including therapy, by the way.)

Satanic assaults are certainly subtle, and we should be on the look out.  Interestingly, most Satanic assaults I've experienced come from within the church, people that want to control the way I think and the things I do in order to affirm their own insecurities.

Yoga, done well, can be redeemed for Christ.  It can be a practice in seeking the indwelt Holy Spirit.

September 20, 2011

So I take it you're a Christian Scientist too, and you don't use medication? You don't listen to music that isn't explicitly Christian and find spiritual comfort in it? If you do either of those things, it's clear that you don't consider the Bible or Christ sufficient for you either.

September 20, 2011

Why should a christian look for inspiration or spirituality in any place out of the Bible, the only Word of God. Yoga is a religion, there is nothing to argue about it. How come that a christian is defending the need of repeating a "mantra", even if you call it Jesus prayer, to get inner peace? Regular Bible reading will lead you to plenty of verses or texts that will fill your heart of real peace from God. Can you find a "mantra" better than Psalm 23, just to name one, to give you peace and assurance?  Practice yoga exercises for your muscles and find divine peace from Bible reading and prayer. 
John 14:27
27 Peace I leave with
you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.
Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Don Ibbitson
September 22, 2011

Physical exercise and stretching is helpful and beneficial. Meditating on the Word of God is beneficial. Yoga, per the author, "helps harmonize our body mind and soul". This is the essence of new age thinking and I believe Christians should run, not walk, away from this practice.

September 22, 2011

"The essence of new age thinking"?

Please do illustrate that with a reference to a document that is considered authoritative for "new age thinking."

Please also indicate how you think "harmonizing body, mind, and soul" is incompatible with the notion of loving God with all of one's heart, soul, mind, and strength. If one loves God in such a way, as God commands, will those aspects of the person all not be in harmony?

September 22, 2011

I just read Stephen Prothero's book "God is Not One" and was struck by how much we miss out on as Christians by putting theology (right-thinking) exclusively over submission (right-practice).  There is something to be said for the rote recitation within, for example, Islam, that strips away our pride and ego.  Maybe I'm not a good evangelical, but I don't see anything anti-Christian about that.  Do we not all agree that our ego gets in the way of our faith from time to time?

My yoga practice not only unifies my mind and body, but it quiets the internal chatter of my ego and reminds me of what really matters.  At the close of each practice, in shavasana, I hear the resounding mantra of "everything has a purpose, everything happens for a reason, and everything is going to be alright." That's the voice of Jesus.

September 22, 2011

The problem is there is too much writing from the New Age perspective on the wonderous spiritual benefits of Yoga. There are also so many evangelical warnings about yoga practice that it is like driving off a cliff posted with a thousand “Beware Cliff” signs. As Phileena even posts, 92% of evangelical world leaders believe that the practice of Yoga is not compatible with Christianity. Finally, Here is an EXCELLENT article from a CRC perspective, Christian Reformed Ink Archives on "Yoga and Christianity: are they compatible?"


You could go to the New Age Center in New York and read the spiritual benefits of Yoga “http://www.newagepointofinfini...

Our yoga practice reaches different and deeper levels as our inner voice and intuition becomes more active. Our inner guidance helps us to meet the challenges and choices that arise in life and to make sounder decisions when charting a course of action (Karma). Our yoga practice should lead us to a personal transformation - evidenced by the new way we function! We are more willing to face the unknown. We become fully aware that doing “the same old-same old” will produce the same depleting results. We are more capable of taking chances and making changes. Our yoga practice initiates and supports our metamorphosis. This is the Dharma of yoga and it is the path to which I am fully committed - I teach with this promise from my heart and hara (core) and am forever and always grateful to be an instrumental and influential part of this shared sacred journey. 

Or you could go to the Hindu site for their perspective at http://www.veda.harekrsna.cz/e...

5. New Age practices with Vedic origin
Some traditional sciences and practices were 'adopted' by New Age and molded according to its image - i.e. mainly diluted and commercionalized. Thus nowadays they are seen as a part of New Age and share its criticism.
5.1. yoga
Usually is called hatha-yoga and is limited to asana and pranayama; its goal is health improvement. Its original form, astanga-yoga, comes from sage Patanjali. Astanga means "8 limbs" and is divided into hatha (first 5) and raja (other 3). The term "hatha" according to Hatha-yoga-pradipika by Swami Atmarama is composed of syllables "ha" (sun) and "tha" (moon). Hatha-yoga is sometimes called kriya-yoga. Real kriya-yoga is defined in Padma Purana, Kriya-yogasara 3.4-5, where Vyasa speaks to Jaimini: Kriya-yoga consists of worship of: Ganga, Sri (Laksmi), Visnu, generosity, devotion to brahmanas, observance of the Ekadasi-vrata, devotion to the Dhatri tree and the Tulasi plant, and hospitality to guests.

