A Christian Asks: “They’re Doing Yoga At My Job. Should I Join In?”

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.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter. If you shop at Amazon, help support John by entering the site through this link right here--Amazon will then send John 3-4% of the cost of anything you buy before exiting the site again.

 

  • Ace

    I like this post. :)

    I think a lot of Christians isolate themselves so much they risk becoming utterly cut off from reality. I know too many Christians who only have Christian friends, only socialize at church or "church-approved" functions, only listen to "Christian" music and watch "Christian" TV… and, frankly, a lot of those people become *really weird* for lack of a better term. Many become positively paranoid of anything that doesn't fit into their tiny, narrow box of what is "acceptable Christian behavior" that too often turns into hostility and bigotry against anyone who doesn't fit that mold, even other Christians.

    I'm all for being in the world but not *of* the world but there's a point where it becomes ridiculous. Jesus spent his time with the tax collectors and sinners, not the "righteous".

    As for Yoga turning everyone into a Hindu, maybe if you are so extremely impressionable that you immediately copy everything around you without a thought that might happen, but if you're that mushy-brained, there's no hope for you anyway.

    It's kind of like the notion that video games instantly turn kids into serial killers despite the fact that the vast bulk of kids who play games, even the ucky gross ones with zombie parts flying everywhere, don't suddenly start going on mass-murdering sprees.

  • JAy.

    Man, it is nice to see someone else who isn't afraid of the world around us. So often Christians fear what they do not understand to the point of isolating themselves from wonderful opportunity.

    A couple years ago I was in Korea for several weeks. A colleague there took me and another co-worker to visit a couple of Buddhist sites in the area. One was in a cave on the side of a mountain and dated back to an era where Buddhism had been outlawed. But these people had so longed for a spiritual connection that they hiked into the mountainous woods, expanded a cave, and constructed a giant temple to the only spiritual path they knew. They were faithful to an extent that I have rarely seen in Christians. ("Oh, the AC is out. We will stay home this Sunday.")

    And, yes, I felt the presence of God in that temple. I don't know if others felt him or if they understood him the way I do. But he was there, communing with humanity. It was quite moving.

    So, get out and live life, people. You may find something that strengthens your own faith. And you may just find a way to show someone else how to get to know God even better.

  • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ Sylvie Galloway

    I started doing yoga..via my Wii Fit for the strength and posture exercises. There is also a meditative zen exercise where one simply sits still and tries not to respond to visual or sound based distractions. I finally got all the way through that exercise last night. Harder then I thought I find none offensive or counter to my Christian faith. Instead I appreciate the movements as beneficial to my body, and the simple practice of resting my mind from the stresses I face daily.

    I think we can benefit from the simple peaceful disciplines that something like Yoga has to offer.There is a great deal in the Eastern religions that are truly wonderful, promoting peaceful interaction with each other, self discipline and a step away from materialistic pursuits. I appreciate and respect those things, and can certainly see how Christianity can do well to remember, that we too can have those things are part of our walk with God as well.

  • http://orangejuice-etc.com Elias Carlson

    Right on! It's so refreshing to encounter another Christian who isn't living in fear of the world. As a native of Seattle I'm surrounded by an extremely wide range of beliefs, cultures, and political views. In a big city we aren't afforded the luxury of isolating and surrounding ourselves with like-minded (read closed-minded) people. I consider this a blessing.

    If you isolate yourself from the world and don't engage these people you are doing a double disservice. First, you are cutting the world off from the light of Christ by hiding it behind your own fear, while simultaneously reinforcing negative stereotypes about Christians in the process. Second, you are avoiding your direct calling which is to go out and be a representative of the gospel. I can't think of any better way to communicate God's love than to participate in Yoga with a group of non-believers who know that you are a Christian. By engaging with them in something like this perhaps they will think to themselves, "How nice, a Christian who's not closed-minded". I firmly believe it's this kind of example that opens the door for Jesus far more than preaching at people on a street corner ever can.

  • http://ramblingsofaspiritualidiot.wordpress.com ~Julia~

    Good article, John.

    Yoga no more makes one a Hindu than meditation makes one a Buddhist. Same as participating in a sunrise ceremony no more makes one Pagan than praying in a church makes one a Christian.

    Fear of things unknown is more damaging than understanding the fear. Understanding one another and how each approches life and living in mutual respect is more benefical thas shying away from folks different from you in fear.

  • http://bookfloozy.wordpress.com twila

    "I’m not afraid of the world. I’m not afraid of the way other people in the world exercise 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 way 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 not? The Christian who secludes does no one well, and especially not himself".

    These are some of the most beautiful words I have ever read. They give me hope, hope that there could be a world where reasonable people use common sense to connect to those around them.

  • Mia

    Hey John,

    Just FYI — God does yoga, too. I just returned from my local studio, and there He was, going through the Bikram poses.

    Seriously, I understand the poster's concern, but living in fear is not spreading His word. Someone told me last night that I must listen to Christian music only. That hit me hard and still stings today. I know what I believe.

    • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ Sylvie Galloway

      Christian music only?? So that begs the question..what kind of "Christian music' is the "right" genre? Please don't tell me Southern Gospel, or else I'll have to turn atheist.

      • Mia

        You got it! I live in the South. Specifically, I was encouraged to watch TBN for examples of appropriate Christian music.

        • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ Sylvie Galloway

          Well, some people actually like that style of music. They find it inspirational. I do as well. I am inspired to change the channel as fast as possible…well I did, when I actually used to watch tv on occasion. I'll take my wide eclectic music preferences, which include secular, sacred and quite a bit in between.

          • erika

            i really like the Gather Band……( teeny tiny font)

        • Jeanine Petty

          Ohhh No! Whoever encouraged you to watch The devil's Bullying network…aka…..TBN….run from them as fast as you can! I'm sure it is very inappropriate for a Christian such as myself to watch something on tv..like…say..Southpark….but let's just say if I have fallen to that temptation a time or two-thousand….the show does have some good common sense "morals to the story"…such as an episode which basically put it out there that the vast majority of "Christian" music is exactly the same as "secular" music…they just have to say "Jesus" and put in some "uplifting" lyrics here and there, and, voila, you have a money-maker for "Christian" consumers. No matter what the genre, it's all about the money.

          • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ Sylvie Galloway

            I remember that Southpark episode!

          • Mia

            I don't want to detract from yoga and Liz's touching post way below, but yep, I'm finding TBN quite disconcerting — and not exactly brimming with music, Christian or otherwise. Its theme song could be that classic Pink Floyd song, "Money."

            All perspectives are welcome!

          • Jeanine Petty

            Sylvie, that episode was pretty spot on, right? And just like Mia's post says….TBN is all about….drum roll please……MONEY!!!!!!!!!

            I know someone who was in the "gospel" music business and admitted that before he repented of his ways, he would totally play at churches where he KNEW they were teaching some messed-up doctrine, just so he could get the money from the offering they would take up for his band…..and he knew many of the bigwigs at The Devil's Broadcasting Network (TBN) and these people are downright evil.

            I don't know how we got from yoga to this……

            But anyway, hurray to Southpark for having some common sense about the truth when there are so few Christians who have any, or if they do are too afraid to speak up.

            TBN IS very disconcerting and it inspires me to change the channel as quick as possible too, unless Southpark or Scrubs isn't on, I will leave it on TBN for awhile just for the comedic value of their stupidity. Is that twisted?

  • Argy Bargy

    Good post, John. Like the depicted cat, I wouldn't try it (not immediately) for fear of running up orthopaedic bills, but I've always had a benign view of yoga. I didn't realize that Christians would cast it such a jaundiced eye.

  • Robert Meek

    "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."

    Beyond the shock of wondering how on earth this conclusion was arrived at, I think it's more to the point to remember that just because it's an "article…via Google search" (or Yahoo, or whichever search engine you favor) does not make it so. The integrity of the source is much to be considered.

    Case in point: only for example, as the topic is unrelated – I got into it, & I must confess, heatedly so, with an elderly woman in Aruba, born & raised in Holland, who was adamant that the Jews were NEVER GASSED in the "showers" by Hitler's Nazis!

    Needless to say, I was, ahem, very upset.

