Yoga is a pretty controversial topic amongst Christians. There are many who believe that it is harmless and just as many who feel incredible conviction from the Spirit about participating. Regardless of where you come down on whether or not yoga is sinful, I think it's important for believers to prayerfully discern and research any practice that derives from other religions.
The first yoga class I took was in college. It was Hatha Yoga, and honestly, I don’t know what that means. The next time I tried yoga was in my late 20’s. I went to a class with a friend. But yoga wasn’t an exercise I could get into. It was slow, and I didn’t feel like I got a workout. I preferred exercise where I got a lot of “bang for my buck” as I like to say - like running.
My Experience with Yoga
However, the lack of sweat wasn’t the only thing I didn't like about yoga. Something else struck me. Something in my spirit didn’t sit right. During the meditation, with everyone else silent and eyes closed, uncontrollable laughter took over my body. I couldn’t help it. It was like that compulsion to laugh at funerals. Needless to say, I felt awkward, but not embarrassed. I seemed to be more embarrassed for the other participants who didn’t see the ridiculousness of it as I did.
I didn’t think much of my experience until several years later. The same friend whom I had gone to yoga with was pregnant with her first baby. She told me this story of driving to a yoga class as she talked on the phone with another friend. In her phone conversation, her friend advised her not to go to the class. She explained to her the dangers of yoga and said to her, “You don’t want to bring an unsaved soul [her baby] to a yoga class.”
The validity of the theology behind her comment, as far as her unborn baby’s salvation, didn’t concern me. But hearing her friend’s warning reminded me of my own skepticism about yoga. Without any biblical evidence, I decided yoga wasn’t for me. Was my uncontrollable laughter years earlier God's way of protecting me from a deep connection with it?
Why Christians Should Pray and Research Yoga before Practicing It
Since then, God has only further confirmed my decision, despite the fear of being legalistic. After all, it seems everyone practices and enjoys yoga. Doctors recommend it. Churches offer it. Even children learn it. However, as Christians, I think it’s wise to prayerfully discern, after adequate research, any practice that derives from other religions.
As a Church, we don’t talk about it enough, but the Bible makes it clear that there is another world - a spirit world - that is at war with us. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). It’s important we don’t give our enemy a foothold, but instead “test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).
Biblical Evidence against Yoga
1. A Lesson from Daniel
Last year I studied the book of Daniel. This study gave me a framework around why yoga might not be right for me.
The book of Daniel tells the account of the Israelites from Judah's captivity by the Babylonians. King Nebuchadnezzar chose Daniel, one of the youths from Judah, to live in his palace. For three years, King Nebuchadnezzar's household taught Daniel literature and the language of the Chaldeans (Daniel 1:4, 5). He also gave Daniel a new, Chaldean name. Even though Daniel did not outwardly oppose the education or the name King Nebuchadnezzar gave him, in Daniel 1:8 we read, “But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.”
Why did Daniel resist the king’s food? Commentaries suggest different reasons, but the most probable is that Daniel wanted to distinguish himself from the Babylonians and their false gods. Most likely, Daniel didn’t have much say in his education or the name they called him, but refusing to eat and drink the king’s food showed his reliance on God. It revealed his identity as Jewish and not Babylonian.
Today Christians morph their identity into the identity of our culture. Practices are so mainstream that we no longer reflect on their origins, what they represent, how they affect us, and the way they reflect the Gospel. Because I felt convicted about yoga, I knew that for me participation would be sinful. God led me to be set apart despite the decisions of my Christian friends. I’ll be honest, I don’t like it. It creates awkward conversations. People assume I’m judging them. And they do think I’m being legalistic.
2. A Woman's Testimony
Shortly after reading this account of Daniel, I also listened to a podcast explaining the dangers of yoga from a woman who was delivered from it and other demonic strongholds. In the podcast, and through her ministry, she answers questions about so-called “Christian” yoga. Can we participate in yoga and focus on Jesus so that it has no connection to its pagan gods? Can yoga only be for exercise? On her website, she states, “The term Christian Yoga is an oxymoron. The foundational principles of Christianity and Yoga are antithetical.”
However, the most disturbing part for me was when she explained how “the act is the invitation.” According to her, the poses themselves have meaning regardless of a person’s personal intent. She compares it to the use of a Ouija board. I think we’d all agree that Ouija boards are dangerous, regardless if we defend them by saying we’re just playing a board game made by Hasbro.
But What about the Apostle Paul’s Teaching?
But what about what the Apostle Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 8? He writes to the Corinthians concerning eating food offered to idols and says, “Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:4-6).
Paul goes on to explain that not everyone has this knowledge and therefore is still convicted about eating food offered to idols. He also goes on to say that it is sinful to participate in eating this food in front of people convicted by it. Paul states, “Therefore if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:13). Could Paul’s teaching here apply to yoga, too? Does this make yoga permissible for us as Christians?
I think there is a plausible argument here, but I don’t see it as the same. Even though there is no such thing as other gods besides the One True God (Isaiah 44:6), there is an enemy who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). And there is a spiritual world (Ephesians 6:12). Therefore, we’d be wise to think deeply about yoga.
A Final Question to Consider about Yoga
After my experience and reading and thinking about yoga, I still don’t know the “right” answer. I do not judge or condemn my Christian friends who practice yoga. I also know about myself, based on other experiences in my life, that I am sensitive to spiritual warfare. Maybe this is the reason the Holy Spirit guards me against yoga - to protect me. However, the question I continue to ask myself is, “Why would I participate in something that has even a possibility of being a part of spiritual warfare?" Being sensitive to spiritual warfare, I do not want anything to do with activities that could open that up in my life.
Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us, "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." When I assess yoga through this lens of "glorifying God," I don't think it passes. It dances too close to a spiritual realm that's not from God. Of course, we don't always choose activities based on whether they glorify God. Think about the shows we watch, the music we listen to, and our participation in social media. However, the seriousness of involvement in spiritual warfare escalates the amount of discernment we give yoga.
I believe the best advice we can follow when discerning yoga is 1 Thessalonians 5:21: "Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil." If there's even a hint of conviction, it's wise to pause.
Image Credit: ©Getty/fizkes
Brenda Rodgers considers herself a “recovering single” after years as a single woman chasing after marriage instead of chasing after Jesus. Now her passion is to mentor young women to live purposefully and grow in their relationship with God and others. Brenda has been married for five years to a heart transplant hero and is the mom of a toddler girl miracle. She is also the author of the eBook Fall for Him: 25 Challenges from a Recovering Single. You can also read more on BrendaRodgers.com and follow her on Twitter.
LISTEN: Being Complete in Jesus (Understanding Matthew 5:21-48)
Hearing Jesus is a devotional journey through the gospels, where we explore the teachings of Jesus chapter by chapter. If you're seeking to live a life that reflects God's, this podcast is for you.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
WATCH: 10 Sins Christians Downplay (and Why They're So Destructive)
Stock Footage & Music Courtesy of Soundstripe.com Thumbnail by Getty Images