Is “Christian Yoga” an Oxymoron?

Are you stressed? Feeling like the proverbial hamster on a wheel, running fast but going nowhere? Too many things to do and not enough time to do them. Too much month at the end of the money. Too many commitments and not enough energy.

Many of us make repeated visits to Stressville. Some of us live there right now. And most everyone is searching for solutions to handle stress. I googled the phrase “how to de-stress,” and 17,000,000 results popped up. Seventeen million! Solutions include recommendations to change eating habits, get more sleep, increase exercise, change jobs, set healthy boundaries, and yes, even eat chocolate!

One increasingly popular exercise option is the practice of yoga. According to WordNet, a Princeton University database, yoga is:

– “a Hindu discipline aimed at training the consciousness for a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility that is achieved through the three paths of actions and knowledge and devotion”
– “a system of exercises practiced as part of the Hindu discipline to promote control of the body and mind”

Yoga means union in Sanskrit. Many westerners practice yoga as a physical exercise, applying it to the union of mind, body, and spirit. However, yoga is a Hindu spiritual practice that is intended to unite the practitioner with Brahman—a universal cosmic consciousness or transcendent reality.

Brahman is a three-in-one god: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer). Hindu beliefs also include other gods and goddesses, as well as the concepts of karma and reincarnation. At least one yoga position was developed for the express purpose of uniting two Hindu gods within the human body.

Can committed Christians practice yoga and still be true to their Christian beliefs? Many Christians believe the answer is yes. In fact, they may even participate in Christian Yoga—yoga programs that incorporate Christian Scripture and music, and which focus primarily on the physical exercise.

Christians who practice yoga believe they can separate the physical exercises from their religious and philosophical origins. Hindu practitioners are the first to say this is impossible.

For example, the sun salutation, a well-known hatha yoga posture, is a Hindu ritual, according to Subhas Rampersaud Tiwari, professor of yoga philosophy and meditation at Hindu University of America in Orlando. “It is a whole series of ritual appreciations to the sun, being thankful for that source of energy.”

Swami Param, President of the Classical Yoga Hindu Academy in Barnegat, N.J., said that to characterize the sun salutation posture as only physical exercise is like “saying that baptism is just an underwater exercise.” The Academy website notes that “if one is not a Hindu or related cult/sect (by birth or conversion), one cannot be an authentic teacher of any aspect of Yoga.” It also denounces anyone who claims that “Yoga is a lifestyle and not religion.”

Even if Christians suppose yoga can be practiced as merely physical exercise without Hindu’s religious influence, why would we participate in a form of exercise rooted in a religion and philosophy opposed to Christianity? Adding Bible verses, hymns, or Christian words as mantras does not change the essence of yoga.

If we yoke or unite ourselves to Hindu gods or philosophies, how do we reconcile II Corinthians 6:14-16:

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers…What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.”

If we are looking for wholeness, peace, and an antidote to stress, Jesus Christ said,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27).

Strong believers may be convinced that practicing yoga is not detrimental to their Christian faith. Still, we have a biblical obligation not to be a stumbling block to weaker brothers and sisters in Christ regarding Hindu practices. The apostle Paul wrote:

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved” (I Corinthians 10:31-33).

Exercise, meditation, and relaxation are healthy pursuits. However, surely there are enough exercise, meditation, and relaxation programs in harmony with the Bible without opening ourselves up to influences that exist in opposition to Christianity.

Those of us who are teachers and writers have an even wider sphere of influence by which others may be helped or hindered in their Christian walk. What choices will we make?

What do you think?