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?”