Yesterday a woman wrote me this:
I had a question about yoga and was wondering whether you would have time to address it. My work place is introducing “non-faith” yoga for staff. It’s part of a new health program that has other elements to it like doing outdoors activities and meditation. We are a non-faith based non-profit, very small. Doing the yoga is not compulsory; no one’s being forced to do it. I had thought that it would be nice to participate purely for health benefits. I exercise and try to keep healthy and fit.
The person who is going to lead the yoga is a friend. He has clearly stated that what he will be teaching is a non-faith based system of yoga, as we are a mixed bowl of people.
My question is, is it okay for a Christian to do yoga? From articles I have seen via Google search I tend to get the idea that Christianity and Yoga can never be compatible. Would you and your readers help me resolve this so that if it turns out I can’t be part of this staff activity, I can explain to my colleagues and friend why I won’t participate?
Thanks and best wishes.
First off, let me say how touching I find your humble and thoughtful desire to do what’s right. It’s really quite affecting.
The question of whether or not a “Christian yoga” is possible is one I tend to avoid, because I know how passionately so many Christians feel about this particular subject. But since you asked …
I’m not afraid of the world. I’m not afraid of the way other people in the world experience, understand or express their spirituality. I’m not afraid to sit in a Buddhist temple, or attend a Jewish prayer service, or visit a mosque. I’m not afraid that exposing myself to the ways of others will transform me into someone I’m not. I know who I am. I know what I believe. I like to be with other people when they’re being who they are, and believing what they believe. Why shouldn’t I? The Christian who secludes does no one well, least of all himself.
I do yoga. And when I do, I’m a Christian doing yoga. And throughout the exercises and postures of yoga I remain that. Ater twenty minutes of doing yoga, I don’t start thinking, “Good ol’ Ganesh. What’s not to like about a God who looks like an elephant? I don’t see why I shouldn’t buy a statue of him, and start leaving a little food in front of it every day.” Of course I don’t. Instead, when I do yoga, I feel the pleasure of participating in the physicality of God’s creation, period. I know I’m honoring God by taking care of my body in the unique, time-honored way that yoga offers. I’m not going to fail to avail myself of the greatness of yoga because I’m so weak in my faith that I fear doing yoga will compromise that faith. Sometimes I know that what my body needs is yoga, so that’s what I give it. And when I do I always feel better, and more centered in God than when I began.
One thing, too, is that I deal with the spiritual system of belief of which I know yoga is in large part meant as the physical expression by remembering that Hinduism and yoga were born and developed centuries before Christ. So when I do yoga, I do so believing that I’m engaging in a profoundly devout expression of the instinctual knowledge of Christ before Christ lived. I feel like yoga does express Christ’s love and reality, that it is very much in and of his spirit. Christ just hadn’t physically arrived by the time yoga was developed.
I think of yoga as very pleasing to Christ, because (without meaning any disrespect to the practitioners of Hinduism) I believe it’s one of the ways that people expressed that they were listening to God before they had reason to know anything at all about Jesus Christ.