    Her "proof" was a web page that appeared as a "photograph" of what was billed to be "secret Nazi papers" that were "proof" that this was so, allegedly because they said so. (As they were in German, & my 7 & 8 grade German is nonfunctional, I had to assume they really "said so" but that mattered not.)

    My point to the woman, that you can make any web page say anything, that the moon is really made of blue cheese, for instance, or whatever, and that doesn't make it so, just because a web page says it is so, was totally lost on her.

    Authenticity is the key, along with integrity.

    It is one thing to reference health data from the CDC or Web MD, and another thing to reference health data from poiernt.ku or whatever!!!!

    This same woman incessantly dogged me that THIS time she REALLY HAD found the CURE FOR AIDS, and she would incessantly try to shove this in my face, as I have HIV.

    I told her repeatedly, that (A) my HIV is well under control with my medications, (B) that what has disabled me is my lungs unrelated to HIV, and (C) as an ex-RN I wanted nothing to do with such tripe.

    So she did it again, and again, and again.

    Her final round was "I know this one is real because I asked a friend."

    Right.

    I was supposed to travel to some obscure island country and pay $2,000.00 for a "cure" for HIV.

    Her answer, "I just want you to heal!"

    My answer eventually got to be … well, you don't want to read that, here.

    A coworker read the much debunked rumor about someone leaving a syringe "filled with blood with AIDS in it" in a theater, and someone sitting in it and "getting AIDS" from that, and was telling people in a very alarmed way to be careful, and I confronted her. (I already knew the answer as I knew this was a bogus email scam going around.)

    I challenged her that it was not true. In response, she said, "I read it on the Internet!" (She meant in an email.)

    Thus, she fully believed the silly tripe that it was, and was spending her day trying to scare everyone.

    The POINT is – do NOT believe things JUST because you read it online!!!

    I was raised in many forms of fundamental Pentecostalism. The rather rigid kind, that believed in no makeup for women, etc., etc., etc. (I am not like that now.) However, for all of their rants, which included against "mixed bathing" (swimming), bowling (they sell beer), and more, I never, NEVER heard them touch yoga, at all.

    Final note, and a laugh, I hope … these same "do not go bowling" Christians ate meals at TIGF's which had a full service bar but that was okay because it was a restaurant.

    So they said, to my face, when confronted.

    SIGH.

    • JohnB

      @Robert, I see this kind of thing SO often. So often that I have a stock answer to explain just how strange some peoples’ thinking process is.

      I use something similar to the Carl Sagan “Baloney Detection Kit” when evaluating things. Michael Shermer (Skeptics Mag) has published a video of the basic things to look for. I wish the few basic rules of the baloney detection kit would be taught in schools, for a week each year. It would help so many people.

      The link below may offend some people because it includes some comments about creationism. Even with that, the logic he describes is completely accurate.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUB4j0n2UDU

      • http://none Don Rappe

        What an excellent presentation on critical thinking applied to reality (particularly physical reality). But what is the data on whether bologna lovers have the patience to sit through it attentively?

        • JohnB

          Good point. People who don't listen to reason aren't going to spend 15 minutes listening to reason.

          In the Milgram experiment "Authority figures" were easily able to convince 2/3 of the subjects to administer lethal voltages to people. Ok, nobody really got hurt, but people would still press the shock button even though the actor was saying "I think I'm having a heart attack". I think about 90% of the population will believe what authority figures tell them without any supporting evidence.

      • Scott Spencer-Wolff

        Thanks for sharing that video – it was really interesting. A well spent 15 minutes.

    • Jeanine Petty

      Oh, Robert….crazy lady holocaust deniers who have the cure for HIV and (as I restrain myself not to put an adjective like insane) pentecostals?

      What CAN one do but sigh?

      By the way I have known the "oh we love God's liberty" type pentecostals who are not opposed to make up, short hair on women, or even (gasp) jeans on women……who were STRONGLY opposed to Christians doing any kind of yoga and also martial arts….because that's one of the ways you got possessed or oppressed by demons. Yeah, they took a lot of time casting the "demons" out of me after having me make a list of anyone I had ever had…uh….relations with….and all kinds of stuff. Very weird and creepy, and sadly, I was prey to it because I did not yet know (as they obviously don't, and don't care to find out) that demons come down to nothing but being filled with SELF. And yes, that is Biblical. Don't know how I got on all that….

      But I couldn't help but sigh with you, with the mention of crazy lady holocaust denier and pentecostals in one posting. SIGH!

  • JohnB

    Namaste!.

    I remember sitting in my first yoga class many years back. At the beginning of class the teacher offered this simple statement, her hands flat together in front of her chest. In unison, everyone echoed back "Nameaste". I understand it to mean something like "I bow to you", but have head it describes as "The peace within me welcomes the peace within you." I like that.

    In church on Sunday morning I hear "The peace of the Lord be always with you", and in unison, we all respond "and also with you". I wonder if this similarity bothers some people.

    I find it so strange that even the spiritual aspect of yoga could be offensive to anyone. Practicing composure while doing something challenging? Clearing your mind while engaging in something that is difficult? Taking an hour to break out of our fast-paced lifestyle and re-focus?

    I think you are spot-on with the notion of some people being afraid of that which is different.

    John, I never considered the notion that this practice (I'll extend it to the oldest still-practiced religion – Jainism) as some sort of pre-Christ instinctual behavior. Just another thing I will noodle on for a while.

    Great post.

    • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ Sylvie Galloway

      I hate to correct anyone, but Jainism is an offshoot from Hinduism, which apart from Zoroastrianism is the oldest religion in the world. Jainism started around the same time as Buddhism and shares some similarities with it and Hinduism, especially in the belief of the life cycle (reincarnation). Some of its roots may stem back to pre-Hindu times, but it wasn't formulated as a religious discipline until around the 9th century BC..

      Just so happens, that is one of the last two faiths I have studied in my World Religions class. I have a test on it and Sikhism on Monday.

      • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ Sylvie Galloway

        One more thing. The yoga discipline is practiced by Hindus Buddhist and Jains, but was originally formulated by Hinduism.

        What most do today is the poses or exercises related to Yoga, or what is called Hatha Yoga. And those moves can be hard to accomplish and hold. I'm a novice..the tree pose is so wobbly when I attempt it.

      • JohnB

        I happily accept corrections. I should have said "I’ll extend it to *what I believe to be* the oldest still-practiced religion – Jainism".

        I think of early Hinduism more of an informal spiritual tradition than a religion. Perhaps I am cutting things too finely.

        I just looked. I didn't think Zoroastrianism was really practiced any more – looks like it has 100K followers still…

        Thank you :)

  • Tim

    Many Christians say Christianity and rituals like Halloween (dressing in costume) and Easter (Egg hunts and chocolate bunnies) are incompatible. I disagree. Coming off like a wet blanket or a stick-in-the-mud is not likely to reflect a joyous faith. The Apostle Paul said to be all things to all people, that by all means, some would be drawn or compelled to investigate the claims of the gospel (my paraphrase). However, if it weighs on your conscience, then don't participate. If you see no harm and you're only worried about what other Christians think, then you are possibly being a respecter of persons or laboring under the fear of man. Neither are healthy tendencies in a life of faith. One exception in that arena may be if someone (another Christian who loves you and looks up to you) is stumbled by your participation in Yoga, and their faith is harmed by this. Then for the love of that person alone, you must consider what is really important. But in general…and I say this as a minister of the gospel for 28 years…don't sweat the small things.

    • Ace

      Apparently some Christians want to take all the fun outta childhood holidays. How silly.

      Anyway I never knew any Christians who objected to the annual church-run Easter Egg hunt or trick-or-treating growing up. Though I did read a Chick Tract to that effect once. Of course, Chick Tracts are their own brand of hilarious crazy, I used to collect them in middle/high school, I wonder what happened to that box…

    • Angie

      Tim — This is the best response! There are, indeed, many gray areas in Christian life, and we each have different sensitivities. We need to be responsive to what God is calling us each to do in these areas and let others be led by the Holy Spirit to do as He wants them to do. And be watchful for those who may stumble by watching our choices. Thanks for your post!

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    So it's true. My readers really are hippies.

    I knew it!

