Yoga and Spirituality

In the last 30 years, yoga has grown in popularity by leaps and bounds.  For many, yoga is a form of spiritual practice and meditation believed to bring spiritual healing, power, and connectedness.  Indeed, yoga has its roots in Eastern religion, and its movements were developed to help practitioners connect to the power of various Hindu gods.  While it’s somewhat surprising that science-minded Americans and Europeans would throng to this ancient religious practice, yoga’s focus on the body, its health benefits, and its superficial spirituality have combined to make it a particularly attractive way to escape the monotony and spiritual deficits of our technological society. Here’s the dilemma for Christians: as a spiritual practice yoga is rooted in asceticism/masochism and the lies associated with idol worship, but as a physical and mental discipline yoga has many proven health benefits.

So, is yoga something Christians should do?
Since, for followers of Jesus, there is no law but the law of love, the answer to this question is somewhat nuanced.  First of all, we have to keep in mind that God created the human body and the way it moves, as well as the things that benefit it.  No religion or system of belief has the right to monopolize the realities that affect human health.  If a particular stretch or movement is healthy for the human body, then it’s objectively healthy for the body, regardless of the beliefs attached to it (such as the belief that a particular movement has spiritual meaning).  We have the freedom to agree or disagree with such beliefs.

The real problem is not yoga’s stretches or exercises, but the beliefs attached to these movements and the false message of spiritual healing and human connectedness apart from Jesus Christ.  Healing and spiritual wholeness/connectedness can’t be achieved by our own human efforts or by doing the right poses.  Real healing comes from recognizing that all life comes from the One and Only God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ!

That being said, God created us to move, to enjoy his Creation, and to live freely, and I believe the movements embodied in yoga can be part of healthy movements and exercise for believers.  In my mind, the problem of doing yoga is similar to the problem addressed by the apostle Paul regarding eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul advised the Corinthians that eating meat sacrificed to idols isn’t a problem for believers who are not held in the power of lies and idol worship, but that doing so could be bad for the consciences of those still entrapped in lies (1 Corinthians 8). In the context of yoga, a believer is free to practice the movements and stretches of yoga if he has a clean conscience.  However, believers who participate in yoga in a group setting might be inadvertently contributing to the power of lies in the lives of those who do yoga as a spiritual practice.

Each believer needs to seek the Lord for direction in this matter and follow his conscience.  Personally, I find that yoga stretches have been extremely helpful in reducing back, neck, and joint pain (which medical studies support).  There are also several yoga routines I do that provide an excellent workout and improve flexibility.  For those who have practiced yoga in connection with Eastern spiritual beliefs in the past, it might be too tainted to continue practicing as a believer.  For others, however, yoga can be a perfectly healthy and pure activity.  It’s also possible to find classes, such as at the YMCA, as well as instructional DVDs, that solely emphasize the physical health benefits of yoga, rather than the spritual beliefs connected to yoga as a religion.  In some places it might be more difficult to find yoga classes that aren’t influenced by New Age religion, in which case using an instructional DVD at home might be the best option.  At any rate, as believers we have freedom to live by the Spirit–the primary consideration is walking in love towards others.

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Originally posted 2013-01-07 05:49:00.

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