Can Yoga Be Co-Opted for Christ?

By Julie Roys

Evangelicals once viewed yoga as taboo. After all, yoga was developed as a means of worshipping Hindu gods. And, as Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, notes, yoga “begins and ends with an understanding of the body that is, to say the very least, at odds with a Christian understanding.” Yoga advocates emptying the mind and awakening the “god” within you. Christianity advocates filling your mind with Scripture and inviting God’s Spirit to indwell you.

Yet increasingly, evangelicals are trying to co-opt yoga for Christ. Dozens of churches now offer so-called “Holy Yoga,” which substitutes Scripture for Hindu chants and worship songs for Eastern or New Age music. Other evangelicals don’t try to “Christianize” yoga. They simply try to strip yoga of its religious connotations while retaining all its physical components. So, at evangelical Wheaton College, for example, the Sports and Recreation Complex offers three yoga classes for “invigorating stretch and strength work.”

We Christians tend to think we can repurpose just about anything for the cause of Christ. In fact, as crazy as it sounds, some women in Houston, Texas, are trying to redeem exotic dancing by offering Christian pole dancing at a local gym. At some point, we need to recognize that certain forms and content are inextricably linked. Gyrating around a pole arouses sexual desire and can’t possibly be appropriated for worship. Similarly, posing as a cobra and incorporating certain breathing techniques to empty the mind is contrary to Christian practice.

I know there are mature Christians who would argue that instead of emptying the mind while doing yoga, Christians can fill it. I suppose we could also pray five times a day like Muslims, but simply pray to Jesus and face Jerusalem instead of Mecca. We could also come up with our own eight-fold path to replace the one Buddhists use. But, this kind of borrowing from other religions seems at best confusing and at worst idolatrous.

No doubt, there are good Christians who practice yoga. Some of them are my friends. And, I know they refrain from the chants and oms, and despite my aversion to yoga, I don’t fear for their spiritual health. But, I do fear for the spiritually naïve who see mature Christians, churches, and Christian institutions embracing yoga and then think it’s innocuous and sign up for a class at a local studio. Unfortunately, for people like them, yoga is often a pathway to Eastern mysticism.

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So, it seems to me the church should be gently warning people about the dangers of yoga, not seemingly endorsing it. Certainly, with the abundance of exercise options available, we can find ones that aren’t tied to the worship of false gods.

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14 thoughts on “Can Yoga Be Co-Opted for Christ?”

  1. Leslie Marshall

    I thought you did a good job interviewing Ms Meyer and Ms Willis. I listened intently, as I am a Christian & an X- New Ager Yoga practitioner ( 25+ years). One contrast I noticed is that Ms Meyer does not steer away from Yoga studios which for all intents and purposes are houses of hindu/buddhist worship. And she had no intention of sharing the light of Truth on those next to her in Self-worship mode. [Would Jesus go into the Pagan Temple and sit with pagans while they bowed down to their gods? Obviously not.] I noticed that Ms Meyer said, ‘maybe we should read the Red Letters’?, I gather that was her response to the caller that used homosexual behavior as an example of what comes from a sinful heart. (some Christians argue that since Jesus didn’t mention homosexuality, then he must be approving of it.) When Ms Meyer calls ‘Yoga’ ‘just a word’, and ‘Namaste’, a beautiful! sentiment & ‘beautiful truth’, I am dismayed. And pained. The words of my former guru ring in my ears..he said….’Yoga means, Union with Self, Namaste means, I bow down to You, You are God. I bow down to Myself. I am God.” Lastly, countless yoga classes call on hindu deities, instigate astral projection, and encourage emptying the mind and erasing all boundaries. These yoga practices are not for general public, they are meant for those in a intense guru/disciple relationship, where the guru can ‘monitor’ the student and keep her away from dangerous pit falls, i.e., ‘dissociation, dizziness, space-out, head aches, night mares, mental instability, etc.’

  2. Leslie… Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’ll be posting a response to Saturday’s show very soon. Like you, I am concerned about Christians participating in yoga classes that are essentially Hindu worship services. I can’t imagine observing people worshiping false gods and not being deeply disturbed.

    1. My comment is BEWARE ! This is just the world’s way of drawing true believers in Jesus AWAY from the Truth. Betty

  3. Respectfully, I must state I am sorry, but what you are saying seems very judgemental about what exercise regimens people choose. I read scripture everyday and love God dearly, and would never tell another “you are wrong” for taking yoga classes. I know what I believe, and so does God. Perhaps what some are missing here is what scripture tries to remind us – to strive our best to live in God’s image. It is not our right to make judgements on others. That is for God to decide.

