Three Reasons Christians Should Think Twice About Yoga

The Up For Debate show “Should Christians Practice Yoga?” was one of our most popular, so we’re airing it again this week at 11 a.m. CDT. This article first ran after that show. — Julie

Can yoga be completely stripped of Hinduism and even “Christianized”? Many Christians believe it can. In fact, some churches and Christian colleges, like Wheaton College and Gordon College, even offer yoga classes. Christian yoga proponents admit that yoga originated as a form of Hindu worship. But, as an article posted to the Wheaton College website says, yoga today is often just an “ancient system of postures and breathing” that’s “largely void of religious overtones.” Similarly, an article in Relevant Magazine argues that though “Hinduism involves yoga; all yoga is not Hinduism.” In fact, the article suggests, yoga can be Christian. It’s one of those things like Christmas and Easter, which once was pagan, but now has been co-opted for Christian worship.

Yoga is inherently religious

But, is Westernized yoga truly nonreligious? Neither of my guests on a recent episode of my weekly radio show Up for Debate argued it was. Laurette Willis, the founder of PraiseMoves, said yoga served as a gateway into New Age religion for her and her mom. Her testimony is extremely compelling and worth the four minutes it takes to hear it.

Similarly, Bonnie Meyer, founder of a “Christian-based yoga ministry” called Studio 4:8, said yoga initially led her into spiritual experimentation, including Hinduism, Buddhism and even Wicca. She added that in the “common yoga studio,” there’s “a Buddha statue, there’s ‘om-ing,’ there’s chanting. It’s glorifying Hinduism.”

However, Bonnie then described that when experiencing “very beautiful” Hindu worship before statues at an ashram in Colorado, she had an epiphany: “Why can’t we do this for Jesus? I could feel him just like deep-down inside of me. And then, after that, that’s when I started questioning my teaching (to keep Christianity out of yoga). And, I’m like I want to bring Jesus into my (yoga) practice.” Bonnie describes her experience in this two-minute clip.

Again, neither Bonnie nor Laurette argued that yoga was nonreligious. Clearly, to them, the positions, the breathing and the philosophy that imbues yoga is deeply religious. The only question was, can yoga be made Christian instead of Hindu?

Christianized yoga is really syncretism

When I first heard Bonnie describe her story, it made me unsettled. Again, she got the idea to combine Christianity and yoga while sitting in a Hindu worship service. Was it really, then, just the postures and breathing of yoga she wanted to combine with Christ – or yoga’s inherent spirituality, which is Hindu? Can the Hindu spirituality and exercises even be separated?

Many today believe it can – or at least, that yoga’s Hindu spirituality can be replaced with Christian spirituality. In fact, so-called “Holy Yoga” is now practiced in dozens of churches nationwide and is broadcast around the world on HYTV (Holy Yoga TV). But, it seems to me that so-called “Holy” or Christian yoga would more accurately described as syncretism. This is an attempt to combine two or more contradictory beliefs into a new religious system.

For example, Bonnie said she uses two Sanskrit words in her classes – “Namaste” and “yoga.” Sanskrit is the liturgical language of Hinduism. And, the word “Namaste” means “the god in me honors the god in you.” In the short clip below, Bonnie explains more about how and why she uses these words.

Hinduism is pantheistic and teaches that god is in everything — its 330 million gods, plants, animals, and every human being. So, to salute the divine in another person makes total sense to a Hindu.

Christianity, however, teaches that God is transcendent and distinct from His creation. Though it’s true that the Holy Spirit resides in each believer, the Holy Spirit does not bow to himself in other believers saying, as Bonnie does, “That light in me honors that light in you.” According to Scripture, the Holy Spirit honors the Father and the Son. And a Christian’s worship, though emerging from within him, should always be directed upward and outward. So, the Psalmist says, “Awake, my soul! . . . I will praise you, Lord, among the nations.” In Christianity, we, the creature, direct our worship to the Creator.

Similarly, the word yoga is problematic. Yoga means “to yoke.” And, as Laurette noted on the program, using the word begs the question, “Yoked to whom?” As Laurette explains, the postures and techniques of yoga were designed to be offerings to the millions of Hindu gods. But ultimately, yoga was intended to yoke a person to the so-called “Lord of Yoga” – Sheva, the destroyer. In the brief audio below, she describes why she believes these realities make yoga, regardless of how it’s packaged, incompatible with Christianity.