  • http://marie-everydaymiracle.blogspot.com/ Marie

    It's never occurred to me that yoga would be un-Christian. But then again, I prayed to my own God at Buddhist and Shinto temples all across Asia. :)

    I want to tell you about a friend and coworker of mine–Roy DeLeon–who has written a book about "Christian yoga." I call him my Zen Catholic friend! His book is called "Praying with the Body." He came to our church in Portland, Oregon, a few years ago and led a wonderful 1/2-day yoga blessed movements workshop.

    Here is a video of Roy demonstrating one of his prayers:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zVsoslT7-k

    Here is his web site: http://blessedmovements.com/default.aspx

    I recommend that you check his book out–whether you are comfortable, or uncomfortable, with yoga as a Christian.

    • http://www.blessedmovements.com Roy

      Thanks, Marie. This blog post is truly a beautiful response to the lay's concern. I have this wonderful feeling that God, the Supreme Yogi, who created everything for the sole purpose of calling us to return Home, is smiling with this thread. I envision the Divine, eyes closed, a sweet smile, nodding head softly, and saying "AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH-MEHNNNNNNNNNNNNNN." three times.

      Allow me to share a salutaion I have developed:

      Standing, hands in prayer position, reminding myself that wherever I seek God, I am on holy ground. Then inhaling I lift up my heart, and say "Glory and praise to You…" I raise my hands to the sky saying "my Creator". Exhaling, I bend my knees softly, spread my arms to a cross and say "to you, my Redeemer" then inhaling I straighten my legs, lift up my heart, squeeze the shoulder blades aa I bring my hands toward the back, and say "and to you Who dwells within me." Then I bend forward on the exhale, touching earth, saying "as it was". I come back to the cross saying "is now" then raise my hands "and will be forever"… back to namaste position, bowing head, "Amennnnn." Repeat at least 2 more times or as many as twelve, or forty.

      Om Shanti.

      Peace, Amen.

      • Don Whitt

        An interesting form of syncretism.

      • http://none Don Rappe

        Very cool. Although I'm comfortable with yoga as a Cristian, my body does not get comfortable with most of those poses.

      • Gina Powers

        So cool, thanks, Roy! May have to give that one a shot….

    • Liz

      Thanks Marie.

  • Rachel Cabal

    John, I'm with you. I'm not a yogi but my husband is. We came into our marraige as a Lutheran and a Catholic and spiritually the most exciting part was gleening the best of our respective approaches to faith. So…as he finds another meditative approach I get excited to see the additional spiritual practices that he utilizes while continuing to be a practicing Christian. No religious dialog can happen unless we are all coming at from a "I wanna learn" stance. So dear writing of this fantastic question….yoga away! :)

  • http://afharkey.wordpress.com afharkey

    Glad I'm not the only one who thinks this way. My response to Christians who seclude themselves out of fear is, "If you don't know what the world is like, how do you expect to change it as we are called to?" Earlier this year, I got a chance to visit a mosque for Friday prayer as part of a project for a college course on Islam, and it was a wonderfully beautiful experience. Sure, when everyone was kneeling and praying, they were praying a little differently than I was, but I felt just as close to God in that mosque as I do in a church or walking down the street.

  • Scott Spencer-Wolff

    Great Post John – agree that if Christians "seclude themselves", we are never able to address the real causes for pain and suffering in the world, we opt out of understanding different world views and the very rich and varied perspectives those world views offer us (not that we have to adopt them, any more than learning French means we have to speak french all the time – but it's nice to know and expands both one's horizons and one's knowledge of the construction of our OWN language).

    I like to think that the whole Pentecost experience was more about those early followers of Jesus having an "ah-ha" moment in recognizing the shared spiritual experience of all world views – than about babbling in Foreign or nonsensical languages.

    My own church (UMC) is planning a five week "World Religions" series starting in a couple of weeks to speak about the similarities between the different faith traditions – and, as one of those researching material for it, there are many, many valuable similarities.

    How cool when we can focus on how we are the same, rather than how we are different – on what we share in common, rather than what we don't. Isn't that the message of Jesus?

    • http://none Don Rappe

      I've come to think of "Pentecost" as meaning we can share the one faith in spite of our differing epistemologies.

  • Laurie Rawson

    Oh for Heaves sake, God is within and around me.. whether or not I do yogi ,yoga, belly dance ( yes I do) salsa.. ballet..and I thank God that I still can do these wonderfull God given things .. still.To move is to celebrate life. God given life.Amen.NOBODY takes my faith in JESUS cuz i do the down dog..

    • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

      Now this makes me smile!

  • Liz

    John, thank you for putting the post up and thanks for your treatment of the question, and the beautiful words. I am very touched by your response. And you do have great readers. I was right. :-).

    "I’m glad that, hopefully, she will pursue yoga, confident she has made a good decision. I’m really glad, though, that she reminded me of the multiplicity of ways we come to God. There’s nothing selfish in the gratitude that reader helped me feel this morning." Elizabeth, I will pursue yoga. And wow, glad that my asking helped you with something else.

    I actually do not isolate myself at all. I do not limit my world to Christian circles only. Like almost everyone here I thought I could do Yoga as exercise. I did however have some grey areas, which I took to Google :-) I have been told even doing certain kinds of meditation rooted in eastern religion is un-Christian. By people I consider "serious" Christians or at least with more knowledge of stuff than me. And then I said to myself, why not ask John Shore?

    Robert, Google is my friend :-) but no, I do not consider things I read authorities without considering the source. And in Google's defense it was a quick and not very extensive nor balanced search.

    Again, thanks everyone. Baraka tele (many blessings) as we say in Swahili.

    • Robert Meek

      @ Liz I stand corrected, chastened, and humbled. Still, those things did happen with those people, as I relayed them. I am glad you consider the bigger picture. Would that these folks did from my past.

    • http://marie-everydaymiracle.blogspot.com/ Marie

      Hey Liz–your relationship with God and Jesus is your own personal business. I don't think that anyone is more "Christian" than anyone else. We all have to forge our own journey. I think anyone who tells someone else that they are not being Christian enough is insecure in his or her own faith. :)

      Enjoy your yoga!

  • Don Whitt

    This is an interesting aspect of the "pick and choose" quandary I think some people have with religion. What flexibility do we have, if we profess to follow some doctrine, to step outside that or interpret it more liberally than others do?

  • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

    That's a lovely sentiment, but I don't see it as the whole nor even the most important of Jesus's objectives.

    On one hand, He says in Matthew 10:34 and following that he did not come to bring peace but a sword… that in fact, a person's enemies would be of the same household.

    He radically engaged with sinners, not for the purpose of revelry but to reveal the Father. And this will sound unpopular, but–by his presence and His acceptance–deep merciful LOVE–to allow people to see themselves clearly, warts and all. That mostly means people saw their uncleaness and their need for God's intervention.

    In Matthew 23, he does not entirely dismiss Pharasetical ( I'm making that spelling up!) teaching, but tells his followers to observe what the Pharisees say to observe but not to do as they do.

    I think a lot of modern Christians resemble the Pharisees. But Jesus also says "every plant which my Father has not planted will be pulled up" so not to worry….also not to fear those who can destroy the body "but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" Matt 10:37or38.

    It has certainly raised my ire when, for example, my dear weak sister says to me something like she needs to "pray up" for about a week before meeting my (then manfriend, now husband) because she knows we're fornicating! I laugh at it now, but she still throws a few of these in from tme to time and it endears her to no one.

    To the reader, following Christ's example will be so much more productive with people than seizing up in fear.

    @ Scott, in my experience, the Pentecostal tenet regarding the practice of speaking in tongues (as outward evidence of an inner filling, or awakening of the Holy Spirit in humans) is to strengthen one's spirit in communion with God through a heavenly language (and also the Presence of God manifest in other measures as well.) Who says it is "about babbling in Foreign or nonsensical languages?"

    Apparently Pentecost made a difference as the early church grew by the Gospel retold– the essence of which I read to be that Jesus provided a way for us to be justified to God through Christ's death and, very importantly, His resurrection- no longer weighed down by the uncleaness of our humanity.

    Okay– have at it, but go lovingly, please.

    • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

      okay that took a while to type but was in response to Scoot's comment above

  • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

    I mean Scott, not Scoot! :)

  • Leslie

    I love your response. Yoga has always gotten me in touch with my spirituality and made me feel closer to God, and I have always been mystified that anyone would claim that is counter to the teachings of Christianity.