September 22, 2011

The problem is that you are never going to define what it means to “harmonize body mind and soul. It is psycobabble that uses analogous musical language. Of the millions of non-christians that practice yoga world-wide, what is that inner wisdom that they are tapping into? Especially if they are in a lost state and as it says in Ephesians: “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature.” Eph 2:1 NLT

"Without the practice of yoga, How could knowledge Set the atman (soul) free? asks the Yogatatva Upanishad. Yoga: union with the ultimate. Carl G. Jung the eminent Swiss psychologist, described yoga as 'one of the greatest things the human mind has ever created.'  Yoga sutra consists of two words only: yogash chitta-critti-nirodah, which may be translated: “Yoga is the cessation of agitation of the consciousness.” The word yoga is derived from the root yuj, which means to unite or to join together. The practice of yoga may lead to the union of the human with the divine - all within the self. The aim of yoga is the transformation of human beings from their natural form to a perfected form.”
Sushama Londhe, A Tribute to Hinduism

How do the breathing exercises and the physical poses “Harmonize” our soul, (the inner man that potentially enjoys fellowship with Jesus), our mind, (our intellect and imaginative capability) and our body? In reality these exercises foster non-thinking, non-rational states of being that promote a sense of inner peace and acceptance of the world as it is, not an awareness of sin, falling short of God’s ideal and the need for redemption, restoration, and a savior. That is dangerous.

September 23, 2011

"Of the millions of non-christians that practice yoga world-wide, what is that inner wisdom that they are tapping into? Especially if they are in a lost state..."

I can answer that. I was a happy atheist until I started practicing yoga regularly. The unintentional byproduct of something that was great for my body also began to quiet my pride and quell the pain and anger that had been drowning out the subtle voice of the Holy Spirit. Through yoga and mediation, I was able to put all that garbage aside and listen to my God for the first time in my life. It brought down all my self-made illusions into a pile of dust. Eventually, I returned to the church that I had utterly renounced more than half a lifetime ago. 

Any yogi will tell you, it isn't so much an "inner wisdom" that you are tapping into, but an "outer wisdom." One that is bigger than we are, one that is beyond us.  Who is that, if not God?

September 23, 2011

So tell me what is anti-christian about that.

Stephen Hale
September 23, 2011

"The only word of God?" I believe the Bible calls Jesus the Word of God.

And to deny that "inspiration or spirituality" comes also from outside the Bible is to deny the power of prayer, which is different from the Bible. It is to deny the power of fasting, which is outside the Bible. It is to deny the power of dozens of spiritual practices the Church has found helpful through the centuries. Western Christianity has grown uncomfortable with Spiritual Disciplines after the Enlightenment. We've thrown away what our forebears found extremely helpful in drawing close to God, as many of the comments on this thread display. :-) I understand caution, but I also believe this caution is under-informed.Maybe a helpful question is "what distinguishes yoga (the topic actually under discussion) from the contemplative prayer the church has found helpful for two millenia?"

September 23, 2011

Yes, there are many fine old Christian traditions that you won't find in the Bible. Flagellation-whipping ones back bloody, wearing a stiff, uncomfortable "hair-shirt", repeating a 10 word prayer thousands of times in your head, walking in circles on a maze, self-crucifixion as practiced in Mexico, repeating a prayer hundreds of times with the aid of prayer beads, abstaining from marriage, whirling in a circle, sitting for years on top of a rock pillar as Simon the Stylite did, the list goes on and on. Personally I'd rather stick with the Biblical disciplines advocated by Jesus and the disciples. prayer, fasting, praying in tongues, Bible reading. Contemplative prayer focuses on our object of devotion and mindfully considers different facets of God's attributes. It is a prayer, a speaking. Yoga, by contrast, rids the mind of any object and reduces consciousness to a focus on breathing or simply being.

Stephen Hale
September 23, 2011

Every person i've ever heard advocate the disciplines that sound vaguely like something from Hinduism are careful to note this distinction Rick makes. 

In Hinduisms, the point of meditation is to get past Maya (deception) to realize that you don't actually exist as you think you do; you're part of the greater whole. So the point is to (as Rick points out) basically empty your mind, to see that you really are empty/nothingness.

Every Christian I've ever heard advocate anything that looks like this (meditation, yoga, etc) makes this important distinction: In these disciplines, you are NOT trying to empty yourself or your mind. That's pointless in Christianity, if not downright dangerous. You're rather trying to calm your mind to reach some further ends (contemplation of God, a state where you can pray meaningfully, etc). 

