Remember When Yoga Was Bad?

Remember When Yoga Was Bad? September 18, 2014
The yogis at Solomon’s Porch.

Last night in yoga, I couldn’t help but smile. I know I’m supposed to be totally and completely focused on the moment — and I was — but I was also thinking about the past. When I wrote The Sacred Way, editors and Zondervan made me take out two passages: one that mentioned drinking a beer, and one that referred to a yoga pose. (It didn’t matter that the pose I mentioned was in the context of a spiritual retreat led by Zondervan partner, Youth Specialties and Mike Yaconelli.) No yoga. No way.

Then, of course, Doug went on CNN to debate John MacArthur about yoga, seen above. At the time, Doug had done yoga, but I wouldn’t say it was a part of his daily life. Well, it is now, and his wife Shelley runs a non-profit yoga studio at Solomon’s Porch (she’s at the center of the photo above). And I take yoga classes a couple times a week at Life Time Fitness.

Back in those days, I’d be asked about yoga at conferences, and I’d say that I had no problem with it. Regularly, someone would confront me from the crowd, saying that demon enter the body through the anus during some yoga poses. I’m not kidding. That’s what they’d say.

But now the Christian warriors have moved on. They’ve pretty much left this blog, and they don’t come to “check out” Solomon’s Porch (and argue with Doug during the sermon) anymore. They always move on, don’t they. They’ve found some other person or movement that is definitely going to destroy Christ’s church. Surely, they’re on the warpath. Somewhere. But now their churches offer Christian yoga classes.

And that’s what made me smile last night in yoga. That, and the fact that I could do yoga for the first time in over a month, since my back injury. And the fact that my wife, Courtney, was teaching the class. All of it felt healing to me.


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  • S_i_m_o_n

    Gotta say, John MacArthur made a lot of sense.

    • WilmRoget

      How much did he pay you to say that?

      • S_i_m_o_n

        I doubt very much if John MacArthur loses one second of sleep wondering if someone said something good about him on Tony Jone’s blog.

  • Jeff Preuss

    I love yoga. As I get older, I find that the flow movements really help me maintain flexibility and keep from getting too stiff. And the quiet moments of reflection are wonderful opportunities to commune with Jesus.

    Last night was my first yoga class in over a month (because work’s been nuts) and it was good to bend and stretch and understand this physical shell that God has given me.

    MacArthur: “Why would a Christian wanna borrow an expression from a false religion…?” Well, Christianity has been adopting practices from other religions for millennia, so I’m not sure I see the difference.

    • S_i_m_o_n

      Whether or not Christian’s have adopted practices from other religions in the past is really of no weight in this discussion. What MacArthur points out and seems quite clear to me is that yoga is inward focussed and pantheistic which is antithetical to the teachings in the Bible.

      • Jeff Preuss

        “Whether or not Christian’s have adopted practices from other religions in the past is really of no weight in this discussion.”
        The fact that Christianity has over thousands of years adopted practices from other religions and incorporated them into Christianity’s spiritual rituals and ceremonies absolutely has bearing on this discussion, which is about whether or not Christians can participate in non-religious yoga.

        Being focused inward is in itself not antithetical to Bible teachings if focusing inward is prayer to strengthen your spiritual connection with God. And I don’t know what yoga classes you have attended, but there is a wide valley between a practice having its origins in Hinduism, and actual spiritual worship of the deities in their pantheon.

        • S_i_m_o_n

          But there is no such thing as non-religious yoga. Perhaps you don’t understand the connection between yoga and Hinduism which is at it’s heart both monistic and pantheistic.

          • Jeff Preuss

            Again, I don’t know which classes you have attended, but not all yoga practice is exactly the same. Not all of it IS religious. I understand its Hindu origins just fine, and there is no pantheistic worship involved in the class I attend.

            • S_i_m_o_n

              But there is monistic worship. Even Tony’s namaste sign off has monistic overtures.

              • Jeff Preuss

                Namaste is a common greeting and goodbye in many Asian countries. It holds a variety of meanings, much like aloha. The etymology of that word suggests an origin as “essence of life.” Should we not use aloha ever again for the hint of some pagan origins?

                And, again, it all depends on the practice itself.

                Besides, Wikipedia defines monism thusly: “Monism is the philosophical view that a variety of existing things can be explained in terms of a single reality or substance.” All comes from God. There are Christian theologians who are monist theologians. Again from Wikipedia: “Some Christian theologians are avowed monists, such as Paul Tillich. Since God is he “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Book of Acts 17.28), it follows that everything that has being partakes in God.”

                So, as I already stated, I take the introspective portion of my weekly practice as another opportunity for prayerful interaction with Christ. Christian. I make that portion religious; it is not dictated or mandated to me by the class leader.

