Recently, CNN had a short debate between two pastors on whether or not Christians should do yoga (Youtube). While the “debate” was really too short to have any real content, the comments on the blog post were annoyingly narrow, so I’ve added my perspectives below.
As an evangelical Christian who does enjoy and practice yoga, I would like to add my perspectives.
- Yoga is about self awareness and self-mastery, not to mention practicing calmness and self control amid tension
- Yoga is not really about emptying the mind, and those who say such not only reveal their lack of knowledge about yoga, they are merely attempting a “guilt-by-association” technique – while emptying the mind uncritically may allow demons or deceiving spirits into one’s life, focusing and listening to one’s body is in no way the same activity. Yoga is about self-awareness, self-mastery, self-control, self-care and self-stewardship, not emptying.
- Even if you are focusing on self-control, self-mastery, and self-awareness rather than on God, such things are not anti-Christ or unbiblical, and are part of regular athletics or any other discipline of mind, occupation, or body. While self-mastery can not bring you salvation, it does help us develop and practice self-control, a biblical virtue.
- Those who think that self-care and self-control are selfish are thinking unbiblically, and need to listen to my sermon entitled Finding God’s Call III – A Biblical view of self-love.
- I suppose you can take the yoga positions to the level of worshiping Hindu deities, but I highly doubt that by practicing awareness and self-discipline, and by holding certain poses, that you are in any way worshiping deities – that’s just plain silly talk. What makes the difference is where your mind and spirit are at, not how you hold your body.
- Christianity has a severely underdeveloped theology of the physical self-care, and literally NO physical disciplines to integrate with our Christian life (worship aerobics may be fun, but it’s hardly approaching any serious integration of spiritual practice and physical disciplines). This is largely due to an almost literal hatred of the body which comes from (a) a poor understanding of the use of the term “flesh” in the NT, which does NOT usually refer to our physical bodies, (b) the idea that too much self-care is a waste since these bodies will be discarded, and (c) an anti-pleasure theology that rejects the goodness of the created body and the Christian enjoyment of sex and food without being mastered by such.
- I highly recommend Anglican Peter Toon’s book Meditating As a Christian: Waiting upon God, which has one very good chapter on yoga, where he recommends it with some warnings – a very balanced, if not educated and practical view.
As to Christians ruining their testimony by doing yoga, I would say
- they already have a negative testimony by lacking any cogent and useful physical practices to integrate with spirituality, beyond fasting and praise aerobics.
- our failure to recognize common truth and wisdom in other traditions, as Paul did on Mars Hill with the Greek philosophers, is a bad testimony and causes people to reject our gospel because we are rejecting valid common truths and wisdom
- Romans 14 is about freedom – to obey our conscience, to not condemn others, and yes, to be considerate if our freedom might cause others to stumble. However, Romans 14 is about balancing these prerogatives, not cowing in to Pharisaical narrowness every time some religionist is offended?