So I think my real question is, is meditation wrong with this caveat understood? I think it's not.

Then my next question (for those who agree with the above conclusion): is yoga is yanked from the context of a Hinduism, and placed in a radically different context (Christianity) and done somewhat differently, is it still Yoga? 

Yoga is a problem not because of the movements, or that it is in itself ungodly, but because of the significance it has in the context of a form of Hinduism. Taken out of that context, changed, then plopped in Christianity, is it a problem?

September 23, 2011

Hi Stephen, Fasting is not outside the Bible.   The practice is referenced in both old and new testaments.  In Matthew 4 Jesus fasts. The early church (book of Acts) also appear to have lived lifestyles of prayer and fasting.

September 26, 2011

The stated goal of yoga as published and practiced consistently is clear: union with how they understand god and being. There isn't much question about this. 

Many Christians will say "but that's not my stated goal." 

Their goals are "it affords me certain experiential benefits, it helps me be more calm, feel more spiritual, have more patience, etc." 

OK. This is what most religious practices offer and provide. 

so why the argument? Why have both Christ and Brahma, or maybe you think they are the same or close to the same or pointing to the same. OK. That is your belief and your profession. That belief and profession is perfectly compatible with most yoga teaching courses and some branches of Christianity will espouse it. I find it completely incompatible with the basic historic tenets of Christianity. 

Union with Christ and communion with God in Christianity looks quite different because your narrative, your identity, you doesn't disappear. Your humanity is never eradicated. These are different worldviews. 

Why confuse the matter?

September 26, 2011

"The stated goal of yoga as published and practiced consistently is clear: union with how they understand god and being. There isn't much question about this."

Sure. What's anti-Christian about that? Your identity doesn't disappear within a yoga practice. To the contrary, yoga practice is about you and your place.  It is about recognizing that you matter, that we all matter, that we are one, and honoring that one-ness within each other. For some reason, this is where my Christian friends get squimish. I can't for the life of me figure out why that is. Do we not all matter before God? Are we not all created in his image? Doesn't that make us all more similar than we are different? God unifies, He doesn't divide. He unifies our heart and mind.  He brings us together as His people. Yoga reinforces these truths. What's the problem with that?

Just because Hindus (and Buddhists, and Confucians, and Jews) practice it, doesn't mean that the practice is inherently Hindu, or non-Christian for that matter. Think of it as common grace.  

And just because it doesn't happen sitting in a wooden pew listening to a pipe organ, doesn't mean it isn't worship.

September 26, 2011

Anne, realize that when Hindus and Christians use the word God they are speaking of two fundamentally different concepts. 

In Christianity, God is a separate and distinct entity, apart from all other beings. He is regarded as the creator, separate from His creation, He is personal, righteous, holy and judges and rules all of His creation. He desires communication and relationship. The human race, though made in the image of God, is fallen and alienated from God and each other, in need of repentance and regeneration. Jesus shed His blood on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. Only through the cross can unity exist with God and each other. Jesus invites us into relationship but He also divides and seperates the sheep from the goats, the children of the world and the children of God, light from darkness.

By contrast, Brahman is all consciousness, all being - and is not separate from anything, nor does Brahman judge or rule anyone. Good and evil don’t exist. Everything in the universe is a part of Brahman and you achieve liberation by understanding your fundamental oneness with this infinite spirit or consciousness. Which also means, as you say, “we are one and honoring that one-ness within each other”. That is why meditation is so important and why the Hindu discipline of Yoga focuses on stillness, quieting the mind, simply breathing, simply being, learning to experience unity and harmony with the eternal, uncreated universe.

If Yoga is practiced diligently it will give you a freedom from the feelings of guilt, a feeling of acceptance and one-ness with the universe, a certain sense of peace. It removes the awareness of my inherent sinfulness, my need for repentance and makes the possibility of a relationship with a personal and holy God impossible. That is why it is very dangerous.

September 27, 2011

I practice yoga diligently.

I also have a feeling of freedom from guilt, a feeling of acceptance, and of unity with God's creation.  I get that from Jesus.

I don't think that's dangerous. I guess we will just have to agree to disagree on this matter.  Unless you want to join me for my next yoga practice. ;)

PS - Hinduism is not a montheistic religion.  Not all Brahma, so to speak.

Peace be with you,

September 27, 2011

Rick I think lays out some of the differences of the two systems and two pursuits and the two perspectives. 

Yoga can deliver what it offers: a sense of peace, a sense of power, a sense of unity, etc. 

