Most Christians today are unaware of the pagan spiritual reality behind the practice of yoga. Most teachers in our culture do not even fully understand the spiritual implications of what they teach. Yoga has been cleverly masked in our society so that most Christians think there are no negative implications so long as they 1) Just do the exercise part, or 2) Simply plug Jesus into the practice and call it good.
I strongly disagree.
I find no example in scripture where the Lord suggests that a good way to get closer to him or to honor him is to find a popular spiritual pagan practice that was created and developed for the purpose of worshiping and seeking communion with false gods, and just plugging his name in. I looked and looked, but I just don’t see it. What I do see is the exact opposite. What I see in scripture is a repeated calling for us to separate ourselves from the appearance of anything evil, to be an example to those around us of God’s teachings–to be his ambassadors. He calls us to be careful to not stumble those around us by practicing the freedom he gifts us.
Oh come on, yoga isn’t evil, you may say. Jesus himself said to take his yoke upon us, so if yoga is instruction on yoking, what is wrong with just pushing aside the whole background in demonic worship thing and using it as a practice to yoke with Jesus?
There’s quite a bit wrong, really. First of all, Jesus says to take his yoke upon us—to walk so closely with him that we copy everything he says and does to learn from him—not to ultimately become him, as in Yogic doctrice. In yoga, the idea is to not take a yoke upon, but to yoke with in the sense of merging with and ultimately becoming one and the same as this universal godhead called Ishvara, or “Om” (and also to attain god-like powers, “truths,” and experiences along the way by “yoking” with the spiritual realm). Big difference.
According to the Bible, there has always been and always will be only one God: The Lord. He is the Father, represented in spirit by the Holy Spirit and in flesh by Jesus Christ. We very clearly are not God. We never were God. And we never will be God or a god. This is what the Bible says. Jesus is not a promoter of the whole “why don’t you become god, too—we’re all the same, all connected, all really one,” thing. If you disagree, I suggest a reading of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They can be found in the Bible. Yoga is a practice to commune with false gods. The Lord is so against the worship of false gods that he places the warning to stay away from them at the top of the Ten Commandments. There is also a continuous theme throughout the Old Testament as he repeatedly warns to not become ensnared by false gods and the practices of neighboring countries who worship them.
The Lord is not unaware of our human tendency to want to fit in with those around us. And Persuasion 101 is no secret: In order to change a deep-rooted belief or opinion such as religious beliefs, it is best to ease in with baby steps. The first step is to find common ground—something the person can agree with—something general. For example, exercise and health, inner peace and stress relief are things most everyone can agree are good things. Who wouldn’t get on board and agree that these things are helpful and appealing? Once that common ground is established, it is much easier to slowly introduce ideas that sway the other person, little by little, away from ideas they were previously rooted in. It is the idea commonly explained with the “frog in the pot” illustration: It is said that a frog will jump right out of a boiling pot of water. But if he is put in cool, comfortable water, the heat can be continually increased and the frog will stay in until it is too late and the water is boiling him to death–A horrid illustration, but fitting.
Author and religion professor at Indiana University, Candy Gunther Brown warns of this tendency specifically within the context of yoga and other spiritually rooted practices.
“There’s also evidence that practicing something connected with religion can actually change people’s beliefs. Christians, in particular, tend to think a person’s intent determines whether something is religious. They don’t realize that active participation can actually change someone’s intent. Over time, people who start off attracted to an alternative practice because there’s a perceived health benefit start to embrace the religious ideas underneath these practices” (Christianity Today, November 2013).
Let’s Be Sanctified
We are his treasured people to be sanctified, to be set apart for him, not copycats of those who don’t know him. God calls us to separate ourselves, not to adapt and blend with pagan spiritual practices:
2 Corinthians 6:14-17: For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? . . . What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.”
Deuteronomy 13:30: . . . be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How will these nations serve their gods, we will do the same.”
Deuteronomy 12:2-4: Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods . . . You must not worship the Lord your God in their way.