Yoga is a modern golden calf

As I’ve reflected on Saturday’s show, I can’t help but think of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf after the exodus from Egypt. I used to think the Israelites understood the calf as representing a deity other than Yahweh. However, as some scholars note, they likely viewed the calf as a representation of Yahweh. They simply were trying to appropriate the idol worship they had learned in Egypt for worship of the one, true God, whom they barely knew.

This seems much like what Christians are doing today with yoga. We are not worshipping God in spirit and truth. Instead, we’re trying to worship Him through an idolatrous practice that emerged from a lie about His nature. But, just like God called the Israelites to be separate from the idolatry surrounding them, He calls us to do the same today.

So, I would encourage Christians to stay away from yoga. Given its thoroughly Hindu foundation, I don’t think it can ever be fully stripped of all its religious meaning and become mere exercise. And, it certainly is not a valid means of Christian worship. As one Christian author wrote, “Saying that we can Christianize yoga is, in a sense, saying that we can Christianize Hinduism.” Yes, we Christians may have co-opted days like Christmas and Easter for Christian celebrations. But, we don’t incorporate pagan practices into our actual worship. Truth is, yoga is not holy and it certainly is not Christian.

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33 thoughts on “Three Reasons Christians Should Think Twice About Yoga

  1. Leslie Marshall

    Trying to re create the same atmosphere as a pagan yoga class, but ‘swapping’ out guru for Jesus is an affront to the Holy Spirit. Yoga class and Christianized Yoga are not analogous.

    Commonly, Yoga practitioners, are induced into an ‘altered state’ of consciousness brought about by asanas (poses), pranayama (controlled breath), and mantras (invocations of worldly spirits). This trance state brings feelings of bliss, tranquility, euphoria..& an awareness one’s power in the dark-spirit world. That is Yoga’s ‘hook’. Sadly, these abilities are solely derived from pleasures of the flesh. …which makes sense, because Yoga’s exclusive aim is to experience ‘Self’.

    It would be good for Believers to take note that Yoga students use ‘techniques’ to reach ‘spiritual’ gains and that we do not use ‘techniques’ to get closer to God. (lest any man boast).

    For us, either you belong to God or you don’t. For Yoga students, climbing the ladder of ‘Enlightenment’ (highest [dark] spiritual attainment) never ends. There is always a desire for advancement (i.e., special courses, new techniques, pilgrimages, dietary rules, etc..)

    It’s important that Christians recognize that the ‘good’ feelings during yoga class cannot be transmuted into something palatable to the Holy Spirit.

    The ‘Meditation’ in Yoga class is derived from ancient Hindu techniques for quieting the mind, emptying the mind, ceasing of thoughts, stilling of breath & bodily functions. (Yogis in India go weeks and months without eating, speaking or moving.)

    ‘Meditation’ for Believers is studying God’s Word, memorizing scripture, active prayer, mulling over what God says, chewing on the Word, digesting the Word, discussing the Word & being nourished by the Word in preparation for action! –Again, these two practices are un parallel.

  2. M.L.T.

    There’s a perfect alternative for those who want the strength, flexibility, and physical centeredness (to co-opt a New Age term) of yoga without any of the pagan religion: Pilates.

    • Rajni

      Julie,

      I am a Christian with a hindu background and I used to practice Yoga, until a short time after I became a follower Jesus. I was a nominal hindu and my purpose for doing yoga was to execise my body and relax. During one of these sessions I felt the Lord compelling me to stop. I did not understand why but obeyed.

      I believe there are supernatural and demonic powers that one connects with when doing Yoga. This was mentioned in some literature that I read.

      I believe Christian yoga is syncretism of hinduism and Christianity. If one claims that it is purely physical moves and breathing exercises then a lot about yoga teaching is disregarded. There probably is no naturalistic explanation for why yoga is not Christian and we have to rely on the Bible and ask the Holy Spirit. I would ask what the spirit of this world to do with God? Jesus made very exclusive claims about Himself and Father God and being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. I would urge caution.

      Just an aside, some one mentioned Pilates. I believe Pilates is based on yoga.