There is nothing wrong with stretching, exercise, breathing, quietness, etc. Yoga is not simply that, however. No serious Yoga proselytizers I've encountered have been dishonest in what they're offering. It's no secret. If you take a yoga training class part of the class is to spread the practice. Right?  

http://www.expressionsofspirit... It is a regimented system to achieve an end and the end it offers is union with the divine. What they mean by "union" in this case is pretty important because it isn't identical with what Christianity means by "union with Christ". 

Many religions offer union with their articulation of the divine or transcendent. Shrine prostitution for example was a vehicle for gaining access to the divine through sexual contact. In many animistic practices experience is gained through music, dance, alcohol, smoking different things, etc. We long for an experience of connection with something larger than ourselves and when we have it we feel safe, powerful, at peace, etc. The more destructive these things are, as in the two cases I sighted, the more short-lived they tend to be. The larger, older religious systems have learned a lot. 

Most religious systems, including Christianity, work on the basis of "if it's true in the little things then the large claims are true." Yoga gains credibility by yielding a sense of peace, centeredness, self-control, etc. and for most of us those are desirable qualities. 

Yoga delivers on those outcomes. So if they are right on how to gain a sense of wellbeing and power that I seek (see the student stories http://www.zudayoga.com/Inspir... then the larger claims must be true. 

So what larger claims do you believe? 

Do you believe that "shalom" was lost because we forgot we were divine and the "salvation" is achieved by a systematic process of practices and disciplines to regain what we lost? 

Do you believe that our world is broken because of our rebellion and down to its core breaking down, but that in the revelation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ the reversal of that rebellion is already underway? 

Yoga works to convince you of the former. Life in the Christian community, under the cruciform yoke of Christ, together with Christian spiritual disciples should also yield peace, joy, self-control even in the context of suffering and loss. 

Hope this is helpful. pvk

September 27, 2011

You are comparing the proverbial apples and oranges. There is no such thing as salvation (or sin, for that matter) within a yoga practice, because yoga is not a religion. It does not address our sins, nor does it purport to offer you salvation.

Salvation from sin is an inherently and distinctly Christian concept. One that is not incompatible with practicing yoga.

And comparing yoga to prostitution is silly and alarmist.

September 28, 2011

Below, I'll offer a few points celebrating yoga as a
Christian practice.  In the
interest of full disclosure, I am an ordained United Methodist clergywoman, who
also just finished my doctoral degree at Duke University in theology.  In addition, I am a RYT--or registered
yoga teacher, and have utilized the teaching of yoga in various settings for
Christians and as an outreach to people wounded by the church who still long to
know God.  I began yoga after
experiencing the onset of symptoms resembling multiple sclerosis, and am deeply
grateful to the practice of yoga for enabling me to walk again, to live with
lessened pain, and to embrace my debilitated body as gift.              Below
see my few points:


Yoga as a Christian Practice

1.            Yoga,
which comes from the work "yuk" in Sanskrit, was first mentioned in
the Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Soul), a sacred Hindu text that is part of the
Mahabarata (a holy text about four times the size of our bible).  Yoga is intimately intertwined with
Hinduism, and was a spiritual practice for centuries before the asanas (or
postures) with which we associate yoga today were developed.  To claim that yoga doesn't have a
religious grounding in an Eastern context is to be duplicitous.  Any western appropriation of yoga must
be done with great respect and recognition of the story out of which yoga

      At the same time, the grounding of
yoga in another religion doesn't prevent Christians from faithfully borrowing
its wisdom for Christian purposes. 
After all, Christians have been doing this ever since Christianity
begin.  As some of you have noted, our
sacramental act of the Eucharist (communion) , the ordering of our worship, and
the liturgical calendar (Advent-Christmas-Easter) come by direct borrowing from
Judaism.  When our early church
fathers and mothers were confounded as how to articulate a trinitarian God
(Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and Christ as both divine and human, they
borrowed from the Greek language--directly using phrases from pagan Greece in
order to articulate the nature of the God whom we worship.  The Councils of Chalcedon and Nicea are
direct examples of the appropriation of Greek pagan symbolic language for
Christian purposes.  A third
example of Christian "borrowing" would be the use of Greek medicine.  What we now think of as modern medicine
(practiced in every hospital in America) has its roots in Greek pagan
healthcare based in the cult of Asclepius,the god of healing.  Christians were able to see the wisdom
in such medicine, and while dropping worship rituals of the gods, retained most
everything else.  The Cappadocian
brothers Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory the Great began the first hospital in the
late 300s, with a practice of medicine taken from Greek paganism.  All of these examples are to
demonstrate that Christianity has always "borrowed" from other traditions
and religions throughout its history. 
The borrowing of yogic teachings only feels new and scary because we
feel/think we are removed from our tradition of appropriating what we need in
order to more faithfully understand and worship Christ.