    • Gina Powers

      What Leslie said, dude….and just about everyone else on this thread. ;)

  • Mary

    A simple Namaste should suffice as a response from this very Christian yoga devote.

  • http://www.aviewfromtheedge.net/blog Nicole

    “When I do yoga … I know I’m honoring God by taking care of my body in the unique, time-honored way that yoga offers.”

    Amen to that.

    I’ve found a similar experience with yoga – especially yoga which is challenging; challenging heat, challenging stretching poses, challenging strengthening poses.

    I’ve been doing yoga regularly for about 3 months now and, If God wanted me to grow a little by learning to lean into a challenge rather than avoid it, then it must have been He that led me to yoga.

    I would say to the person who wrote to John about the perceived conflict of yoga and Christianity: YOU know what’s true in your heart and so does God. He’s not going to be offended if you try yoga.

  • Elizabeth

    I was so psyched when I started reading this — quick, John’s summoning his commenters to the bat cave! — that I admit I’m the teensiest bit disappointed. This post is so logically, elegantly, and lovingly written that I can think of nothing to contribute. Perfect.

    Comments here and on Facebook did bring up one memory. I like to think I’m thoughtful, but it never occurred to me to approach yoga cautiously because it is non-Christian. (It doesn’t occur to me to approach yoga in any fashion because I’m lazy, but that’s another comment.) The last time I felt this jolt was when I fell in love with a man at college. He was (and is, I assume) a brilliant writer, actor, and playwright. He was also one of the first people about whom I cared that I considered a “serious” Christian.

    During an unguarded moment when we were first dating, my boyfriend recounted confronting whether or not he should read and study Ancient Greek plays and philosophies. They were pre-Christian, untouched by Jesus’ message. I’m so thankful I loved him. I hate to think what I might have said otherwise. But the hesitation in his voice and the ashamed look in his eye prompted me to accept it, to support instead of tease.

    I’m as guilty as anyone of slipping into an easy disdain of people who don’t practice Christianity the same way I do. God covers a lot of territory with me. I always figure that, if I go astray, He’ll yank me back to the right path. God knows I don’t do subtlety.

    But reading today’s question brought me back to that exquisite recognition of just how adoring, how careful people can be when approaching God. And brave. The reader asking this question took a bigger step of faith than I do in weeks of irreverent interpretations and off-the-cuff comments.

    I’m glad that, hopefully, she will pursue yoga, confident she has made a good decision. I’m really glad, though, that she reminded me of the multiplicity of ways we come to God. There’s nothing selfish in the gratitide that reader helped me feel this morning.

    • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

      Oh listen to you being modest and then adding five paragraphs!

      I love the reference to the Bat Cave– since we all know John IS the Batman he wrote about a little while ago!

  • LoneWolf

    "The advantage of Christianity is that you don't have to believe other religions are wrong" needs to be quoted more often.

    • http://none Don Rappe

      Yup. This is an advantage of Hindu as well.

  • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

    I’m in love with this entire thread.

  • http://megaloi.blogspot.com Redlefty

    Didn’t Jesus live in the East? And didn’t yoga start in the East? I think that Jesus’ early morning prayers rituals outside Jerusalem may have resembled a yoga sesson more than they would have resembled a Sunday morning devotional.

    I led off a bible class last year by doing Little Nine Heaven, a Chi Gong exercise designed to build a stable base of calm energy in the body. It freaked everybody out at first (about 75 class attendees, most of them lifelong Christians over the age of 60) but as we discussed Eastern culture and where the New Testament is really set, they got it.

  • peet

    just as some background, there are 8 types of yoga. the one we think of as 'yoga' is the physical part, the poses and stretching. Hatha Yoga. But it has an interwoven purpose with the other 7 parts. The physical poses and movements are meant specifically to give our bodies the strength and flexibility and endurance to sit in meditation for long periods of time. That's its purpose. If you're doing yoga as a way of exercise, a form of Indian calisthenics, it isn't any better than any other exercise. I personally believe that there is great benefit to sitting in one place, doing nothing, just observing your breath. It's delightfully unproductive, and puts you in a frame of mind to receive from God rather than 1) buttering God up, 2) telling Him how sorry you are for stuff you've done and will probably do again tomorrow, 3) ask Him for stuff. it's a fork in the eye of mammon, and great way to shut your chattering, blithering mind up for a minute and find the still small voice.

    • Liz

      "great way to shut your chattering, blithering mind up for a minute and find the still small voice."

      I could do with some of that

  • bee

    I credit yoga for helping deepen my Christianity. Practicing Ashtanga yoga over the last six years helped me physically understand lessons that never took from the pulpit. Namely the experience that living in Christ is a daily practice and you go to him from where you are daily, humbled.

    When I started Ashtanga I wanted to become an expert and practice and be perfect. Much like I approached Christianity. Showing up at the mat daily quickly made me realize that the practice is simply showing up. Perfection is not the goal. Yoga has constantly showed me how to fail, and learn, grow and become humble in that experience. I thank God he has shown me his grace with yoga.

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Very nice. Thank you.

    • Liz

      Ditto

  • Sarah

    I had an early experience with yoga, which was a burden to me. Eventually, I was told that the mantras are actually a part of the religion on which it is based and that what we see as calming statements are actually designed to draw us in to a religious observance which is not Christian. I would suggest that you research it on Christian sites. I copied this from an article on Christianity.com.

    "Kamal Maharaj, editor of Vishwa Shakti, a progressive Hindu newspaper, said that teaching yoga from a particular perspective defeats the purpose of the philosophy.

    He told the Times, “You cannot come to yoga with a background. There is no perspective that you can embed yourself in. To believe that there is a personal creator and each creator is different goes against the teaching of yoga. If one has to adopt yoga, one must come out of the box.”

    I see this as his saying that yoga draws you out of your religion and into a total observance of that religion, Hinduism.

    My other suggestion is that you ask God for guidance and that you realize that the number of people who agree or disagree with you does not necessarily indicate that the answer is the one that you need..

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      I don't read Maharaj's quote like that at all; I think you've grossly misunderstood it. (And I WRITE for the big brother site of Christianity.com, which is Crosswalk.com. And there they were happy to publish this piece.)

      • http://deleted Sarah

        John, one of us is writing based on what they have read, you, and the other is writing based on what they have experienced, me, enough said.

        Sarah

        That Christianityt.com published it there is not necesarily a validation.

        • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

          Wow. That's so many kinds of arrogant and wrong I don't even know where to start. Apparently you've had one "early experience" with yoga. I've been doing it for forty years; I studied the philosophy behind it–and I mean seriously, and systematically–for twenty years. I've known hundreds of people of all faiths who've been serious practitioners of yoga. I now make my living studying and writing about Christianity—and getting to know more Christians than you've likely ever met.

          And you think your one early experience with yoga makes you more qualified than I to comment on the relationship between yoga and Christianity? Please. You need to go play with someone your own size.

          • Leslie

            Hey, Mr. Grammar King! I do need to point out that you misused a word (you're for your) in that second paragraph.

          • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

            It is so WEIRD, how lately I've been making that exact mistake. About three months ago, I just … started doing that! Out of NOWHERE. It's just the weirdest thing. Anyway, righto. I'll go correct it. Thanks.

          • Allie

            Your experience doesn’t invalidate hers. Different things are stumbling blocks to different people. It’s entirely possible for it to be true that yoga brings YOU closer to God and also true that yoga was a bad spiritual experience and a temptation for HER. Just as some people can enjoy wine with friends and others become alcoholics.

          • harlowe

            She was invalidating his experience to begin with.

          • Valerie

            If you are not strong in your faith you probably cannot let yourself be influenced by another. John is sure and strong in the Christian faith and therefore not bothered by doing yoga and even uses it to bring himself closer to Christ. However, Sarah, at the time that she tried yoga may not have been as firm in her beliefs and therefore it was a problem for her.

  • Brenda

    Go to Christian Yoga.