    1. Beth Price-Almeida

      In terms of ‘exercise, you would be correct about the judgement observation, however, since yoga is NOT actually an exercise in it’s intended form, that is neither here nor there. Yoga is a religion and retains it’s religious ideology even if it is super adulterated in Western practices. I don’t think a Christian church would be okay with sharing services with those who practice in other religion in the same place. A place of worship is supposed to be consecrated and holy, at least God’s house always has been. To practice something exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught but to say that you believe Him is not what we are supposed to do if we are trying to fulfill our purpose, to worship and honor God and lead others to Him, not empty headedness.

  4. Yoga is not part of Hinduism, it is Hinduism. It is also highly sexual in nature. Simply a one way trip to hell, Sexual in nature? Look at the immoral clothing it has created for women and tragically girls to wear. Be not deceived, God is not mocked, nor is He blind. Here we have deep spiritual evil.

  5. I am a devoted follower of Christ, and I have practiced yoga for 7 years. Never have I chanted, or have been encouraged to chant, or otherwise encouraged or expected to give worship to myself or other Gods. Yoga is the only exercise that has 1) helped promote deep stretching and flexibility, thus healing back tension/knot issues I’ve had for years, loosening tight muscles in my extremities and other areas resulting in less migraines and more, healed my plantar fasciitis, and 2) aided in my connection to mind/body, as indeed they are connected. 3) I am now much more aware of tension and as a result know when to stop and stretch, etc. It has also increased my strength, balance, and muscle stability. I feel confident, at peace, and at ease when I leave my practice. Additionally, there are many moments in my practice where I rejoice and give thanks to God for the way he’s created our bodies, and specifically my own with all it’s flaws. I am so grateful I have found this exercise regimen and I truly wish everyone could experience it without judgement. Those that criticize its roots – do you celebrate Christmas with an evergreen tree? Give gifts? Do you dress for Halloween? Do you listen to contemporary worship music, some of which credits its style to country, rock, or folk music? If you answer yes to these or participate in other activities with its origins in anything other than your religion, you have no grounds to be critical of yoga. P.S. I would encourage you to do more research on the various types of yoga – some are specifically focused on the religious-affiliated origins and other on aspects such as breath/breathing, others on literally building strength and flexibility. Because not all yoga instructors are Christians (no surprise there), you will find they offer interesting perspectives (“love yourself”, etc.) to which I either ignore, roll my eyes, give glory to God, and/or see if there is any Truth to be found they may have stumbled upon because all Truth is indeed God’s truth. Not for everyone, but I am so grateful to have found it.

    1. Thank you for this. Yoga–and tai chi, also eastern– are the only exercises I can safely practice, given the extensive structural damage I have. Yoga is a series of stretches and poses that you will find in almost every exercise regimen, and in every physical therapy program. It is quite possible to divorce the movements from the religion.

  6. NIcely put together! Christians are already being distracted, manipulated, and led away from practicing their own religion to the extent that their entire lives are centered around serving Christ and living out their faith. There is no need to flirt with other systems or practices no matter innocent they may appear to be.

  7. Beth Price-Almeida

    Isn’t there a book or something that discusses how the practices that call for emptying your mind are dangerous because the Bible says that when a demon comes back after not finding rest anywhere to find the house empty and clean he brings 7 more back and the man’s condition is then worse than it was at first? Yoga is the practice of emptying your mind. Maybe not walking around empty headed, but spending some amount of time this way. From that little bit I just said about the demon, I will say it sounds like a super dangerous way to “relax”. Nobody at my house will do yoga, I don’t care how ‘in’ it becomes. I can stretch and chill a million ways and none of them require risk of demon habitation!

  8. I’m somewhat confused by this article?

    She says she has mature Christian friends that do yoga but leave out the oms and the chants?

    This is an oxymoron ! Doing yoga period is demonic even without the chants !

    So, I would say the author of this article is very blind and dangerous .

    It’s the subtlety saying yoga practice is fine as long without the chants

    Yoga period is damning and demonic . The physical postures are open doors to the soul for they are postures to demonic beings .

    This article gets a 5 thumbs down 👎 because she is excusing her so called mature Christian friends who are not mature at all if they think posture poses is biblically acceptable

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