2.  In this same
vein, I offer fairly contemporary wisdom on the borrowing from other
traditions.  I'm sure that quoting
the current pope might not have much weight with evangelicals, but he is still
the leader of most of the world's Christians and his thoughts should be taken
seriously.  In his “Letter to
Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Xian Meditation” then Joseph
Ratzinger wrote in January 1990 that "the Catholic church rejects nothing
of what is true and holy in other religions.  Ways should not be rejected out of hand because they are not
‘Christian’.  We can take from them
what is useful so long as the Christian concept of prayer Is not

I also offer Tilden Edwards thought in his book Living in
the Presence—“In wider ecumenism of the Spirit being opened for us today, we
need to humbly accept learnings of particular Eastern religions in relation to
the body.  What makes a particular
practice Christian is not its source but its intent.  If our intent is to deepen an awareness of Christ, then it
is Christian. If this is not our intent, then even our reading of Scripture
loses its authenticity.”  Thus I
would argue that yoga can indeed be used with an intent to Christ, even with a
tradition rooted in Hinduism. 


3.  Scripture
throughout affirms the care and good of the body, particularly seen in
creation, incarnation, and the Resurrection. Yoga is concrete application of
our incarnational faith, and celebrates the body as a pathway to prayer and to
God.  A specific scripture that
affirms this is  2 Cor. 6: 16,
which describes all flesh as holy and teaches that the corporeal nature is the
place that God chose to call ‘home.’

4.            The
use of the body in worship is established in Christian practice
already—kneeling, bowing, clapping, dancing, raising hands.  Yoga enables us to use the body to
worship God and become who we are fully created to be—our bodily experience
becomes way of deepening life with God. 
However Christianity doesn't supply an intentional practice that
nurtures and sustains the body like yoga---thus the need for some thoughtful
and creative "borrowing." 
There was nothing in Christian prayer practices that could rehabilitate
my chronically ill body such that I could walk better after an MS-like attack
(and I am familiar with many prayer practices, such as lectio divina,
meditation, centering prayer, etc.). 
Yoga enabled me to worship, pray to Christ, and actually stand on my own
two feet without falling over.           

5.            The
last point I would make is that God’s Spirit is much more prolifigate and
mysterious than we are.  The
mischief of the Holy Spirit might actually work through yoga to enable us to
love God in Christ and our neighbor more--even our neighbor who thinks we are
crazy and unChristian for practicing yoga.  I know without a single doubt that I am a more loving,
caring, and passionate pastor because I practice yoga.


Enough from me. 
Many blessings upon all of us as we continue discerning the work of the
Holy Spirit at work in the lives of her people today.



September 29, 2011

It's pretty tough to argue that Yoga isn't a religion. Again, see http://www.expressionsofspirit.... This isn't from me, from what I've seen of yoga training and programs its pretty standard. 

A religion usually addresses a number of foundational questions. 1. Who/what are we? What is our problem? How is the problem addressed? What is our destiny? 

Yoga offers all of these things. 
Who/what are we? We are part of the universal transcendance (the divine, etc. pantheism) 

What is our problem? We have lost touch with our divinity and our connection with the divine. We are confused by the illusion of multiplicity and we fail to experience the basic truth that all is one. All experience of otherness is illusory. Suffering is caused by buying into this illusion. 

How is the problem addressed? By following the 8 limbs, the core of yoga. Yamas and Niyamas, Asanas, Pranayama, PRatyahara, Dharana, Dhyana leading to Samadhi. 

Take a yoga teaching class and you will be taught these things and instructed on how to teach others. You will also be involved in "spreading the news" of yoga and helping others find the way. Salvation is Samadhi, union with the Divine. 

How would you not call this a religion?

September 29, 2011

OK, thanks for your note. Here is how I see it.

1. Has Christianity borrowed from other religions? Let's rephrase the question: How has Christianity borrowed from other religions? 

Throughout the history of the church it has engaged other religious beliefs and practices, other philosophies, and shown an incredible capacity engage a diversity of cultures. This is part of the reason Christianity has been so successful. You find this capacity already in the book of Acts. 

At the same time, the reason the religion has survived and thrived is because in the process it has also not lost itself. For a history of this I recommend Alister McGrath's book "Heresy" that I reviewed here on TC http://bit.ly/nqbCQ5. 

The Christian church has appropriated other practices and beliefs that it did not (sometimes over long periods of time) find to be destructive to the church. Part of the reason Christianity could do this is because of its core beliefs, that Yhwh, the creator God created a good creation and the fruit of culture too belongs to its maker. See the "cultural mandate" in Genesis and Isaiah 60 as worked through by Richard Mouw. 