  3. Ginny

    Changing the name but doing the same practice doesn’t seem like you’ve done anything but fool yourself. Yoga was developed specially as a mind/body/spiritual practice, I believe primarily focused on the Hindu god Sheva. The current ‘western’ practice’s goal is to center you within yourself. Not exactly how we are called to live, is it?!
    I went to a yoga class a few years ago and I was so uncomfortable. I prayed the entire time and couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I had no pre-conceived thoughts before I went. Everybody goes to yoga! But I was feeling conviction from the beginning. I should have left immediately but I didn’t.
    I think it’s potentially inviting in other spiritual influences that subtly work their way in to a believer’s thinking and do their damage little by little so it’s barely detectable until it’s gone well into the deep end of the pool.
    If you want to be limber, stretch. If you want muscle tone, lift weights. If you feel the need to center and calm yourself, get to the cross.

  4. Pat

    Thank you for this info on yoga. My “gut” always felt ‘weird’ about yoga and now I understand why! It was the Holy Spirit. So grateful that I have not gone the route of yoga… God has protected me once again!

  5. Julie: I read your critique of Bonnie’s Christianized use of yoga, but you really did not interact with her point that if someone were to pass by the PraiseMoves ministry, is there anything that would be self-evident to demonstrate that this was not in fact “yoga?” If it looks like a duck, sounds like duck, acts like duck, why would anyone think it was anything other than a duck if the meaning of what is going on is not properly exposited? In this sense, Ginny, a previous commenter is correct, “Changing the name but doing the same practice doesn’t seem like you’ve done anything but fool yourself.” If you follow this logic, then you might as well stay away from any form of exercise that in any way resembles yoga. That would include PraiseMoves, would it not?

    My concern is that such a critique simply buys into our current culture that is driven by “sound bites.” If we hear that a certain term is used, like “yoga,” people immediately have associations with it without making a concerted effort to understand the context for which the terminology is being used. It is a confusion of words with the meanings that are associated with the words. Without critical thinking skills grounded in God’s Word, we are simply unable to discern anything properly, and we risk following the cultural pattern of confusing a symbol with what the symbol actually symbolizes.

    When the Lord commanded Israel to destroy the Asherah poles, it was not because He hated Asherah wood. This is contrary to Scripture since the Lord made the Asherah wood. What the Lord condemned was the pagan worship symbolized by the Asherah poles. The whole lesson of the Old Testament is that it was not enough to destroy the Asherah poles. Instead, it is the pagan worship rooted in the human heart that must be destroyed.

  6. Mr M

    I firmly believe that Christians occasionally make following God more complicated than need be. This is one of those cases. When you break it down, yoga is just a bunch of physical moves. That is it. There is nothing inherently religious about movement. It is what we as individuals choose to associate or combine with this physical movement that makes it good or bad for us. I do not see any issue with doing exercises while thinking about God. Please explain why I can’t stand on one foot with my arms held high, and think about God? If you have a statue of Buddha, or are thinking of Buddha, you are of course trying to invoke the spirit of Hinduism while you exercise, which means you have other issues you need to address. The simple solution is to do the yoga, but leave out all the affectations and traditions that involve Hinduism. Leave out the Namaste, the iconography, and even leave out the “omms” if you must, though I just view that as a breathing technique. I do the P90X workout program, and the yoga session that is included in that is a great workout, one of the most dreaded ones. There is nothing religious going through my mind when I am sweating and shaking trying to hold a position. If you don’t like the name yoga, call it something else. In the end, we ourselves give or take away the power of the words used to describe something. Now, I have never attended a yoga class, and I will say that I would never attend a class that actively tried to create a Buddhist or Hindu atmosphere through the use of iconography, repetition of certain words, etc. From what I have read, that seems to be a common thing among yoga studios, apparently.

