I recognize with a title like this I am inviting controversy. According to one website nearly 36 million American practice yoga regularly. For some Christians, Yoga is already embedded into their life. Perhaps others have been, or are currently, at Churches that have opportunities to come together through Yoga. I have friends who are Yoga instructors. And so, as I write this, I do so from a deeply pastoral heart. My aim in all I do, is to shepherd the flock of God that I have been assigned, to lead them through murkiness with clear Biblical exposition, and unwavering resolve to honor Christ above all else. Lord—may this article do so.
A Beginning Biblical Moral Framework
As a starting Moral Framework lets return to the first two commandments given to us. The first commandment reads, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:1-2).” The second commandment reads, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:4-6).” These two commandments are essential components of the moral framework we must use when weighing our use or participation in Yoga.
The Westminster Larger Catechism provides wonderful insight into how Christians are to adhere to these commandments. The quotes below are lengthy but worth reading in whole in order to understand the responsibility of Christians to adhere to these commandments.
Q. 104. What are the duties required in the first commandment?
A. The duties required in the first commandment are, the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly, by thinking, meditating, remembering, highly esteeming, honouring, adoring, choosing, loving, desiring, fearing of him; believing him; trusting, hoping, delighting, rejoicing in him; being zealous for him; calling upon him, giving all praise and thanks, and yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man; being careful in all things to please him, and sorrowful when in any thing he is offended; and walking humbly with him.
Q. 108. What are the duties required in the second commandment?
A. The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in his word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintenance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God, and vowing unto him: as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.
These two paragraphs are historic, clear, and ambitious. I want to bring special attention the last sentence of the second paragraph which reads that we are to be, “disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.” To put it succinctly, if there is something in our life that even hints of false worship, we are not to play with it, flirt with it, or pretend that it is something other than what it is. We are to remove it from our life, for the glory of God. That might sound extreme, but it ought not be. If we love God, we must root out all counter-loves from our life.
What is Yoga?
With that background, let’s assess yoga. What is Yoga? Yoga is a discipline that is rooted in Hinduism, an Eastern religion that worships many gods. Yoga is found in virtually every sect of Hinduism. Yoga, literally means “union.” One description of this idea of union said, “Yoga means to know the union of existence by experience… When you know the oneness of existence like you experience the five fingers of your hand, then we say you are in Yoga… What Yoga means is to move towards an experiential reality where one knows the ultimate nature of the existence, the way it is made.” If you are unfamiliar with the language of Eastern religions, this is right in line.
Already we can see that whatever Yoga was originally designed to be, it aspired towards Eastern religious purposes. Its aim was to bring about a oneness of body, soul, and “universal consciousness.” This particular article goes to describe how the daily rhythms of Yoga can detach a person from their memories and help them become new people, “Yoga means to liberate yourself from that information which determines who you are right now.” It goes on to say, “Yoga… is about changing the very fundamentals of one’s existence.” Again this is entirely religious language. Yoga is interested in transforming an individual to a particular desired end.
To summarize, Yoga is a very ancient system of physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines that include: breathing techniques, poses and postures, relaxation methods, chanting, and meditation. While many in the modern west think of Yoga as some kind of advanced stretching class, it is in reality much much more. It aims to reorient the mind, connect a person with a universal consciousness, assist a person in feeling the energy in the universe, and overall provide a new philosophy of life of union and oneness with the cosmos around you. If that previous sentence does not strike you as something that Christians must flee from, then I fear you may need to reconsider if you have adequately laid the proper foundation of Christianity in your life.
What do the Various Poses Mean
What of the stretching? Aren’t the poses just ways to stretch the body? Not quite. As it turns out the poses themselves are designed to be worshipful. They were designed to communicate a story and often to pay homage to the characters of that story. Let’s take a few examples.
The Warrior Pose: The Warrior Pose is a tribute to an ancient Hindu warrior named Virabhadra, who was the son of the Hindu god Shiva. As the story goes Shiva had grown angry and threw a lock of his hair to the ground. The hair turned into a powerful warrior who defeated his enemies. Warrior Poses are different embodiments of this ancient demi-god warrior. When a Christian utilizes the warrior pose through Yoga they are participating in an age old form of worship towards a false god.
Tree Pose: The Tree pose descends from an ancient Hindu poem in which a demon king named Ravan holds a woman prisoner in his palace. As the woman waits for her husband to save her she sits among the trees of the palace and meditates. Eventually the trees speak to the woman words of comfort advising her to stay still and wait for her husband.
Corpse Pose: The Corpse Pose is a simple pose where you lie on your back and mimic death. The idea is to help you prepare. As one article writes, “It’s important to remember that the yogic version of death is different from the view held in the West. Death is seen as the highest moment of life, which is why it is important to prepare for it.“
The Lotus Position: This pose is a highly sexual pose. It intentionally opens up the pelvic region of the body and some forms of this position are designed to invite a sort of spiritual sexual encounter. Other historic descriptions of this pose are deeply rooted in worship of Hindu gods. “The lotus played an important role in the process of creation. It says that the lotus grew from Lord Vishnu’s navel and at the centre of the flower, sat Lord Brahma, who created the Universe using the different petals of the lotus. This literature talks also about the spiritual practices one should follow to attain enlightenment.“
The list goes on. Every pose has a story and a reason for the particular angels of the body. Nearly every story is designed to commemorate or worship a false god of Hinduism, or to invite false gods to enter the body and change the way one thinks or behaves. This may not be going through many Christian’s minds when they participate in a simple yoga class. However, that does not take away from the responsibilities of the second commandments in Exodus 20. Further, our participation in these false forms of worship have real world spiritual effects. I have encountered story after story of demonic presence through the practice of yoga. To a Westerner this might sound strange, but this is literally what Yoga is designed to do. It is a form of worship designed to bring the presence of spirits into your life. I fear that many have unwittingly developed strongholds of demonic presence in their life through their participation in Yoga.
So What Should We Do?
A well meaning Christian may at this point say, “Well when I practice the tree pose, I ignore my instructor and don’t think about the spiritual meaning behind the pose. I’m literally just stretching, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” On the one hand this is correct, there is nothing wrong stretching and physical exercise. But on the other hand this is extremely naive. We can no more detach the spiritual significance of Yoga, its poses, its calming techniques, its attempt at union with universe, then we can detach the spiritual significance of worshiping in a Mosque. Yoga is worship of other gods plain and simple. All of Yoga is one unified expression of worship.
In the West, we have seen an explosion of Yoga across our entire society. Even elementary schools have brought Yoga into the classroom under the pretext of “calming children down.” Teachers have told me of how helpful Yoga has been in the classroom to destress a classroom. But at what cost. Many parents think these Yoga classes are innocent and detached from worship (after all worship isn’t allowed in the public school system). But even a cursory review of the instructors that are being invited in clearly reveals that these are not spiritually neutral instructors. The last biography I read of an instructor that was invited into a public school class to teach yoga shared that she was deeply committed to Yoga as a religion. She emphasized chanting as a form of spiritual enlightenment, and bragged about trips to major Hindu holy sites.
As a Pastor, I’m willing and eager to say the uncomfortable thing if it means forming Christ deeper in our people. Christian—flee from Yoga. Do not entertain it. Your worship is to be aimed at Christ alone. It is Him you want forming your mind and fueling your heart.
Christians who practice yoga are embracing, or at minimum flirting with, a spiritual practice that threatens to transform their own spiritual lives into a “post-Christian, spiritually polyglot” reality. Should any Christian willingly risk that?Al Mohler
For additional reading, I strongly recommend Al Mohler’s article The Subtle Body—Should Christians Practice Yoga?