Having said that Christians have likewise had a long tradition of particularism. Notice how Paul handles the issue of meat in the market place that had been sacrificed to idols. Notice how Paul deals pastorally with those who were leaving the temple worship found throughout the Roman empire and all of the practices that went along with it along with the knotty economic, familial and social ramifications connected to it. 

Christianity has a complex history of engagement with other beliefs and practices. Yes, but also a very strong strain of Christian exclusivity. 

2. One of the areas of clear contradiction between yoga (in the context of Hinduism) http://www.expressionsofspirit... and Christianity is in fact the religious importance of physicality. Hindu pantheism is a very different understanding of reality than the Christian foundation in the Hebrew Scriptures. At some point you have to ask yourself whether God is the creator or the creation? You'll have a very difficulty time embracing pantheism given both the God's strict commandment about graven images and Romans 1. 

3. In my opinion many world religions highlight true things and can yield experiential benefits to its adherents. To me it is dishonest to say they don't. Can yoga give a secularist a greater experience of calmness, self-control, peace and wellbeing? Of course. So can therapy, so can modern medicine, so can a job change, a marriage or divorce, a relocation, a new relationship, a better doctor, etc. So can a beer. The book of Proverbs offers the advice to provide alcohol to the miserable to forget their troubles. It works. I could with some expectation of success send someone in distress to a mosque, a synagogue, an 12 step meeting, a therapist, a yoga instructor, etc. and expect from many of these sources to see some positive results. But all solutions happen within a frame. The question of a religion concerns that frame. 

When I was a missionary in the Dominican Republic doctors would prescribe 3 pills to sick people. They were poor and so went to the pharmacy and bought only the cheapest one, usually the pain killer. They took it, the fever was relieved, the pain went down, they felt better. We can all, however, appreciate the sad irony. 

4. All religions attempt to address not only felt needs but underlying problems. All religions offer salvation, but when people say "all religions are basically the same" they discredit the integrity of those religions because "salvation" is NOT the same in every religion. It's at this level where the foundational assertions of the competing religions are engaged. Are you seeing the annihilation of your narrative identity, consciousness, individuality in pursuit of union with the divine? The 8 limb path of Yoga leads to Samadhi "we realize what it is to be an identity without differences, and how a liberated soul can enjoy pure awareness of this pure identity. The conscious mind drops back into that unconscious oblivion from which it first emerged." 

That is a very different image than faithful servants of Yhwh, individual narratives intact (the "you" you know, the "you" that God can love, the "you" that is in community with other "you"s, distinct yet in community) continuing the cultural mandate unfettered from our rebellion and decaying condition within the age to come. 

Which frame do you really believe? Which frame are you investing your life in? Which frame shapes how you spend your time and the years you've been given? 

September 29, 2011

You are confusing yoga with Hinduism's Noble Eight Fold Path.

I'm speaking from experience here, not just from what I've read on the internet.  I already have gone through yoga instructor training; including seminars with Baron Baptiste.  It was free of religious dogma - Hindu included.

September 29, 2011

Yoga is devotion. Yoga is religion. It is like doing the sign of the cross and saying it is only a hand exercise that focuses mental energy. You studied with Baron Baptiste, truly a long time Yoga evangelist. from His website: ”The physical aspects of Baptiste Yoga style are inspired by the hatha yoga teachings of Krishnamacharya and his students. The Baptiste Yoga practice and programs are designed to empower you with the focus, training and insight you need to achieve consistent results in the most important areas of your life. A potent physical yoga practice, meditation practice and active self inquiry are used as tools of transformation – encouraging participants to reclaim their full potential, discover creativity, awaken passion, create authenticity, confidence and new possibilities.” The means may be physical, awkward spiritual poses, breathing exercises, but the goals are spiritual. As Phileena says, “Tapping into that inner wisdom”. Interestingly the Bible offers similar results as a byproduct of being filled with the Holy Spirit and walking in the Spirit. Choose which Spirit you want to walk in.

Melanie here is forthright about her training. "Yoga is intimately intertwined with Hinduism, and was a spiritual practice for centuries before the asanas (or postures) with which we associate yoga today were developed.  To claim that yoga doesn't have a religious grounding in an Eastern context is to be duplicitous.  Any western appropriation of yoga must be done with great respect and recognition of the story out of which yoga comes." To continue to practice Yoga and to add it to Christianity is truly to be syncretic.

September 30, 2011

I like your analogy.  Practicing yoga is a lot like doing the sign of the cross. Performing the sign of the cross is not a religion in and of itself.  Sure, it is something some people do within a religion, but I could perform the sign of the cross all day long and it wouldn't make me Catholic.  Even if I did it with the Pope.

