Due to its extreme trendiness and popularity even in Christian circles, yoga has become a bit of an elephant in the room. I have gone round and round about its risk to people of the Faith but my pleas often fall on deaf ears and blind eyes. I have felt compelled to write on this issue. The premise is simple. Yoga is dangerous to the Christian. Yes, you're free to do yoga just as a Christian has liberty to do whatever they want but not everything is beneficial for the Christian (sure hope that sounds familiar....1 Corinthians 6:12).
The response when I say this is typical. "Andy, you're too legalistic, yoga is harmless as long as you mediate and pray to the God in the Bible."
My reply is always, "Really?"
I’ve had this conversation with many and some have become heated conversations. I have been told doing yoga for physical conditioning and exercise as a Christian is harmless. I am told, “You’re not getting into the spiritual aspects of yoga just stretching and doing the other physical aspects.” At first I would just let it go in an effort to get along. Go along to get along. As I thought about it though I realized something was amiss. God was very specific in the Old Testament when he said His people were not to engage in pagan practices, especially those with a spiritual element or aspect to them (Leviticus 18).
I will state outright that the mental/meditative aspect is by far the most dangerous part of yoga and is dancing on the edge of a razor. So how much does yoga provide a valid non-spiritual way for a Christian to get physical exercise as opposed to meditating and being at peace with the world and the universe via Hinduism?
First, some history. Yoga means ‘union’, and in Hindu philosophy the person who does yoga doe so to gain in self-control of their body AND mind. In Yoga, they are inextricably linked and should not be separated out. Can they be used to create union with God? No. They are to reach union with the Infinite who/which can be perceived variously. A person that does not have a firm grip of their Bible intellectually are already in dangerous waters. This is at the core of even your basic yoga class. Although the recruit to a class may be reassured that the exercises are ‘non-religious’ and that a practitioners Christian God can be substituted with the other myriad of gods acceptable for the practice, it must be remembered that yoga still represents a Hindu (also Buddhist, Jainism) world-view.
As mentioned by some of yoga’s devout practitioners, yoga is not supposed to be a weekend warrior thing or a fad. It is an entire way of life...and therein lies its allure and danger. There is not just an outright adherence to a pagan religion and its practice but there is a clear danger of syncretism or blending of religions into a synergistic whole. Part Christian, part Hindu/Buddhist. Just like the picture above, the idea of mixing these two is as ludicrous. I figured by giving an image of the hodgepodge of spirituality, it would hit home better.
There is of course an allure to the physical and mental self-control that some of yoga’s practices can bring but will practitioners see when they’ve crossed the line spiritually? No, spiritual lines are often invisible. Only the Spirit of God can see that and once you’ve begun to push the Spirit out with the practices of yoga, the line will become much harder to distinguish. It is like building a firewall with wood.
Yoga presents the Christian with an alternative interpretation of the universe. The Adi Deva or the primary being is called Narayana. Adi means the beginning of creation and Deva means the one who shines. The perception of Deva is as one who illuminates. The collective perceptions of all the beings put together is called Adi Deva, which existed even before creation. Adi Deva is called Narayana or the abode of all beings. Just as all rivers empty into the ocean, all our energies and faculties empty themselves into this collective ocean of energy called Prana which is the life force that sustains this universe. Yoga presents the Christian with an alternate path to relief of the world’s pains and anxiety which is Christ. The universal collective that Christians are called to unite with is the Kingdom of God with Jesus Christ at center.
The basic Yoga Lotus position is a circle is made of thumb and forefinger. This symbol implies the unbroken unity of life in a never-ending circle of successive reincarnations. Just putting ourselves into these positions and practices opens a path to acceptance to them. Because we are dealing with the spiritual here the risk is magnified. There are no spiritual vacuums. You become the company you keep. You are not merging with a divine being when you do this in some mystical transcendental experience, you are merging with the demonic. The Christian worldview tells us clearly that if things are not of God, they are demonic and from the system of the world.
If we read Colossians 2 we get a pretty clear answer on how to deal with questionable practices that pertain to errant Christian practice, pagan practice or general non-Christian practices. Paul had to deal with the Colossian heresy (which was syncretism) and in so doing wrote a grocery list of things to be suspicious or wary of. Why does he do this? Paul tells us so that we do not “disqualify” ourselves. Disqualify ourselves form what?
Colossians 2:16-23 ~ “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Paul is telling us what these pagan and non-Christians practices really are. They are a subtle form of hedonistic pleasure and appeal to the flesh. There are better ways to exercise that pose a much lesser risk to the Christian then yoga folks. All these other religions are not divine in origin but rather demonic in origin. They are self-made or more specifically demonically influenced through our own flesh and desires. When we do things physically to reach some form of holiness or as Paul says, “severity to the body,” we are doing a work for salvation. Salvation is by grace alone.
How does the Hindu philosophy of yoga view the divine? It degrades the image of God. The Hanumanasana or monkey position in yoga is a degradation to the point of animism. Hanuman was the name of a powerful monkey chief who was the son of Anjana, the devoted friend and servant of Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu. This in contrast with Colossians 2: 6-10 shows the main difference between the basically Hindu concept behind Yoga, and the revealed truth of God in Jesus Christ.
Colossians 2:6-10 ~ “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits[a] of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority."
This is a direct shift towards pantheism (henotheism actually). It is comparing God to multiple gods and things in nature. It even shows God as an impersonal “It” at times with no personality which any Christian that reads his Bible can tell you is not true.
Be filled with Christ, not pagan nonsense which is in reality, demonic.
Which leads to the last thought and most dangerous about yoga. It is an attempt to empty one’s self mentally. Many will say you can meditate on the God of the Bible while practicing yoga but in truth, yoga is an attempt to empty one’s self completely through chants and mantras. Again, I will ask, when does a person spiritually know when that line begins to be crossed when the very practices we are practicing are an attempt to drive out the very Spirit that will allow us the discernment to know when we are crossing that line? The answer is that they will not know and at that point it will be too late. The trick isn’t to see how close we can get to these practice and still pull ourselves back…it is to avoid it completely.
Can you practices yoga and mediate on the God of the Bible. I suppose. Is it worth the risk flirting with the potential dangers involved? I don’t know, is it worth sprinting headlong to jump over a fire pit and risk tripping and falling into the fire when you can just as easily walk around it?
It’s a shame, Hinduism sort of tells us to turn inward to find the truth by emptying ourselves. Christianity tells us to turn outsides ourselves to find Christ and in so doing we are asked to be filled with Christ, not emptied. In Hinduism we supposedly gain by losing identity but in Christianity we gain our true created identity by absorbing the One who created us. We are not truly who we were created to be until we are completely filled…not emptied.
Another sad fact about yoga is that never once is sin mentioned. If sin is never mentioned then a remedy to it never needs mentioning either. Therefore, no Christ and no Gospel. So the enlightenment offered in Hinduism and yoga is therefore not really enlightenment at all but a darkening. If there is any light it is like shining light down a deep bottomless well of human depravity. Although the breathing exercises and meditation (upon Christ and his Word) are commendable we are unwise to open the door for the entry of a system that in Paul’s words, causes someone to lose connection with Christ Himself (Colossians 2).