  7. well written,but i will like to say that dont do yoga if you think its for conversion, but its breathing excersises can be done without saying namaste or without saying om,no need for it,you can say hallellujah and do all the yoga.Like martial arts,also good form of excersise.By the way hinduism is no religion and even this word hinduism is not older than hundred years

  8. and yoga means positions like we say raja yoga means king’s position

    • risha

      I am a Christian who practices yoga and you are very mislead in the choice(s) of studio you allowed to teach you a “so-called” yoga. Just like anything in the world (churches included!) can be false prophets, what I read is that is where these ladies and your perception is based. Namaste means : The light of God honors the light of God in you! If a studio is teaching that you are God or other human traditions beside CONCENTRATION, ACTION, and STRENGTH, it is religious. However you are completely inaccurate (you are misleading people as well in this blog, which you are accusing others of, be careful, for it looks like you are now stumbling too) in stating that yoga worships Hindu Gods! It is actually ridiculous! You may want to study this in length which would take years before you can succinctly state truth.

      The Original Yoga system is called Maha-Yoga. The word Maha means ‘great’ or ‘highest’. By this way, the Original Yoga System is entitled as great or superior Yoga in Vedic literature. There are hundreds of thousands of techniques in the Original Yoga System. These techniques form the base of the Yoga system and cover the needs of all kinds of people. There is no need to fabricate “yoga” types to cover special needs of people. When yoga is practiced in the original way, all the aspects of human organism gets positively affected and improved.

      While giving explanations about the Original Yoga System to a religious sect leader who uses the word Yoga as a screen, he gave a strong reaction saying “There is no such thing named Original Yoga”. This response proves how ignorant and fanatic the leaders of so-called “yoga organizations” are. Such kind of so-called “Yoga Organizations” whose primary objective is to spread their religious beliefs instead of yoga knowledge are washing brains of innocent people. These religious sects acting under the name of “Yoga or meditation organizations” are naming every kind of made up things Yoga and instilling harmful beliefs to people. Accordingly, these kinds of “organization” guides disregard the principles and techniques of the Original Yoga System and say they are not important. Although the basic knowledge they use is taken from the Original Yoga System, these irresponsible persons deny the Original Yoga System. In fact, they are spitting into the well from which they drink water. They are making up methods according to the sect’s objectives and calling these harmful speculations as “yoga” or “meditation”.

      The Original Yoga System is described in Vedic Literature. These descriptions are usually given as brief summaries. The basic knowledge given in Veda Books is explained in more detail in the books named Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishad. Nevertheless, it is essential to learn implementation details of the techniques given in the Original Yoga System from the real Yoga master.

      The Original Yoga System which is called Maha Yoga consists of eight stages. These eight stages are the elements forming the general structure of the Original Yoga System. These eight-stages are technically denominated Ashta-Anga. In Sanskrit Language, the word Ashta means ‘eight’ and Anga means ‘stage’. There are hundreds of thousands of techniques in each stage. Thus, basic application process comprises eight stages.

      The Yoga system is based on the act of control. Yama (control) progresses step by step and finally achieves the highest level and becomes Samyama (supercontrol). Here, the prefix Sam which means ‘super’ is added in front of the word Yama which means ‘control’. Yama is in a strong connection with concentration. At Samyama level, concentration evolves into superconcentration called Samadhi. Concentration is also in connection with unification. When concentration reaches its deepest level, unification becomes superunification which is called Samyoga. At the level of supercontrol, concentration turns into superconcentration and unification turns into superunification. This state is called YOGA which means integration. Therefore, Yoga system has three aspects:

      1. Samyama – Supercontrol
      2. Samadhi – Superconcentration
      3. Samyoga – Superunification

      These three aspects are interrelated and they are integral parts of Yoga. In the final stage of the Yoga system, superconcentration turns into superior concentration. Consciousness is completely immersed in the concentration object. As a result, superunification is transformed into real superior unity. This unity takes place between the individual soul and the Universal Soul. The individual soul and the universal soul become integrated. At this stage, supercontrol turns into real freedom as control is no longer needed. Thereby, the state of Yoga (integration) becomes the state of Maha-Yoga (superior integration). At this state, the individual consciousness reaches the highest level of consciousness.

      In order to achieve the superior grade of Yoga state, control power should certainly be developed in stages. There are eight stages or parts in the Original Yoga System. In an effort to evolve on the spiritual path, the techniques available in these stages must be practiced correctly and regularly.

      • David Schaffer

        What spiritual path are you trying to evolve on? You say this OYS is not religious but must be practiced correctly and regularly? Why is that? Individual soul and universal soul? Seriously you say yoga is not one thing and then you go on to describe OYS as exactly the thing you say it isn’t. You have been deceived.

