This came from a listener who asked us to speak to the subject.
He was asked to participate in a visit to a yoga class as part of a leadership training his company gives. The purpose given was to learn to deal with stress and peace of mind. He refused that portion as a Christian, but wanted our thoughts.
Beginnings are a bit mysterious due to the fact it is ancient and was part of an oral tradition, so its early writings are mostly lost. We know it was developed a few thousand years ago in what is known as India today.
What we often think of as yoga was formalized around the 2nd century.
It originally was developed to be used and taught by Vedic priests. Its purpose was (and continues to be) a means to bring the body under control until it is able to reach enlightenment.
Understand that this means that you are ultimately lost, or annihilated, into a new stage of reality.
But this new, higher level of reality is one where you, as a person, cease to exist.
It is not interested in making you happy or more at peace with yourself or your surroundings – that is a Western corruption of the goal. It is firmly established in Hinduism and its beliefs.
Our assessment of it:
We see it as a two--pronged issue and will deal with it accordingly. The first is the spiritual aspect and then the physical one.
2 Cor. 6:14-7:1 “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. "Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate," says the Lord. "And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. "And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me," Says the Lord Almighty.”
This passage is one of several that could be referenced. Paul is rebuking the Corinthians for involving themselves in ministry work with unbelievers.
There is no place for gospel belief and work in and among those who are not truly Christians. There is no agreement. There is no “common ground” in reality.
But often Christians try to do just that and yoga would be an example.
When you choose to join a yoga class, where you are encouraged to meditate and find inner peace, you are using techniques that the bible would call “fleshly.”
It is something that belongs to this age and it is ultimately useless in dealing with your sin, your struggles, and this life we live.
This term “fleshly” is used of the Corinthians in both letters to them and for good reason.
They are a people who are around a massive number of religions and practices.
Each of those religions have ideas and practices that may have some initial, surface appearances of neutrality, but they are not. And to share in them in one’s effort to grow in Christ is a work that is destined to fail.
Paul brings this idea up in Colossians as well.
Col. 3:18-23 “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)-- in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”
You often hear people being told to empty their minds and to focus and meditate and such.
In one way or another they are wanting to find or hear the supposed voice of God or the divine. They are looking for peace or maybe just relief from stress and anxiety.
But the Christian is not called to this type of activity.
They are to be people who are dwelling on truth. And that truth is always defined as the bible.
The Word of God is to dwell richly within them. They are to let their mind fix itself upon the Word.
They are to be ever drinking of the pure milk of the Word so that they might grow in their salvation.
It is interesting that many yoga classes will use the term “namaste” as a greeting and sort of blessing given to one another.
But what is not understood by many is that it is a Sanskrit term. Sanskrit is a liturgical language for Hinduism and is infused with religious meaning. In this instance it means that you bow to the other.
And it references the fact that you are acknowledging “the divine” that is in the person.
It is meant that the person sees the divine that is you, as it is also in them, and is premised upon the pantheistic belief of Hinduism.
Yoga itself means to yoke yourself to the gods. By doing the exercises along with the meditation you are yoking yourself in servitude to the gods, but primarily to Shiva who is the god of yoga.
So the simple answer to the spiritual aspect and goals of yoga for the Christian is, do not participate in it.
There are exercises in yoga that many do for their physical fitness and well-being. They find that the stretching and poses are good for maintaining or retrieving a level of fitness that is good and even wise.
What this really is, is simply stretching, and there is nothing wrong with it. If someone shows you some pose that comes from yoga like the downward dog to help stretch your back out, then we would not give it a second thought. This is no different than lighting some incense in your home because you find the aroma pleasant.
But for a Christian you must make sure that is all you are doing. And often it is not. It is sold to you as a way to find peace and some sort of release. Often it is coupled with meditation, and it is sold as a way to bring your body and spirit together into one. And at that point it crosses over from some sort of physical exercise and into a religious practice.
Over the centuries that Church has failed to maintain purity in form and practice.
Syncretism is still a great evil that lurks in many hallways.
You don’t just christianize something by adding Jesus, or reciting bible verses.
If you want to do an interesting study, read several solid books on the history of the Church. Focus on the rise of monasticism and you will find that it is all built off of other religions and philosophies, especially dualism.
Today it is popular to practice forms of meditation that are simply built on a false understanding of spirituality and meditation.
We would not recommend the practice of yoga as a practice.
Frankly, we would not see any real value in even the exercises themselves due to the close connection to the beliefs of yoga itself.
We would not rebuke someone who stretches using those physical techniques, but we would inquire as to the goal and purpose. Also, we would listen carefully for false ideas that might show up in their vocabulary.
We, instead, would encourage people to exercise, knowing there is value in it. But never to see it as a pathway to know God or to grow in Christ or godliness. Frankly it is just one more thing you could add to your life that is at best limited, and at worst leads you astray.
Instead go for a jog, join the Y, and learn to be diligent in taking in and both learning and doing the Word of God.