In light of the recent controversy regarding Christianity and yoga, I have received a few questions asking about the propriety of the practice for those who confess faith in Christ.
It really depends on what one means by “yoga.” It is always helpful to define words so that we know what we are dealing with, and the problem is that there are probably a handful of connotations associated with the word yoga.
Dictionary.com offers the following three definitions of the word:
- a school of Hindu philosophy advocating and prescribing a course of physical and mental disciplines for attaining liberation from the material world and union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.
- any of the methods or disciplines prescribed, esp. a series of postures and breathing exercises practiced to achieve control of the body and mind, tranquility, etc.
- union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.
While the first definition is to be rejected and the third is ambiguous at best, is it not possible to accept the second definition and merely incorporate the postures and breathing techniques as we center ourselves upon the Lord? I think that we would be hard pressed to make a biblical case that certain body positions and breathing techniques themselves are inherently wicked. To me, this can be likened to massage which has some historic associations with Eastern spirituality and yet can be redeemed today and practiced in a way which would not violate Scriptural principles.
If by yoga one attempts to empty themselves to experience enlightenment, then this is new age spirituality which is not faithful to Christian thought and practice and should be rejected. If, however, one merely attempts to slow their breathing and meditate on Scripture and pray, then “yoga” can be good. We have members who practice “Bible yoga” whereby they silence themselves and stretch while someone reads Scripture over them. Can a case be made from the Bible that this is to be prohibited?
Like all forms of meditation, there are new age, anti-Christian forms, as well as very biblical ways of doing things. It all depends on the purpose and means by which one pursues the activity. Bottom line, we are to pursue the filling of the Spirit, not the emptying of consciousness. If yoga does the former, then go for it. If not, then do not.
John Piper has wisely said, “I pray that you don’t just sign up for your local Yoga class and not know what you are doing.” With that I would heartedly agree and follow-up with the question, “do you know what you are doing?” I would urge much more caution for a new or immature believer than I would for one who walks in the light and is able to discern truth from error.
I don’t want to state a universal prohibition or allowance where the Scripture has not, but would rather encourage much contemplation on general themes of Scripture, the nature of the yoga class, your own maturity and susceptibility to error, your motivations and desires, etc. As for thinking through it from a biblical perspective, here are some questions that I would ask using a framework of 1 Corinthians 10:23-33.
- Do I recognize that having the right to do something does not mean that it is the right thing to do? (vs. 23)
- Is this both helpful and edifying? (vs. 23)
- With whom would I be practicing yoga? Will participation hurt the conscience of another? (vs. 24-28)
- Can I practice yoga in a posture of gratitude and to the glory of God? How is God glorified in this activity specifically? (vs. 30-31)
- Will my participating cause unnecessary offense to others? Will it hinder my opportunities to engage in mission for the kingdom? (vs. 32-33)
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. (24) Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. (25) Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. (26) For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” (27) If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. (28) But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— (29) I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? (30) If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
(31) So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (32) Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, (33) just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.
1 Corinthians 10:23-33