What would Yogi say about Yoga…

There has been lots of interesting commentary this week on Yoga and whether Christians should practice the ancient exercise/ritual. Al Mohler, a very intelligent and Godly President of the Southern Baptist Seminary, reviewed a new book raising caution for Christians. I think his caution was correct but maybe a bit too general. Then Mark Driscoll made his way into the news calling Yoga demonic.

Both of these men are faithful Christians that have a knack for getting into the news but what should we really think about yoga and can we be caught in a studio bending and stretching?

Yes and no. For the record, I like yoga. I have enjoyed a number of classes I have taken and appreciate the movements as a way to build my body and be more flexible. My wife enjoyed her pregnancy yoga class and it helped her not only relieve some tension but get to know some great people at the same time. But these classes that we have enjoyed are adaptations of traditional yoga and mostly remove the mystical aligning of our “chakras” and being one with our energies. Even the acclaimed P90X workouts cross the line when Tony Horton leads you in an Om – he claims it is not a religious things but alas its roots are very non-Christian and re-labeling the action does not change its character. I have had instructors that have focused though on these areas and those aspects honestly do not line up with biblical Christianity.

Some of the responses to the criticism are only proving the point. One quote from Seattle stood out to me this morning.

“Here we go again with fear-based, black-and-white thinking,” said Jennifer Norling, of Seattle, a 42-year-old mainline Protestant who has been practicing yoga for many years. “It’s not fair to say yoga is demonic. In fact, I find it insulting. There are many ways to grow spiritually.”

There is so much to unpack here from Jennifer that it could be a series of posts but let’s glance at the striking issues. “Black-and-white thinking,” a postmodern criticism of Christianity more common in our pluralistic culture but sadly wrong. There is black and white, wrong and right, good and evil. No amount of our junk philosophy will escape this truth. As Christians we should recognize this without hesitation.  But of course the reporter has attempted to give Jennifer more credibility by labeling her a “mainline Protestant.” Sadly, Christians can say things that are wrong and an attempt to exempt them from that fact, like is done here, falls flat and only leaves us concerned about those “mainline” folks.

The most troubling part of the quote though is that “There are many ways to grow spiritually,” um… dangerous words. If Jennifer means there are many ways to grow in our relationship with Christ then sure, there is prayer, worship, reading of the bible, community but I am afraid Jennifer means something else all together. Perhaps her words should be taken to mean ‘there are many ways to God.’ If you believe this idea we have more to be concerned about than striking a yoga pose. There is only ONE way to God and that is through Jesus. Those are offensive words to our culture but they are the absolute truth that we hold central to orthodox Christianity – they are non negotiable.

Is yoga really different from other areas of life? Do we undertake unbiblical things even in our churches? The problem with yoga lies in its tradition and absence of Christ. But that could describe any number of acts in our culture. So what do we do? If you do yoga and it is about the movements and not some attempted transcendental state, keep it up but always question. Ask yourself, and those around you, as with any potential idol, if you are placing the act above God. If it is risky for you, stop.

Mohler’s warning, while perhaps a bit too general, is certainly one I think we should remember:

“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?”

2 Comments

  1. While there could be a yoga class that flirts with spiritual practices that are unhealthy I agree that Driscol and Mohler are making a gray issue a black and white one. If Paul could eat meat offered to idols knowing it is just meat and idols are nothing in themselves a Christian can surely do yoga.

    What these two men are doing in perpetuating the myth that anything eastern is synchronistic while western culture is somehow Christenized. This is ignorance of our own history. As long as we Gentiles are in the mix we will be recycling out forms practices in light of the gospel. Yoga can be done with a pure heart, a clear conscious, and in a manner that does not cause one to commit illicit religious practices

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  2. I think you got around to it in of the post, but I would contend that the buzzwordphrase “black and white” is just code for “an unhealthy good-bad split.”

    The modernist (fundamentalist, really) tenancy is to bundle all aspects of an issue together and declare it either “good” or “bad”, when, in reality, things can be partially good with bad aspects to them. Or white with black specks, and when you zoom far enough out to look at the big picture they start to look more gray than black or white.

    Discernment is key in all of these things and I think you got at it well. The physical aspects of yoga are (largely) good, but (what we know as) the spiritual roots are not – that does not mean that we need to never practice yoga, just that we need to with discernment and toss out those things that are detrimental.

    On the other hand, if the bad things are absolutely inherent to the issue at hand by all means throw out the whole thing. I recently read of a study that seems to indicate some increased level of physical well-being from daily masturbation, but the mere act of masturbation can hardly be divorced from lust and therefore the benefit (good) cannot be seen as warranting the action (bad) and must be tossed out.

    And in the third hand (there’s a joke in there somewhere), the issue of idolatry always comes into play Anything – good, bad or mixed – can become an idol, but that is less connected with the act, practice, consumable, etc. themselves, but with our inherent brokenness.

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