                • S_i_m_o_n

                  Well Aloha and Namaste have two very different meanings despite the fact that they are both greetings. There is nothing whatsoever monistic about Aloha.

                  As for monistic Christians, I think the are deceived. Cherry picking one verse from Acts and coming up with monism seems quite a stretch.

                  Isn’t the whole practice introspective? What portion isn’t. If you look out and up instead of in then good luck to you and I hope you stay safe. There is however for many people a real danger that yoga’s introspective monism will take root in their hearts and minds.

                  • Jeff Preuss

                    Dude, again, introspection in an of itself is not a danger. Monistic Christian thought doesn’t seem to be cherry picking, since from day one we are taught that God is in all of us and in everything.

                    I believe you are overselling the “dangers” of yoga, and it appears rooted in fear. Be sure of your faith, and you can withstand exposure to cultural or spiritual thought that may seem contrary to your own, without actually adopting it.

                    • S_i_m_o_n

                      But the goal of yogic introspection, at least traditionally in the West and in any class I’ve ever been to, is to center on yourself. That sort of introspection is in my opinion bad.

                      I have never been taught from day one let alone any other day that God is in all of us and in everything. I have been taught that the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the life of a believer and God sustains all things. But monism says everything is of the same essence and I am certainly quite distinct from God.

                      My faith says I don’t need to center on myself and focus on my breath and find peace within. My faith says focus on God. It has been my experience that the times I have been focussed on myself have been far less peaceful than times focussed on God.

                    • WilmRoget

                      Oddly enough though, your posts here don’t indicate any peace. They indicate a need to denigrate and vilify other people.

                    • S_i_m_o_n

                      Looking back at my posts I would say that is a rather harsh, perhaps even disingenuous appraisal of my posts. I sought only to discuss what I see as the problems with yoga and can’t see any time when I become personally abusive with anyone. Maybe you see it differently.

                    • WilmRoget

                      I see my post as an understatement frankly. And I didn’t even address the boastfulness of the one I replied to.

                      Really, all that “I have, my faith” sounds all too much like:

                      11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. Luke 18.

                    • Jeff Preuss

                      Interesting. As far as I understand it, I focus on God when I focus within, because I focus myself within my faith in prayer. And I think that may be based on how I frame my own experience before I ever even take a yoga class. Admittedly, I am not attending yoga classes to “center” myself and find peace, because I consider myself very well at peace to start, because of my faith. My primary goal is the physical flexibility.

                      But, seriously, ever since I was a kid in the Southern Baptist Church, it has been a constant refrain that God is in everything. I see a divide between Dualistic and Monistic perspectives on the Christian relationship, and I don’t personally see the divide as necessary, because they (to me) seem like two ways to express understanding of the same concept, much like viewing the Trinity. All 3 are aspects of God, but different Christians view the distinctions between the 3 at varying rigidity. Some will insist that Jesus is not God, while other will maintain that Jesus and God are one and the same.

                      (Incidentally, this sense of artificial division is how I personally tend to view the debate on transubstantiation. Whether the blessed communion wafer and wine are literallybecome Christ’s body and blood or they are symbolic shouldn’t in my opinion be used to elevate one experience over the other, since from my exposure both versions are experienced with the same reverence.)

                    • Jeff Preuss

                      Also, hey sorry, but I stepped away from my desk and few things came to me:

                      A) I think what I’m sensing from you as far as monism concerns you is perhaps the thought that monistic thought could potentially lead the believer to consider himself equal with God if we are all made of one stuff. If that’s your concern with it, I can certainly understand that kind of hubris being ill-advised. I do not see monism as necessarily saying that, but can totally get if you do.

                      B) I believe this was your first mention that you’d actually been to yoga. If you have attended yoga, and found in your case it led you to a spiritual position that was too self-serving, and that threatened how your faith should be presented, I get that, too. However, I don’t think that would hold true for all, since faith is such a personal expression. Where you may be tempted to compromise your walk with God may not be a temptation for others at all. Best to caution and relate your experience, but maybe not to expect everyone to relate to your experience the same way.

                      Anyhoo, thanks for the discussion. It’s been pretty good.

          • Nathan

            There are actually many streams of thought in hindu religious philosophy. Hinduism is not overwhelmingly “monistic”. Yoga originally came from a “dualist” discourse in hinduism.

      • Benjamin Martin

        Pantheism isn’t antithetical to the Bible, just your interpretation of it.

        The gospel roots of Christian pantheism

        • S_i_m_o_n

          Those verses hardly describe pantheism.

          • Benjamin Martin

            Interpreting the Bible is mostly like a Rorschach inkblot test.

  • Tom McCool

    Does John MacArthur put up a Christmas tree in his home? Decorating evergreen trees is an ancient tradition in pagan religions.

