Holy Yoga?

yoga slide                                          

For the last number of years, the practice of yoga has been introduced to the Christian church. The question is being asked whether this is a harmless practice or a subtle introduction of Hinduism into evangelical Christianity. Let’s begin with a definition of Yoga.

Yoga is the discipline of the spiritual, mental and physical parts of oneself to develop a state of peace and come into complete understanding of one’s true self.[1]The term “Yoga” comes from one of two roots “ruj” meaning to be yoked together and “yuja” meaning concentration. [2]

Although shrouded in some mystery, yoga began over 5000 years ago in the country of India among a civilization of people called the INDUS-SARASVATI.[3] Through the centuries, Yoga developed various ideas and patterns, but the basic purpose of focusing one’s mind for long periods of time for inner peace, to connect with the divine, remains the same. Chanting, body positions, breathing techniques known as pranayama and other rituals are all part of this spiritual and physical discipline with yoga being one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy. [4]

Hatha yoga (a word that means to oppress) is one of the most popular forms in the United States today. B.K. S. Lyengar, the founder of Hatha says yoga is “the means by which the human soul may be completely united with the supreme spirit pervading the universe and thus obtain liberation.” [5]

On the surface, it would appear that yoga is just another religious practice of Eastern religions that helps one develop inner peace and connect on a higher spiritual consciousness. Christians who practice yoga say it is not related to religion and say they do not use chanting but simply focus on the positions and their relationship with Jesus. What’s the big deal if we separate it from the Hindu religion? Let’s consider these things:

Sannyasin Arumugaswami, managing editor of Hinduism Today, with a complete understanding of yoga’s roots, observed this regarding Christians who use yoga as harmless exercise: “Hinduism is the soul of yoga based as it is on Hindu Scripture and developed by Hindu sages. Yoga opens up new and more refined states of mind, and to understand them one needs to believe in and understand the Hindu way of looking at God….A Christian trying to adapt these practices will likely disrupt their own Christian beliefs.” [6]

Consider that yoga postures were developed as positions of worship to Hindu Gods and to help with the flow of a nonexistent energy called “prana.” [7] In Hinduism, Prana is the divine breath of life that exists throughout the universe. Because we have been disconnected from the cosmic breath, prana or breathing exercises called pranayama help us reconnect and enhance the flow of life force. [8] Often times, these breathing exercises are accompanied by psychomental phenomena and often induce a light trance in the practitioner. [9] Because the goal of these breathing exercises is to bring one to the place of “no conscious thought” there is the potential of opening oneself to demonic spirits. A mind that has let down its guard is a mind that can be invaded by whatever spirit is waiting for a place to reside. One would do well to remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:43 “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.”

Furthermore, Hatha yoga uses various postures called asanas. “Many asanas are based on postures that honor Hindu deities who manifest themselves in forms such as the sun, the tiger, the tree, the snake, etc. Asanas were designed to aid in meditation and to strengthen the body for the strenuous mental exercises [10] leading to realization of the true divine self, and eventually to samadhi, union with the divine. [11] Johanna Michaelsen, author of Lambs to the Slaughter points out “You cannot separate the exercises from the philosophy. … ‘The movements themselves become a form of meditation.’ The continued practice of the exercises will, whether you … intend it or not, eventually influence you toward an Eastern/mystical perspective. That is what it is meant to do! … There is, by definition, no such thing as ‘neutral’ Yoga.” [12]

One of the most popular proponents of ‘Holy Yoga” in the US, is Brooke Boon. She suggests that we have 3 bodies- and that yoga positions help us surrender our physical, emotional and spiritual bodies. Keep in mind Christianity has never taught that our inner person is a body. In addition, Christian yoga is said to pursue self-knowledge of Christ. That may sound good on the surface but the goal of Christianity has never been to pursue knowledge of self but only knowledge of Christ. A subtle difference of semantics? I think not. Christian yoga takes the emphasis off Christ and places it on ourselves- our peace, our knowledge, our praying, and our inner self. Jesus has been added to the mix, just like Hinduism adds any God to their pantheon.

There’s much more we could say but here’s the bottom line: Our culture is in constant search for ways to deal with stress, anxiety, worry and other emotional and spiritual needs. Our first choice tends to be medications, substance abuse, unhealthy relationships and a host of other things to find peace. We have substituted the simplicity of spending time with Jesus in personal prayer, study of His word and relationships with other believers in hopes we can find some rest for our inner selves. God’s Word gives us some clear instruction:

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Matthew 6:25

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ JesusPhilippians 4:6

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. Colossians 3:14

In addition, 2 Corinthians 6:14 give us a clear caution as we make decisions about life practices: “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

So how can we know the difference between good and evil? Let’s take further counsel from God’s Word and ask the Lord to help us as we live out our lives in full obedience to him. He will be faithful to help us.

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:11

  1. Yoga-Wikipedia
  2. Jonas Clark
  3. swamij.com
  4. Yoga-Wikipedia
  5. Yoga journal, May/June 1993, p.68
  6. Women of Grace.com
  7. Ibid
  8. Melton p,147
  9. Feuerstein pp.26,27
  10. Feuerstein, p. 24
  11. Feuerstein, p. 34; Melton, p. 501).”
  12. Johanna Michaelsen, Like Lambs to the Slaughter, pp. 93-95

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