  • http://emphaticasterisk.com Lindsey

    I don't know how much I have to add to this conversation, but I can say that practicing yoga has definitely improved the quality of my life. The relaxation exercises have helped me over come a pretty debilitating case of insomnia and the general use of yoga to balance and strengthen the body helped me to be well enough that although my first labor and delivery was a long and drawn out process that left me useless for weeks (prior to yoga), my second (after yoga) was short and actually energizing.

    There is no price to put on feeling healthy and in tune with your body, and if a Christian observes their body as God's creation and the temple of their soul and Christ's love within them, there is nothing evil which is born of learning to be in balance with it.

    As far as people's fears about the mantras said and all of that- words are words, and while words do have power words can also be changed. You don't HAVE to repeat what the instructor says- the benefits can be gained while saying "watermelon watermelon watermelon", the point is not what is said with your mouth but what is felt by your body and intended by your heart.

    And that's my $.02

    • Liz

      Lindsay thanks for this insight

  • Elizabeth

    @Sarah (11:58 and 12:21): I'm the perfect person to break this impasse because I know nothing about yoga. I am entirely unbiased by intellectual knowledge or personal experience. However, what I do have is very good critical reading skills. In reading Maharaj's quote, I don't see any of the meaning you (Sarah) derived. What I read is that yoga can't, in fact, be practiced with an agenda or point of view. How can something predicated on neutral openness be a threat?

    • Jon

      what she said :) Very astute and well stated. But there is a bit of subtlety missing I think… There are all kinds of yogas, some of them have specific characteristics that are only suited to specific backgrounds… but in general, the *goal* of yoga is to try to help you shed all the background…. so you pretty much *have* to practice yoga with a specific point of view, just as I have to play golf with my own peculiar form of physical clumsiness… my aspiration, of course, is to be a master at it, without effort: a natural unencumbered by my usual lack of concentration, and mental twitching. So shedding the mental baggage is not so much a pre-requisite as it is an attribute of good practice allowing for spiritual progress.

    • danielle

      We all bring our own “stuff” to yoga (whether it’s exercise or meditation). The point is that through the practice, you start to open up and let it go of the “stuff”, whether it’s a stiff hip joint or a grudge toward someone or something you can’t let go of. Eventually, you open up and you are able to function in a more neutral state, where you can have compassion, feel more grounded, feel more deeply and fully, and, yes, if we’re talking about spirituality, feel more deeply connected to God.

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com skerrib

    Freedom in Christ, baby.

  • Holly

    Whatever religion yoga is based on, is neither here nor there.

    It's what your head and heart are based on.

    If you have a teacher of a yoga class who extensively incorporates the religion/philosophy aspect to where it "draws you in" as Sarah was told it was designed to do- by all means, don't go.

    If you have a teacher that doesn't go further than physical health, mindful breathing/meditation, balance, strength, flexibility, and you LOVE it- by all means, don't feel guilty because other people think you shouldn't, give you stink eye, or even berate you for going… . By all means- try to avoid those people, they're just as bad for your christian walk as paying for an adament yogi breathing his religion down your neck twice a week!

    It's what's within you, not a class at the YMCA, that makes the christian. Isn't that the point of Jesus? That it's not just rules and regulations (that are often skewed and enforced), but also the substance of the human's head and heart?

    So considering that, the arguement is moot b/c it's a per person basis, and a per experience basis.

    I've listened to non-christian songs where the singer is singing to a love of theirs… but my head and heart will consider it God that they are referring to. With that same sort of idea, I think that it's possible to use yoga's physical health and meditation benefits for God's glory (after all the holy spirit's home is what you'd be fostering) and praying.

    Of course this is all IF YOU EVEN LIKE YOGA! Lol!

  • Holly

    I just read most of the comments.

    It's good to know I'm not alone in my point of view.

    But Google really does only bring up the other side of this particular "debate"…. how can that POV be so widespread and uncompromising, when it realisitically depends on the experience of the christian?

    Practicing yoga has brought many christians closer to understanding how prayer should be. In our American Society where it's all: GO GO GO! Multi-task!! Drive-thru! Televisiphonernetting!– Who ta heck would try to discourage learning the skill of meditation?…. Ooooh I don't know, maybeee…. saaaTAN?!

    LOL!

    Sneaky little turd.

    • http://ramblingsofaspiritualidiot.wordpress.com ~Julia~

      Holly, your post made me :D!

      And I'm sooo stealing 'televisiphonernetting'…

      • Holly

        I can credit televisiphonenernetting (also a learned skill, I think. lol!) to some cable company commercial.

        Forgot who, but I totally love it.

    • Valerie

      Love it!

  • Rajendra Cholan

    As a Hindu, I find it gratifying to see people of all religions benefiting from the precepts of Hinduism. The spiritual truths of our religion are eternal and universal. There is no reason for a Christian to not take advantage of them. We are all the children of God, after all. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna not only expounds on the various systems of yoga, but also tells us, "And of hearts which follow other gods In simple faith, their prayers arise to me, O Arjuna though they pray wrongfully; For I am the Receiver and the Lord Of every sacrifice, which these know not Rightfully (9.23)." Lord Krishna, being infinitely kind and compassionate, accepts and finds pleasing the sincere prostrations of faith and devotion of everyone, even those who perhaps have not yet understood or known his reality. Thus, it does not matter if you perform yoga in the honor of Christ, Allah, Zeus, or what have you, for you are engaging in a sincere form of prayer and devotion bequeathed by God to all of us.

    • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ Sylvie Galloway

      Ah, thank you. We Christians can do well to remember that there are teachings of other faiths that are very harmonious with Christian thinking. The concepts of devotion, prayer, meditation, charitable works, care for the place God gave us and all that is found upon it, honesty, truthfulness, love and respect are shared by most religions on earth. What differs are concepts of God, man's relationship with that God, beliefs of the afterlife, faith rituals and tenets of accepted righteous behavior etc.

      If Christians reject something because it is found to have non-biblical origins or "oh the pagans do it so it must bad" then they need to be really thinking hard about the concepts we all agree on. If yoga is bad because it is an eastern religious practice, then we must also reject integrity or prayer because those too are eastern religious practices.

      We should instead pick practices that are beneficial to us and our community, and that help us practice our faith fully and that we believe are pleasing to God. Some are more broad-minded in that decision, some are less so. Neither is necessarily wrong.

      In one respect the Hindus are right, as a Hindu life often is, in regards to faith, A Christian life is highly individualistic. We will walk our path with God as highly structured with rules and rituals evident, or in a more aesthetic format, spurning the secular for the sacred, a more liberal open approach, and a whole heap in between.

    • http://upfromthemat.com Chaz e.g.

      I have been teaching and practicing yoga at my church, Pilgrim Congregational UCC in Cleveland, Ohio, for nearly ten years. I always work to assure those practicing with me understand the relationships of mind, body and spirit. We also end with a meditation on the miraculousness of our universe, and we work to create a growing understanding of nonduality. It is one of the most rewarding things I have done as a congregant. They love to hear me sing a mantra at the closing…and many join in…simply because they are so beautiful. We also operate a very busy food pantry, provide financial assistance to needy individuals in our neighborhood, and politically support all oppressed groups of cityresidents thru educating the public about love, compassion and celebration.

      These are the same works of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and all spiritual peoples. There is One Creator, who is eternal, and brings forth all of our teachers and sages. Aauuuummmmmen Chaz e.g.

  • http://www.steppingintothelight.com Diane L. Harris

    Who knew that a practice as calming (as well as physically challenging) and empty headed (in a good way) as yoga could cause so much commotion?

    If I need to discard from my repetoire any physical posture used by "enemies" of Christ in order to maintain my relationship with Him, then I'm sure He's hoping I grow stronger than that; not to mention, I'd have to quit praying on my knees.

  • http://amythist-malaise.xanga.com/ Sheila Warner

    This is a very good article. We are so quick to dismiss other religions, and I agree with your assessment; that God, through the Spirit of Christ, woos people who have not heard of Him. Some civilizations not only pre-date the coming of Christ, they existed side by side during the Old Testament years, but on the other side of the world. If we believe that God loves all of mankind, then surely we can recognize the built in knowledge of His presence among those who, through no fault of their own, never had the opportunity to hear about Him. We cannot know the mind of God as it pertains to these people, and I am certain He found a way to reveal Himself to those who sought Him. As to yoga itself, there is no reason why a Christian cannot choose to meditate on Christ and His goodness while they do the exercises.