  9. susan

    The article seems biased and plays into some basic fundamentalist lies.
    Yoga is not a religion, but it can get you into a quiet, meditative state
    to help connect with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to listen to the
    promptings of God, Based on the records of which Levites were serving up
    to the time of the destruction Jerusalem, it was counted backwards to
    find that Zechariah’s tribe would have been serving in the temple in late
    October of 1 BC. It was there that Zechariah heard the prophecy of John’s
    birth. Six month’s later, late March, Mary hastened to join Elizabeth after
    she had received her word from God, and Elizabeth was in her 6th month. Add
    9 months to that, you get that Mary would come to term in late December.
    There was a reason for why exactly the 25th, but you get my point. It was
    not placed there to win over heathen converts by replacing the winter sol-
    stice. That is a lie retold over and over trying to make it true. There is
    a similar Biblical/Historical reason for the dating of the dating of Easter.
    The article makes just flimsy of an analogy between yoga/Hinduism as the
    solstice/Christmas one; because it is presumed to have been started as part
    of the Hindi religion does not mean it can’t be separated from it/ A friend
    of mine from church, ultra-devout, runs a yoga studio and finds no conflict
    between it and Christianity. She says one of it’s draws is to take time
    to “be still and know that I am God”, one of her best praise opportunities.
    Hope the article isn’t taken to seriously w/o further study.

    • Cindy Ortiz

      The devil is a liar. Yoga is not a way to the Holy Spirit. By God’s grace we are connected to the Holy Spirit and by meditating on His word not by doing yoga. If you are peddling yoga to Christians your place is already set in hell.

      • If there was a certain physical therapist that had their patients performing the exact same stretches and exercises (that are performed in yoga) to strengthen their core…. would they be headed straight to hell also?

  10. Arlene Anderson

    Can you please tell me what the word namaste is in reference to Hindu,Islamic vs Christianity

  11. Karen

    I completely disagree with not practicing “yoga” if you are Christian! God gave us the gifts of grace and free will to make our choices on this earth. It is much more important that I find kindness and respect in the faces of others, for he has created us all. I find calm at my classes, peace and a spiritual connection with Him – no other “gods” or Buddha. That is my choice, and I’m sure the choice of many others. I fully respect those who are looking for their own personal experience, but mine is with the Lord. Amen!

    • StandUpForTheTruth

      Then you are not a true follower of Jesus Christ, Karen. Because the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob warns us not to try to worship Him in the way the ancients/pagans did their gods.
      .
      You are actually blaspheming Jesus Christ by dragging Him into yoga.
      .

      • Cindy Ortiz

        Yep totally not a follower of Christ if you practice yoga.

    • Jennie

      He gave you free will, so it is your choice whether or not you surrender your will for His Will and follow Him or not. If you choose surrender, your thoughts and desires are no longer a priority to you, you become His child and allow Him to guide you, provide for you, protect you, give you unexplainable peace, joy, and so on. The other choice is a much broader one, it involves you thinking that you know best, thus you have made yourself God of your life, you have given yourself control of deciding what is best for you. With that choice, you are not following Him, and He cannot call you His.

    • Cindy Ortiz

      The Bible warns of such spiritual seduction: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;” (1 TIMOTHY 4:1).

    • Sarah

      Thank you for this reply!!!

  12. David

    Practicing yoga clearly shapes how one understands the spiritual realm. Proof of this is how the Christians commenting have a distorted vision of Christianity. The practice of yoga (voluntarily or involuntary) is impacting how Christians today define spirituality. It is shaping a new world view. Yoga is how Hinduism evangelizes. The damage is done slowly like putting a frog in water and gradually bring it to a boil, by the time you realize something is wrong its too late.

  13. I owned a yoga studio and God took me down. Yoga and Christianity do not belong together. Trying to sell a form of Christian yoga is an affront to the Holy Ghost. You are being bamboozled if you think God likes this. Jesus says: Matthew 11:28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. There are other forms of stretching which are beneficial to the body. You don’t have to do yoga and you shouldn’t.