  • The look on Doug’s young, know-it-all face when listening to exemplary Mr. MacArthur is disgustingly condescending, prideful and disrespectful. When someone like wise, Christ-like Mr. MacArthur speaks, we all need to pay heed.

    Bottom line – yoga is a Hindu practice, and it fits nicely with what progressives such as Doug preaches/teaches. So-called Christian bookstores are filled with the progressives’ new age books. Instead of being called Family Christian, Family Hindu would be more accurate.

    • You do know that your religion has its roots both in the religions of Mesopotamia and Judaism, right?

      • S_i_m_o_n


        And how does Christianity have roots in Mesopotamian?

        • Mesopotamia was one of the most robust cultures of its time and heavily influenced the larger Middle East and beyond. Specifically, Mesopotamian culture was heavily influential to ancient Egypt and the early Hebrews. As the Hebrews established themselves as the nation of Israel they carried much of their heritage with them, which included much of the governmental, economical, philosophical and cultural axioms. This fact in conjunction with the influence Moses had (Egyptian educated) in the construction of the Pentateuch makes Mesopotamian influence inevitable. We can even see some of this influence in the early writings of Genesis.

        • Her argument was based upon the premise that yoga is Hindu. Like just throwing that out there is an actual argument. I simply was reminding her that her religion was influenced by other religions as well, which demonstrates her argument as hokum – although it was hokum to begin with, it was a fun little poke.

    • Jeff Preuss

      That’s an interesting perspective on that video. I’ve never found MacArthur to be anything other than condescending and a smug know-it-all.

  • Perhaps we can come up with a Christian version of Yoga because clearly there are some in here that are wound a little too tightly.

    • S_i_m_o_n

      And a Christian version of Judaism too where you are saved by grace but have to be circumcised and abstain from certain foods. Oh, and a Christian version of Islam where Christ didn’t actually die and isn’t the son of God. Hey we can do Christian versions of heaps of stuff it seems.

    • Jeff Preuss
  • Dean

    Well, Yoga seems like small fry compared to the “dangers” of gay marriage. I’m sure it will be something else in 10 years.

  • Jeff Preuss

    Hey, Tony! Guess what? Apparently it still is bad! 😉

  • toddh

    You spoke too soon. Trolls are out in force.

  • Interesting discussion. “Namaste” a problem? Only if atheists mean “God be with ye” when they say goodbye.

    Yoga is undoubtedly Hindu in origin and orientation. Patanjani’s Yoga Sutras provide a nice concise statement of the place of asana within the whole system of devotion. The classes I attend have a small figure of Ganesha and occasional chanting of the Vedas by the teacher.

    As I happens I am Catholic, and therefore I don’t worship Ganesha, and though I’ve tried to pick up a little Sanskrit I have no earthy idea what the teacher is chanting beyond my small familiarity with what the Vedic hymns tend to say when translated into English.

    But I don’t go to yoga class for the religious aspect. Some students undoubtedly do, but that side of the practice is not emphasized except in specialized classes that I’d love to listen in on, but which I have little enough time (and money) for.

    If someone loved coming to mass because of the music or the incense I’d say they were quite welcome, but going through a few motions doesn’t make one a Catholic. I’ve seen arguments for the health benefits of keeping kosher, but following a kosher diet alone does not make one Jewish. No more does accessing the health benefits of yoga practice make one a Hindu. It’s no miracle cure of anything, but I think it makes the aging joints a little happier, and it’s something my wife and I can do together, and I always feel better afterwards.

    I guess I would take a middle tack. Doing yoga doesn’t make you a Christian apostate. But those who are not comfortable with segregating the religious from the physical might give it a pass.

    The whole discussion brings to mind the fact that the Jews of the second century revolted against those who would impose Greek institutions in Judea–prominently, the gymnasium. Few Jews or Christians these days see much of a threat to their faith from the occasional trip to the gym.

    • Jeff Preuss

      Side note: my yoga class has a portrait of Jesus prominently displayed.

  • Benjamin Martin

    East and West aren’t so far apart.

    An interview with Danish Sanskritist Professor Christian Lindtner shows how the Gospels are plagiarized from the Sutras, here:

    • S_i_m_o_n

      Wow. So convincing

  • mhelbert

    There is nothing inherently wrong with incorporating other practices into Christian spirituality. Thomas Merton found that certain meditation practices, like Buddhist or Zen, were akin to monastic contemplation. I’ve found zazen to be extremely helpful in prayer. Jesus never said that people were never to look inward. In fact, that is where God dwells….within us. Why wouldn’t we want to look for practices that open us up to God’s continual presence within?

  • JohnE_o

    It’s just stretching…what’s the big deal?