  • AAthanas

    It’s not like yoga people “own” or “invented” the concept of stretching, so I don’t think there’s harm in it. It is probably best to choose a yoga class that is non-faith so there aren’t “religious” chants going on that you may be expected to participate in. If you go to a “religious” yoga class, certainly don’t participate in the chanting, etc., just remain silent. I attended a yoga class once through my employment where I was the only Christian working there and one of the attorneys at the law firm was about to be a yoga teacher and invited us all to take a free class once. I attended and ignored the chanting parts. At the end of the class when everyone was all done saying their weird chants and stuff, I said “Amen!” I think some of them felt they had successfully tricked me into contradicting my faith by attending, but in actuality, God had the “last word.”

    • Jassi

      Yoga is not just about "stretching."

      Whether you like it or not, it was indeed developed by the Hindus. You can not discredit them of their own art.

      However, at the end it is only an exercise. An exercise of both mind and body.

      The west has adopted only the physical aspect of it. The western yoga lacks any spirituality. Which is fine. You can still enjoy the physical benefits of it.

      In India and in Hinduism however, Yoga is practiced for the well being of both mind and body. Which is its very true and classical form.

      Hindus have never imposed their religion on anyone. Nobody was trying to "trick" you into chanting Hindu prayers. You are not obliged to chant Hindu prayers while doing Yoga.

      Just have fun with it and enjoy its physical benefits without getting into the religious fundamentals of it, something that all the Abraham religions tend to do with every aspect of their lives. It is a shame really that such an issue is even being discussed. It goes against the sanctity of Yoga itself.

      • Sarah Palin

        Agreed, Jassi. This fear of having one’s religion taken away from them exists only in American paranoia. Hilarious! Church lady goes voodoo because of Lotus pose!

  • http://kenreads.wordpress.com wken

    Too bad Paul never wrote anything about food sacrificed to idols or anything like that … you know, that would have helped clear things up.

  • Nathan

    I'd like to also add that the symbol of Ganesh actually holds a lot of wonderful Christian metaphors (e.g., the broken tusk that Ganesh holds like a pen is a symbol of sacrifice – "his body broken for you"). It's easy to get on a path that denies all the good of other religions, and I'd hate to throw the baby out with the bath water.

  • Marie

    Incredible to me that there is (namely today) such a concern for "foreign influences" which should be regarded as "risky", according to some….

    http://www.albertmohler.com/2010/09/20/the-subtle

    The Chinese began using chopsticks 5,000 years ago. CHINA!

    The food-worthy use of "THE FORK" found it's way to England in 1608. Some of the best influences were scoffed at (FEARED) and then embraced laaaater onnnnn……

    *waiting for someone to cite the bible passage that covers "downward facing dog" being an abomination*

    • http://thesewingexperiment.wordpress.com/ Sensible Seamstress

      Thanks for posting that article. Really helped me articulate why I think all Christians SHOULD practice yoga! That man’s denial of the importance of the body in spirituality is a key part of some of the worst teachings that come out of the fundamentalist view.

  • http://www.coyotecommunications.com/travel/ Jayne Cravens

    If a person doesn't believe a Christian should do yoga, then that person must also believe that a Christian should not celebrate Christmas. After all, the origins of the celebrations associated with Christmas — the tree, the log to honor the God Yule, the mistletoe, the exchange of gifts, etc. — are all pre-Christian and honor non-Abrahamic deities.

  • Mary

    Nobody’s chanting in my Yoga class at the Young Mens Christian Association.

  • Roger Smith

    Considering that the softest heartbeat of the Bible is often found in passages that speak of quietness and meditation (“commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be silent” [Ps 4.4]; Jesus retreating to commune with the Father alone in the hills; Elijah encountering God not in the flash and bang, but in the gentle whisper; and so on), which the contemplative (monastic) traditions have always focused on and drawn their deepest insights from — just as is done in many other faith traditions around the world — then I fail to understand what’s to fear in anything contemplative or meditative. (Plus yoga has the added benefit of physical health at the same time — such a deal!) I used to practice yoga a little (encouraged by a dear friend who is a highly-respected elder at our fairly conservative church); this article has moved me to take it up again.

    On the other hand, if there IS anything to fear in religious traditions, I’d think it’s the approach of loudness, talk, and pushy action that characterizes much of evangelicalism (who seem to think that even worship begins with yakking at God in song, rather than by encountering him in stillness of heart, and letting that stir a response whether in silence or song). A religion that wants to dominate culture, politics, ultimately the world — rather than to kneel down and win the world’s heart by washing its feet — is the kind to be scared of.

  • Monica

    I’ve heard the fears and concerns from folks in my congregation and priests, but I do enjoy yoga. I found myself worrying about it when practicing and came up with this response. I concentrate on the word Jesus when folks say Ohm, or Om, however you want to spell it. I also think about some of His sayings and acts. This solves my issues for me, not sure if it will for you, but I offer it to you with love.

  • Catherine

    Wow, I had no idea this controversy even existed. How can one have a relationship with a God who is threatened by Yoga? It purifies, relaxes and open one up to God which she can only be happy about.

    • Paula Trietsch Chaney

      You must not live in the South. The Southern Baptists and Evangelicals see Satan everywhere, not our infinite and abundant God.

    • http://thesewingexperiment.wordpress.com/ Sensible Seamstress

      Paula is right. In my younger years I heard more times than I can count that yoga is another tool of Satan. The question this sincere sounding person wrote made me so sad, as I reflected back on all the things that I, she, and other well-meaning “Christians” have missed out on (not only for themselves, but they’ve missed out on connecting with the rest of the world) due to teachings like that.

  • Jason

    This left me with my mouth agape this morning as I read it. If you are truly grounded and done the hard work of soul searching about WHY you believe WHAT you believe, then you are never afraid of exposing yourself to anything, be it a class or a different point of view. You see God everywhere (hint: Because he is). You realize that every experience is an opportunity to grow spiritually. To be fearful of such things is not coming from God, but from your insecurity in what you THINK you believe. Furthermore, there is not a thing wrong with questioning one’s beliefs. It can only lead one more deeply towards truth. You can’t get away from your path towards God’s true nature, it isn’t possible.

  • Joseph

    I’m trying to think of why I’m even spending time on this silly issue that someone is afraid to practice Yoga because they may be a Christian. This issue is troubling because it speaks to the freedoms taken away from a person in the name of being “Religious”. This person is obviously a “good” person because she works in a non-profit organization. But she is concerned that she might be tainted or might go to hell if she practices yoga. I am sorry for this person because she has been so brainwashed by her “Christian” beliefs that she might fear a yoga class. This sort of “Fundamentalist” belief ultimately leads to Wars in the name of Christianity and is a continued relic of times gone by when Church and State were so neatly tied together that you could have Crusades and Religious Wars and everyone felt they were better “Christians” because of it. Better that she should have the mental and spiritual freedom to back off her limited beliefs and taste some of those “forbidden” fruits of other cultures. Unlikely that she’ll go to hell for yoga class but in addition to limbering her body she just might open her timid little mind.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      So you respond by personally insulting the woman who asked this honest, sincere question. Nice.

    • Mark

      Joseph, I couldn’t agree more! I’m not saying this lady is a bad person, just misguided.

      • Mark

        John, I don’t think Joseph was being rude or insulting, I think he was stating an obvious point. It is SAD that she feels there might be a problem in doing yoga. It is even more SAD that some many “christian’s” get so worked up about…working out and trying to stay healthy…i.e. yoga! This is why so many “christian’s” aren’t really “christian” and have such a horrible name!

        • Allie

          “Timid little mind” is kind of insulting.

          • Diana A.

            Yeah. The whole tone of Joseph’s comment made me want to go “Well La-ti-da!”

        • Lauren

          Considering how thoughtful and cautious this woman is, I’m pretty sure she would find Joseph’s words hurtful and demeaning.

          “silly” – belittles her concern and places a value judgment on her thoughts (technically this language is mild verbal abuse)

          “little mind” – implies her mind is less than yours or others’

          “I am sorry for [her]” – says she is pitiable

          “her limited beliefs” – again, a way of calling her small-minded and devalues her religious experience/beliefs

          I am certain the woman asking this question is none of these things and admire her thoughtfulness and desire to follow God even in areas such as exercise.

