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.
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.