by Understand the Times with Roger Oakland
“Yes to Yoga: Can a Christian breathe air that has been offered to idols?”1 The title caught my attention in a Christianity Today article. The author begins:
It’s 7:45 p.m. on a weekday and for the first time today, I consciously slow down my breathing. I send the air deep down into my belly, letting it rise and fall like a wave.
In … Out … Along with a group of 30 people … I use the unhurried cadences of the air filling and leaving my lungs to lull my muscles and joints into daring postures….
Finally–my favorite pose that comes at the end of each workout–a corpse, during which I lay down and relax every muscle.2
Now, you may be asking the question, why would Christianity Today publish an article promoting Eastern religion? Yet, the author of the article claims to be an evangelical born-again Christian. She says yoga draws her closer to Jesus. In her own words:
[Y]oga has never had any negative influence on me, and it doesn’t trigger any harmful religious impulses. Just the opposite is true. The three hours a week I spend doing yoga … draw[s] me closer to Christ.3
The woman sees yoga as a way to connect with the Holy Spirit, and the breathe in, breathe out repetition is essential:
Holy Spirit in. Anything that’s not from God out. Come Holy Spirit. Renew my mind. In. Out.4
Christian yoga practitioners often claim they cannot be deceived, even though they know what yoga is and where it comes from. The author of the article states:
Now, my enthusiasm for yoga doesn’t mean I’m in denial about its Hindu roots…. I know that hard-core yogis believe that yoga is more than exercise or a relaxation technique. To them, it’s a religious ritual. But the Hindu gods don’t make it onto my mat. Yoga purists don’t lead classes at mainstream American gyms.5
In other words, it’s OK to do yoga if you only do it halfway. But the problem is, you cannot disobey God just halfway–and the demons know it. So what would Jesus say? Can a Christian incorporate Hindu spiritual practices in order to get closer to the Jesus of the Bible? I have a strong suspicion the “Hindu gods” have an agenda to introduce unsuspecting yoga practitioners to a different Jesus.
A most insightful article on this topic comes from a surprising source. The article, titled “There is No Christian Yoga,” is written by Yogi Baba Prem, a Hindu Yogi, a Vedavisharada trained in the traditional gurukural system. Listen to what he has to say about Christian yoga:
It was quite astonishing to see on the flyer “Christian Yoga! This Thursday night….” I could feel the wheels spinning in my brain. “Christian Yoga,” I thought. Now while Christians can practice yoga, I am not aware of any Christian teachings about yoga. Yoga is not a Judeo/Christian word! … It is a Hindu word, or more correctly a Sanskrit word from the Vedic civilization. So how did we get “Christian Yoga”?…
Hinduism should reclaim its full heritage and not allow other groups to rename its sacred teachings under their banner, especially when they have no history of those teaching within their own system. If they wish to “borrow” and say this comes from our brothers and sisters in Hinduism, then that is another thing…. Hinduism should guard against its sacred traditions becoming distorted and taken away.6
This Hindu yogi resents Christians grabbing Hinduism’s spiritual practice and calling it Christian. His resentment is understandable. How would we feel if there was suddenly a new craze called Hindu communion. We’d say, “Communion is about Jesus Christ. It can’t possibly be called Hindu.” How tragic that a Hindu guru sees the problem, but Christian leaders don’t. In 2006, the same year this article came out, Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian publisher, published a book titled Yoga for Christians. And incredibly enough, many ministries and Christian organizations are selling the book in their bookstores! (from Faith Undone chapter 6, “When East Meets West” – for more on Yoga and its Hindu roots, read Out of India.)
1. Agnieszka Tennant, “Yes to Yoga” (Christianity Today, May 2005, http://www.christianity today.com/ct/2005/120/42.0.html).
6. Yogi Baba Prem, Vedavisharada, CYI, C.ay, C.va, “There is No Christian Yoga” (October 2006, http://yogibabaprem.sulekha.com/blog/post/2006/10/there-is-no-christian-yoga.htm).