I have chosen which Spirit I will walk with as, alas, there is only One. And I will continue my yoga practice, as well.  And if through that practice I reclaim my full potential, discover my creativity, awaken my passion, create authenticity, confidence and new possibilities...then great. What fantastic attributes for a Christian to possess.

I invite you to try yoga before you malign it. Bring all your physical manifestations of stress, strife, pride and pain to your mat; bring your breath and practice in unison with your fellow practitioners; and see if you don't come away with a new respect and appreciation for the practice and a newly discovered connection to God.

September 30, 2011

The four noble truths and the eight fold path is Buddhism, laid out by Siddhartha Gautama

September 30, 2011

Note the curriculum in this teacher training class and the 8 limb path of yoga. Its pretty standard. 

September 30, 2011

Most Hindus will tell you that you can be Hindu and a Christian too. It's part of their religious dogma. Many roads lead to one mountain top. 

Your freedom is your own to do as you will. 

Many wonderful people practice yoga and derive benefits from that. Why would I say differently? Many people who practice this stuff live self controlled and generous lives. I am not saying anything against that. I can also say the same for Judaism, Islam, and secularists. That is not the contention. The question is whether the two worldviews can be brought together. I believe they are distinct. You can only join them if you gut the Christian worldview. If you say "all paths lead to God" you are embracing the Hindu dogma at the expense of Jesus' teaching. That's how I see it.

September 30, 2011

There is only one God. I agree that not all paths lead to him, but as long as one is on the path to the one true God, a yoga practice isn't going to yank her from it. Quite to the contrary, as a matter of fact.  Neither will burning incense or sitting shiva. 

What about Irresistible Grace?  Aren't you a Calvinist, for Pete's sake?

Shari Dragovich
October 2, 2011

Powerful testimony, Anne. Thank you for sharing.

October 3, 2011

We'll have one word lines here soon on Disqus :)

"All things are permissible, not all things are beneficial." 

There are a lot of things that help cope with the difficulties of life. A nice drink at the end of the day. The thrill of flirting. A bit of self indulgence with the credit card. Loosing myself in music from my youth. A championship run for a sports team. A high adrenalin outing. A good movie. 

There's probably nothing wrong with most of it, in fact a good amount of it should be received as good gifts from our creator God. Problems develop when these things start become regular pieces of my "make life work" strategy and when the become fixtures of my narrative and become deeply attached to my identity. 

The question here as I understand it is "Is Yoga a good idea for a Christian?" 

Yoga makes no sense if you do it once, kind of like going to church. The payoff of the discipline, of the system, is in the repetition and the devotion to it. What does Yoga offer? How does it claim to deliver on its promises? What will it require of you to obtain those promises? 

My understanding of Yoga is that it asks you to give it your time, your heart, your attention, your allegiance and in return it offers to give you a new perspective on your experience of living, a perspective on your existence, a power and an energy to achieve what you want to achieve. It doesn't demand that you submit your will to it because "the universe" has not will, it is impersonal. This gives you power. It offers to put you in the driver's seat of existence. You are the center. 

I find this antithetical to Christian devotion, much of which is designed for submission of our will to the will of the Father. The Christian path is not one of self-actualization, or of being awake to the illusion of diversity and differentiation, but of living out the life of the age to come in the present age of decay. Of embracing the cruciform life of "your wellbeing at my expense" towards God and our neighbors and receiving the first fruits of the resurrection while the age of decay robs us of life. 

The goal of the Christian life is not finding your power but releasing your claims and receiving from the Father your inheritance. 

Yoga, like many things, makes claims and offers and asks for something in exchange. Do you want what it offers? Are you willing to pay what it requires? 

I would suggest that the more you invest in yoga the more you will not only appreciate what it offers but you will also believe its view on the world. Why would you invest in it if you didn't initially embrace its claims and what it is promising to give to you? 

Many things offer to give life in the age of decay. I say it can't be done. You will stretch, you will have experiences of peace, of power, of seeing, of community, of hope for greater well being in the future. I have no doubt of this.

But the age of decay will rob you of your youth, your ability to stretch. You will lose your friends. Your relationships, your achievements, your desires will all break down and be taken from you. This world can't get by on maintenance, it needs resurrection. 

You may imagine that the greater sense of peace, control, confidence, etc. that Yoga is offering you gives you more patience with your neighbor, it may even seem to help you love your enemy, but I'd suggest that what it is in fact doing is offering this to you at the expense of desire. Most of these systems, including Buddhism offers greater control at the expense of love. Your desire of an outcome is diminished by greater contemplation on oneness or on the idea that your differences are illusory. In the end, you may need to separate yourself from people whose presence seem to disturb your sense of peace and control. 