        • Lauren

          Mark’s words could even be taken to mean that she was on the verge of not really being a christian by considering the belief that yoga was not appropriate for her, spiritually. Obviously, this is not what we REALLY want to say to this sweet and cautious sister in Christ.

  • http://gibu7098@aol.com Gillian Butler

    Thanks for this interesting and informative discussion. I’m very bad at yoga but I really like doing it and am participating in a class at Providence Hospital (Sisters of Providence, anyone?) I also flash back on our Catechumenate retreat last winter. We started with “Morning Prayer yoga” around the altar. We did some easy poses while we meditated on scripture or a brief prayer. It was really lovely! “For the love of God is broader than the measure of the mind, and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.” I think there is room for yoga.

  • http://www.mom-blog.com gina b

    I have two examples of positive experiences with yoga and meditation. In the past, I have done yoga, and during meditation, I completely felt in touch on a deeper level contemplating the Creator and the amazing gift He made me that is my body. (This too was in response to be miraculously healed following a serious stroke.)

    This spring I went to a workshop with a creative session that I did not know would feature some very specific meditative, new age techniques. It didn’t bother me, rather, it actually strengthened my personal faith, as I was amazed at what hoops the facilitator made people go through to have a divine meditative experience. The beauty of Christianity is that Jesus is immediate, right here, right now, I don’t have to do some mind-bending thought exercise to access Him. I opened my eyes to see all the other participants straining to attain the level of meditation requested and witnessed, for the first time, people physically yearning and longing for God…and not knowing how to get there. It not only made me grateful, it made me see how the world needs God but cannot find Him.

    So, yoga can be a very spiritually instructive practice for the Christian.If your faith is strong, I’d say, don’t miss out.

    • danielle

      I’m so sorry to hear you had a strange “New Age” incident. It’s ironic that the facilitator had to resort to mind games since (as the “New Age” iteration isn’t so different from mine as a Vedantist), GOD IS EVERYWHERE. It’s just a matter of turning inward.

      Of course, then it’s harder to charge people for workshops when it’s not so terribly difficult, isn’t it ;) ?

  • Dawnmarie

    John, I commend you on an open & honest answer to this woman’s question. I am new to this website & I intend to be around for a long time :)

  • Ken

    Two thoughts. One is there is I believe a lot of truth to the idea of a “sound body – a sound mind”. Being healthy let’s a person focus on being the best they can be at everything they do be it work, taking care of life’s daily errands, participating in social activities with friends, or deepening one’s understanding of one’s own faith and being bright and alert enough to truly appreciate God’s blessings. So that would be a point in favor of something like yoga (if it was something a body wanted to do, or just try out).

    Second, as Koestler wrote in the mid-60s, “All decisive events in the history of scientific thought can be described in terms of mental cross-fertilization between different disciplines.” And I think that this often applies to pretty much all ideas and puzzles we encounter in life: Sometimes as individuals confronted with a problem we need to be shown how to see in new ways . And frankly being a good Christian is quite enough of a puzzle to me. But when seeing other people (both within and without my own faith) struggle to understand the Divine? Well, sometimes it helps me see things in a way I would never have been able to before. So that’s another point in yoga’s favor.

    The only downside to me is if ones faith is weak at a certain point in life (hey, it happens), then maybe that is not the right time to look outside one’s comfort zone or accept an invitation to share another person’s experience of faith not one’s own. Times like that it probably best to wait., a right time for everything and all that. When one is ready, that’s when its time to accept an invitation to share. After all, God has gifted us with a whole vast Creation in which to see His hand (even if it’s just your toes during “downward dog”).

  • Carolyn

    I am glad I found this site. John, I appreciate the gentle way you responded to the person who asked the question.

    In my experience, when it comes to situations such as this one, I’ve found that confusion comes when the first thing that I do is to look to someone or something outside of myself to tell me if what I’m curious about is “OK” or “Not OK” – sometimes I am unsure of trusting my own inner authority so I don’t even go there first.

    If I were curious about yoga and had these kinds of questions, I’d try a class and see what participation brought up in my belief system or anything else IF it even brought up anything. Trying it does not commit me to never stopping, right? It would be an interesting questioning time – Where does the fear come from? Do I feel physically better afterwards?

    You know, build a more firsthand first person experience. I can only REALLY know if something is right or not right for me. I can drive myself crazy wondering will this person who makes it clear that they are christian accept me if they find out I do yoga, what if they ask me or what if they assume things about me because they hear or see I’m doing yoga, what do I think I’m putting at risk by participating in a yoga class, can I put anything at risk by participating in a yoga class?

    I’ve spent too much of my life making things complicated and essentially in my mind running around to gain consensus so that I feel I have “permission” to do or not do something. Its much easier to just go inside and ask. For me, that’s what a personal relationship with God is in practical terms.

    Great site by the way.

  • http://www.rejoycing.blogspot.com Joyce

    Allie, in the spirit of the woman writing the original question, I don’t think that applies to her. Her heart is clearly devoted to Jesus and she just wanted to be assured that participating in yoga would be wrong or offensive in His eyes. John’s answer to her was kind, informed, and reassuring. I hope that she will enjoy her times of yoga and allow it to be a time of devotion and peace for her.

  • Wendy

    I’m also surprised at this debate. I didn’t know that this issue of Christians v Yoga existed. And I confess, when I first read this woman’s letter, my first instinct was to try to formulate some wise-crack about it.

    But everyone’s responses here have been so thoughtful, and genuinely caring. You’ve all taught me about how much more I have to learn about compassion.

  • Valerie

    Since God encourages meditation and so does yoga then by all means have at it!! There is not rule that says you cannot meditate on God or Christ or anything else for that matter while you are doing yoga! I have a friend who is Jewish and teaches yoga and she has no problem incorporating her spirituality with her yoga so why should Christians! Good luck with whatever you decide.

  • Tim Gray via Facebook

    I don’t understand the question … I think there are more important things to do than get undies in a bunch over yoga… Seriously, folks, getta grip!

  • Henry Hamilton via Facebook

    lmbo :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/michelle.parsneau Michelle Parsneau via Facebook

    My Presbyterian church has a yoga class once a week during the fall, winter and spring. It is wonderful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnShoreFans John Shore via Facebook

    Tim: You don’t understand the question because you didn’t read the piece. The question was genuine and sincere.

  • Tim Gray via Facebook

    Me too… I honestly just don’t understand… even WITH the help of your article… sorry if I came off a bit snarky.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michelle.parsneau Michelle Parsneau via Facebook

    Mr. Shore, thank you for how kindly you answered the person who submitted the question. I do understand coming from a place in which one was taught that anything not overtly and blatantly “Christ centered” was probably evil and nefarious. It has been so freeing (and frankly, in my limited understanding, quite Biblical, in the New Testament sense) to come to the realization that I can do anything and go anywhere when I am secure in my own faith. Those who judge me seem to have forgotten that Jesus hung out with those who were regarded as undesirables in His society.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.b.foster1 Robert Banks Foster via Facebook

    I’m beginning to understand the variety that exists in your and in The Christian Left’s audience. Like some of your writers I had forgotten (never having been Right or a fundamentalist) how frightening it is to take steps out of a box. Thank you for the caring and clear answer to your correspondants letter.

  • Tim Gray via Facebook

    I maybe should have prefaced my remark I heard this topic discussed on EWTN (Catholic radio/tv) recently.

  • http://www.facebook.com/arnomichaels Arno Michaels via Facebook

    this Buddhist thinks you’re awesome John Shore, and would be happy to do yoga with you anytime =)

  • Chris Gillespie via Facebook

    Speaking as a post-Christian with a good memory, I should point out that the Christians who view Yoga as incompatible with their faith take a very animistic view of their world.

    Especially, anything “Eastern” from jade elephants to accupuncture to iridology, not to mention all the martial arts… have (cue X-files theme) “SPRITUAL” foundations… meaning that there are demons/ evil spirits who are behind all these practises. This is held to be true in both overtly “religious” yoga and the sanitised versions.