Throughout the Bible, God gives specific instructions ensuring that his followers are set apart, that we are far away from anything even resembling practices of surrounding nations that follow other gods. He instructs people not to even get tattoos in the Old Testament because they would resemble nearby pagans who tattooed themselves for spiritual practice purposes (Leviticus 19:28; Courson, Jon, Application Commentary V.1, p.420). We must look at the context and purpose of that instruction. In that culture, tattoos represented pagan spiritual practices. The Lord wanted there be no mistake about who followed him and who followed false gods.
The Effect of Freedom . . .
But that was the Old Testament, aren’t you being legalistic? Aren’t we free from the law?
You’re right. We are free from the law (Romans 8:1). But what I ask you to consider is our example to others. I’m not talking about tattoos here. I’m talking about how your stamp of approval on a spiritual practice may affect those around you.
I ask you to consider the possibility that a child at your church grows and falls away from the faith, but later in life feels that void in her heart and starts seeking again (not unlike myself). Remembering that there was a yoga class at her church as a little girl, or a really nice lady at her church who used to go to yoga class, she picks up a book on yoga at the bookstore or decides to go to the yoga class down the street to try to give the whole reconnect with God another go.
But what she will find when she opens that book on yoga is very much not of God, but a book that instructs her in chanting repeated prayers to false deities, a book full of teachings antithetical to the word of God. She discovers a path that will lead her, under the guise of truth, love, and peace, deceived and entangled in the opposite direction of the God of the Bible. But she associates these practices with Christianity because after all, those are the same principles of God, right? She remembers clearly a class called Christian Yoga at her church. Or she remembers a woman known as a strong Christian who used to talk about her yoga class. Maybe she even remembers a Pastor who would twitter about the yoga class he attended. It must be safe. And the deeper she goes into the practice, the more peaceful she feels. She learns to allow feelings and sensations of energy to guide what is truth instead of faith in God’s word. It must be God, she thinks. It feels like love and peace. But I assure you, it is not.
Listen, this practice represents much more than exercise, and the digging to get there is not deep. Sensations of peace and esoteric experiences resulting from these pagan spiritual practices are manipulations of the spiritual realm. They are not of God. But these sensations and experiences are incredibly convincing to someone who does not know and trust Jesus. And even to some who do.
I’m not writing this to shame any of you who have been doing these practices. How could you have known any of this? The practice has been incredibly cleverly disguised. But I am asking you to consider truth now that you know it.
The Lord calls those of us who have placed our trust in Jesus, “ambassadors for him” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). We have an obligation to him to do our best to not misrepresent him and his teachings.
1 Corinthians 10:23-24: “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
1 Corinthians 10:31-33: So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
Stretch, Tone, Pray . . . Just Don’t Call it Yoga.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the term Christian Yoga is an oxymoron. The foundational principles of Christianity and Yoga are antithetical. Please, if you are doing this at your church, stop. If you want to get together and pray or think about scriptures while you stretch and hold poses, fine–we all know there is nothing wrong with stretching or holding poses for strength training. There are only so many stances the body will go into, and the poses alone are not bad simply because yoga claimed this one represents this deity or that energy. It is the intent. And even that is vague, as I was taught across varying traditions that intent is irrelevant in these experience-based practices. What this means is it doesn’t matter if you “mean to” or not, the act is the invitation. Just like one may not “intend” to open to the spiritual realm by taking drugs or by placing hands on a Ouija board (for example, a skeptic may not intend anything because he doesn’t even believe in it). But even if you believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with the yoga act you practice and that you are free and fine and safe to do it, I ask that you please consider your heart. Consider your example. Consider where you are leading others. Please, by all means exercise. Pray. Memorize scripture. Please, just don’t call it yoga.
Finally, I ask you to consider a verse that outlines the Lord’s instructions of how we should worship him with our bodies:
Romans 12:1-3: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
I pray the Lord fills you with wisdom as you seek him in this.
Ephesians 5:8-11: For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.