Christianity works differently. In the gospel we are in training to love our enemies, which means that we have love AND loss at the same time. Loss is endured and is fruitful in our participation in the cross and then more than compensated in our resurrection. 

So, what do you want to train in? For me, that is the question. pvk

October 3, 2011

I believe this is a difficult but important decision for each Christian, for various reasons. Readers may want to research PraiseMoves, a Christian alternative to yoga. (Simply search "PraiseMoves" online for the website by the same name.) I really enjoy it, especially the related Biblical affirmations for each pose. (I'm a Christian Wellness coach for women.)

October 24, 2011

The problem with answering the question about whether or not the practice of Yoga is coincidental with the practice of Christianity cannot be answered by the information given by the author. I have many friends who go to Yoga classes and come away feeling they've done some great stretching. I don't believe that this is the same as when Yoga is used as some concomitant worship of a diety foreign to Christian belief.

April 7, 2018

Wow! These are mostly all great comments. I have experience as a non Christian in yoga and a Christian doing yoga. When Inbecame born again I stopped for 5 years. I never had the intent of going back. Then I got very sick. I have a condition called Mast Cell Activation Disorder and it had impaired my liver function and affected my life negatively. I had mold exposure too. Medications barely help and not many medical doctors know how to treat this. I have a toddler and Husband. The side effects of the meds were horrible(extreme agitation, drowsiness, pain, b12 defcientcy from an H2 blocker). Throw stress on top of it and I was have allergic reactions weekly if not daily. A Christian holistic wellness coach asked me when was the last time I felt good. It was when I practiced Bikram yoga. I felt the healthiest. I had illness prior to that and remembered thinking ok this is a form of medicine for me. I hate that it has spiritual connections to
Another religion. The Bikram didn’t really use religious tie ins with their yoga. I strictly thought about it as medical and that each posture had some benefit medically/physiologically. Is yoga a doorway to the new age? It can be but in my case it was only because of the practioners I was hanging out with and I had no discernment because I did know know God or His word. God used those events and many others to bring me to him and I am very fortunate to be called out of The New Age by Him.
I very warily started to practice again in November last year. I was sick of being sick and felt I wasn’t being used to my full potential for God. I was just getting angry and frustrated-which didn’t help my allergic reactions. It was getting expensive going to see a bunch of doctors who either didn’t know or acknowledge my condition. And I’m still paying off my ER visits for “mysterious”anaphylactic reactions. The doc I was referred to went to NY. He doesn’t take insurance anymore either and costs $2,000. I was at my wits end. I went to the fast food of yoga because I thought it was mostly secular and they had variety so I could use discernment. I also went in with the intent, “God can use me here.” We need to be lights in the world. I shared my testimony to a handful of people. I may “eat the meat sacrificed to the idols” but I do not with that intention. I’m recieving what I need from it and it’s the health and healing benefits. When I did startvtonoractice I noticed my health improve by 70%. I think it’s great to learn how to move/use our bodies and breath. I see nothing wrong with that. I chose not to do praise moves or holy fit because I purposely didn’t want to intermix the religion. I purposely chose to divorce the religious aspect regardless of what a yoga instructor would say. And I feel and according to scripture do not owe anything or have to show reverence to the religion yoga was or could be tied to. A lot of these poses look like dance stretches or gymnastics and I view it and partake it like that. If I attended a class where a teacher talks about chakra or religious (something I wanted to avoid)saying, Scripture to correct it comes to my mind, or I could see a similarity, or I could see a lie. There are some teachers classes I avoid if I can Especially if they are overt about saying om or mantras.
I am still discerning and praying if I am indeed doing a right thing. mainly because other Christians say how bad it is, or it can pull me back into new age, and maybe god wants me sick on purpose, and evil spirit could attach to me and Inwill need deilverence. All things that are fear generating. In fact I have experienced some toxicity with a relationship at church prior tonany of this which alsonwas an extreme source of stress for me since I am a volunteer. And some legalism and dogma that really soured me towards a few but not God. Thats another story. Ultimately God doesnt give us the spirit of fear? Yes I did notice strange things at yoga but not any weirder than anywhere else but I give them to God and I ask people to pray. I went in with a positive outlook-to share the gospel for his purposes. I do know lights need to be in these places. It was christians that God used that came to see me at my job that brought me to Christ.
I do know I hate feeling sick and having no control whatsoever over my body. I alsonwant tonbe prepared if God is saying get out. Should God say get out I would like an alternative. This article and the comments are all so helpful in my discerning process. Thank you.

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