    With regard to Yoga, Tai Chi etc, the belief is that, given that man is a tripartite being (is a spirit, has a soul, lives in a body), then anything you do to (eg) your body will affect your spirit and soul.
    Given that Yoga was inspired by pecuilar [read non-Jesus-Loving] heathen eastern people, their practises are supposed to be one and all infested with more demons than a mongrel dog has fleas and parasites.

    As soon as you start twisting your body into these demon-inspired pretzel-shapes, then you are opening the door volluntarily to said spirits, whoch will be only to happy to come in and set up residence in your life, because you were disobedient in not eschewing these demonically-inspired practises like your pastor said you should.

    Now of course any thinking person will realise that this is just fear-of-the-unknown – lets condemn as demonic anything which we can’t foind a proof text for. When you point out the number of places that the Bible speaks of and endorses meditation and contemplation, these fundies will be quick to tell you that CHRISTIAN meditation is different in all respects from the Eastern variety… yet as soon as they open their mouths they usually demonstrate their complete ignorance of both the theory and practise of all kinds of meditation.

    Heed them not – neither God nor your faith in Jesus is going to be compromised by these time-honoured and healthy practises.

    • danielle

      Hence the arrival of “Christianized” yoga and martial arts courses. I didn’t know about the latter until a rather fundamentalist gentleman who’d left the dojo I attended for many years re-surfaced as a teacher of “Christ-centered martial arts” :/

  • Liana Curcio Rowe via Facebook

    Why is this a question?

  • Roger Wolsey via Facebook

    Answer: only if you want to become more comfortable in your own skin; sense greater ease and less reactive anxiety; become more flexible (physically and otherwise); and/or want to explore letting go of patterns that no longer serve you and shift into ones that might serve you better.

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

    Answer: only if you want to become more comfortable in your own skin; sense greater ease and less reactive anxiety; become more flexible (physically and otherwise); and/or want to explore letting go of patterns that no longer serve you and shift into ones that might serve you better.

  • http://www.facebook.com/davidjearle.la David Earle via Facebook

    Until tonight I was ignorant of the Christian ‘issue’ with yoga. I have never taken up yoga, I’m involved in other exercise activities. Spiritually, I have been involved with Bhuddhism; I don’t believe that the Bhudda would characterize Bhuddhism as a religion, it is a practice, a way of life. I believe that in practicing some of the tenents of Bhuddhism, especiallly being mindfull and in the moment, I have become a better Christian.

    • Susan

      Are you aware that you are misspelling Buddha, Buddhism, etc? How can you be “involved” with something without learning how to spell it?

  • Lisa

    GREAT response! Gonna share this with my far “right” (not centered) Christian boss who says Christian’s shouldn’t fear.

  • danielle

    The spiritual aspects of yoga (meditation, writings such as the Upanishads, etc.) have been around for centuries, but the physical practice really didn’t start to develop into how we think of it until about 150 years ago. The asanas–poses–you would be learning are rooted in Indian gymnastics and (if I remember correctly) wrestling. The names of most poses are ( in Sanskrit, which may not even be used in a “non-denominational” class) based on their difficulty; easier poses tend to be named for objects, animals, etc. The more advanced poses are then given the names of sages and deities (again, in a non-denominational setting, those names will likely be changed); this is done to simply to call attention to the fact that it’s going to be really hard to do, not to engage in worship.

    As far as I can tell, it wasn’t till some of the more current strains of hatha yoga were formulated that some people attached it to meditation (raja yoga) or devotional (bhakti) practices; neither is an absolute requirement for one to participate in hatha yoga. (Nevertheless, some chanting is common.) In any of several non-religious approaches to hatha yoga, though, you won’t have any of that.

    It may surprise you to note that not all of us who are Hindu or Vedantists consider hatha yoga a vital part of our spirituality. Some teachers (Sivananda, for instance) do, but by and large it’s either not important or viewed with some concern; if we are to let go of our earthly attachments and focus more and more on Brahman (God), getting too wrapped up in how fit we look (whether through hatha yoga or being a gym rat) isn’t such a great idea.

  • Karen Rowland via Facebook

    amen to David’s comments above! Exactly, John, the only thing I might have told her is this- that by coming to a quiet and centered space, she might really be able to enhance her relationship with God. Buddhism and yoga can all lead us to that spot of being in the moment, and as such, you can be in a very clear spot to hear God much more clearly. The study of both for many years, ENHANCED my relationship with God,without a doubt.
    John, I really really have to commend you for your fabulous answer to this woman.
    To me, this question struck me as a question in a time warp! I wondered at first , who could even still think this way. Then again, in the course of my life, I realize that I’m light years away from being that timid Christian-in-the-box- afraid of the evils lurking right outside the church door…..as are you- but you handled the question sensitively and with respect. I surely hope she realizes that it can only enhance what she’s got going already.

  • http://www.facebook.com/debquilty Deb Quilty via Facebook

    J. M. Dechanet O.S.B. wrote “Christian Yoga” back in 1960 before it was cool. I did yoga for the better part of a year before losing interest, so I say never deprive yourself of the opportunity to tire of a worldly fad. As Oscar Wilde said, the best way to fight temptation is to give in to it.

  • Bryan

    I genuinely believe there is a lack of education about the roots of yoga. Yes, Hinduism and Yoga are inseparable, for Hindus. However, yoga specifically was a basically meant to be used as a tool to reconnect us with divinity. Why should this not scare away Chrisitans? Because the ancient yogis understood that it is not quite possible to describe God with words. Mostly they preached alignment. Alignment with nature or Shiva/Shakti the solar/lunar energy. In reality these sages were not attached to names or even images God. All that mattered was devotion and a heart of service. Hatha yoga specifically was designed us the grace, strength, flexibility of our bodies. And also the limitations and imbalances they have as well. But more profoundly these great minds knew that each individuals attachment to their senses and how they seek pleasure or to avoid pain often was responsible for our habitual state of mind or unbalanced physical self. Hatha yoga gives anyone that believes in One Ulimate Divine source to explore the body, examine how their mind reacts to the challenges of the postures, and just BREATHE. Being able to breath freely in any posture is the ultimate act of surrender and takes unmeasurable humility to let go of tension and the inflexibility of the mind as well as the body. Bhakti (devotion to God), Jana (spiritual or self study), Karma (service) are all the traditional modalities of yoga. Jesus would get behind all of those. Even Raja yoga or the royal path of yoga mirrors how Jesus lived his life. Anyone who tells you that yoga is unchristian or against God simply does not know or understand what YOGA is at all. Love the body God gave you and with every inhalation and exhalation practice gratitude for the spirit that moves you. Namaste! The Light in be sees the Light in you!

  • Michael Benedetto

    As a believer I am filled with the Holy Spirit. No amount of yoga can remove him ;-)

    • adrian

      Amen

  • Kirsten A.S. Mebust via Facebook

    They’ve been doing yoga at my Lutheran church. Some of the people who participate are Lutheran church leaders. Just do it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnShoreFans John Shore via Facebook

    You Lutherans. You’re such hippies!

  • Kirsten A.S. Mebust via Facebook

    Yeah, isn’t amazing what radical grace covers!

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

    On a related note, see “To the Christian Who Sent me Hate Mail on Easter Sunday” http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/04/to-the-christian-who-sent-me-hate-mail-on-easter-sunday/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cadie-Edwards-Blalock/100002249025569 Cadie Edwards Blalock via Facebook

    I use to be afraid to do yoga because I was told it was evil. (Yes I’m from the south). But I do yoga and it makes me feel fantastic. Don’t believe all the christian bull about yoga ~ enjoy yoga and feel great!

  • Jen H.

    Wonderful! Thank you.

  • LostGrrl

    Very well said! The yoga offered at our gym is purely physical stretching…no spiritual component at all. Since this is being offered through a company, I’m thinking it might be the same way. I think Christians do themselves more harm when they try to seclude and shelter themselves from healthy and positive things around them; not to mention the negative message it sends to non-Christians who might be otherwise drawn to our faith. When Christians run in fear from things like acupuncture or yoga, or a whole host of other things, it makes them look downright silly and detracts from the message of Christianity, which is all about faith, not fear.
    Yoga is good for your body and body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. As long as they are not having you pray to a Buddhist or Hindu God while doing it, I see no problems with it at all.

    And kudos to your company for offering this!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X