  14. Marlina

    All I am looking to is exercise, fitness, strength and flexibility. I do not care to learn all the details pf yoga. No chanting, meditating opening of chakras or buddha or any other thing. I like the challenge and to see how my body is progressively becoming stronger and what I am capable of doing i.e. headstands and such that I was never able to do before. Is that bad? Like seriously do I have to stop just because I love and follow Jesus? Obviously people do these kinds of things for THEMSELF to better THEMSELF physically. At least that is all I want. Should Christians flee the gym too? I dont think Christians are doing it to praise themselves as a God. I know I am not but also I cant afford any outside gym or classes so I do all the yoga stretching and posing and stuff at home because it’s free and I get a good work out and I feel proud of myself when I see I can balance on one foot or my head. I honestly don’t think I am going to hell for that. Seriously people tell me what I am doing wrong?

    • Marlina, there is nothing you can do to lose your salvation (just as there was nothing that you could do to earn your salvation), including the practice of yoga (the act of stretching, balancing, etc.) God weighs the heart, and the unseen. So, as you are exercising, where is your heart? That is what you need to ask. Do not seek the approval of those in this forum for what only you are accountable to God for…. :)

  15. Marlina

    I also have anxiety and trouble sleeping so the stretching and practoce before bed really helps.

  16. What about where the Bible says to meditate. We all do it in different ways. I believe it’s what you make it. Idk…I think Christian’s are too up tight about things and create problems where none should be. I’m a Christian and have been for over 30+ years. My dad is a pastor for over 45 years. If you feel God is leading you to not do it, then by all means don’t. However God speaks to you is how you should listen. There are so many things that we all do on a daily that would be considered not of God that we have incorporated into Christianity that you may think is OK but to another is wrong. How about you worry about you and let the others worry about themselves and let God speak to them. That’s is all

    • David Schaffer

      Are you saying God’s opinion on what is acceptable or not changes depending on the person? Saying I worry about me and let you worry about you is against scripture, Mark 16:15. How are we as Christians to evangelize if we just worry about ourselves? The credentials of you Christian faith or your father being a pastor has no bearing on this discussion. I have seen many P.K.’s that have turned from God, I personally know former pastors that have also gone to serve the world instead of the Lord. Do not try to use those credentials to prove why you are right. In all honesty you are wrong. I am not trying to be mean but feel you may be heading down a broad path, I do not know you, nor do I know if you are saved or not, and the same goes you towards me. Matthew 7:15-20 describes knowing followers of Christ vs false prophets by the fruits they produce.

  17. Laura

    I like doing yoga for exercise. I don’t feel anything spiritual about it. It also is good for my anxiety issues, and I don’t get breathless (I have COPD) while exercising. I usually use home dvd’s, like Denise Austin Yoga and you don’t chant or anything weird. I did attend a yoga class recently; the only thing that could be called “spirit like” is that at the end of the class the instructor said Namastate . I didn’t say it and had no idea what it meant till I read this.

  18. Diana Molina

    I wonder if people have forgotten how to stretch from elementary gym class. Touch your toes, straddle, side bends. If yoga is just excercise then we wouldn’t be having this debate. Ultimately you have to ask yourself would Jesus approve? How is this making good use of your time to glorify God?

  19. Paul

    This is a very complex question to respond to. I wish there were a simple answer. The goal of both yoga and Christianity is the same and that is to become one with God. The means are totally different. As Christians we yoke ourselves to Jesus, surrendering totally to Him through faith. We are redeemed, reconciled, justified, washed clean by His precious blood sacrifice.
    The path for the yogi is much more complicated. Karmic debt has to be paid, from both past lives and present transgressions. Only way to accomplish this is to work your way through endless veils of delusion which may require countless reincarnations . This is how one reaches God realization .
    To my fellow believers I say this, strenghen your faith for the just lives by his faith.The shield of faith will protect you from the wiles of the devil. Though not yet having attained perfection know that the the work that has begun in you the Lord Jesus Christ will bring to completion. Be vigilant, be strong in the Lord and fear not though the days are evil and the heathens rage.
    Thank you Julie for all you do for the Kingdom. And thank you Laurette and Bonnie. I speak from experience, be very careful concerning yoga. The enemy ,the liar and deceiver,will use it to distract and confuse you.

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