Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Yoga and the Christian:
Do They Go together like Apple Pie and Baseball or Oil and Water?

Since I graduated from college nearly a decade ago (near by a month, now), I have been increasingly made aware of a trend inside of evangelical Christendom. There are many trends, but one of them is the insertion of contemplative prayer and Yoga into an acceptable forum so that self professed Christians can participate while still staying inside of the bounds of Christendom. It seems now that many people inside of Christendom practice Yoga, and many of the correlating churches encourage it and facilitate it as a way to pray and get closer to God.

My response to this type of action, both on the part of individuals and modern Christendom as a whole, has been one of alarm, confusion, clarification, frustration, and now contention. This issue has come to the forefront of my thinking in recent weeks and months because not only am I aware of a large mass of people participating in these actions in a quasi-disassociated realization, but I have sadly come to find out that many of my friends and acquaintances from years gone by are being deceived into believing that this type of activity is at worst somewhat edgy, but still acceptable, or at best it is one of the best ways to do our personal worship and prayer time.

Some time ago I listened to Todd Friel interview a Hindu Swami (I believe his name was Swami Parum) about the growing phenomenon of Christian Yoga. The Swami was fairly offended by this trend and said that it would be as possible to have some form of Christian Yoga1 as it would be to have a Hindu Baptism. His point was obviously very tongue in cheek because I have never heard of anyone trying to be baptized into Hinduism.

The point was that it would be impossible to separate the water ceremony practiced in or near a shrine of some sort that may be called “Hindu baptism” from the Christian symbolism of Jesus’ death and resurrection. A Hindu performing the act of baptism would, by nature of the act, be affirming what the Bible says about Jesus in His death and resurrection whether they wanted to or not. In the same way since Yoga is the Hindu (based) spiritual practice used to “connect with the Divine”, it has certain implications and ramifications. Everywhere I look, the description of Yoga always includes the fact that it is or has a “spiritual” component.

Here are a list of such references from the Yoga community from people who would not put themselves under the dogmatic claims and theology of Evangelical Christianity:

“Yoga, in general, is a spiritual practice or discipline that helps the individual unify his/her body, mind, and heart.”2
“Hinduism is not like a recipe ingredient that can be extracted from Yoga. Says Subhas Tiwari, professor of Yoga philosophy and meditation at the Hindu University of America in Orlando, Fla.: ‘Yoga is Hinduism.’”3
“The practice of Yoga does not only focus on physical postures to improve the body, but deals with all the aspects of our being and our lives. C.E., Patanjali who is considered the father of Modern Yoga compiled 195 aphorisms which are called the Yoga Sutra. In the Yoga Sutra, he described the eight aspects of a Yogic Lifestyle and called it the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The limbs are practical guides to a person's personal development to achieve the harmony of the mind, the body and the spirit which leads to Samadhi or enlightenment.

This is the ultimate goal of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. It is characterized by the state of ecstasy and the feeling that you and the universe are one. It is a state of peace and completion, awareness and compassion with detachment.”4
"The soul purpose of all forms of yoga is Spiritual-Realization. The various authentic yogas are the progressive religious disciplines of Hinduism."5

The advertisement for the Classical Yoga Hindu Academy in Manahawkin New Jersey promotes Yoga and Hinduism with the following questions, “If you are ready for the great adventure to Spiritual/Self-Realization... to uncover the essence of spirituality and religion... to understand what is Yoga–the religion of Hinduism... to discover the Love, Light and Energy within... to help reduce violence... to learn to relax and lead a healthy life...”6 and then you are directed to view more of their material.

It seems clear to me that Yoga is the method of worshipping demons (see 1 Corinthians 10) that was instituted in the Hindu religion. I do not see a way for any rational person to hold on to the autonomy and innocence of practicing Yoga after a serious look (or even a cursory, but fair, one) at the origins of Yoga inside of Hinduism. There is no way that any Christian should ever use this eastern mystical and otherwise non-Christian practice in any form for worshiping Jesus Christ.

I was reading what Brian Flynn had to say about Yoga and I came across a very good text of Scripture that deals with this issue. But first, I’ll give just a little bit of background on who this guy is. He was born and raised a church going Catholic in New York, but after he had been out on his own for some years he said, “I ventured or perhaps waded into Buddhism, Hinduism, and Transcendental Meditation. I eventually embraced the New Age” He eventually became so immersed in this New Age movement that he was “able to perform psychic readings and was quite good at it.” He goes on to say that the power behind his psychic abilities, known as his spirit guides, were demons. And once God saved him, he was able to see the demonic and satanic activity in this type of “spirituality” for what it is.7

Just as a quick sidebar, I don’t just take Brian’s testimony of his experience as the reason for believing that Demons are behind various pagan religions and forms of witchcraft. One only needs to read of the idolatry demon possession in the Bible in order to see that the Bible teaches that demons are behind pagan religions and the power in any form of mysticism or witchcraft (see Deuteronomy 32:15-18; 1 Corinthians 10:15ff). Well, in an article on Yoga, Flynn another passage in Deuteronomy that is germane to this issue.
1"These are the statutes and the judgments which you shall carefully observe in the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess as long as you live on the earth. 2You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. 3You shall tear down their altars and smash their {sacred} pillars and burn their Asherim with fire, and you shall cut down the engraved images of their gods and obliterate their name from that place. 4You shall not act like this toward the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 12:1-4)

The focus of this passage is not primarily that the Israelites shouldn’t worship demons or idols (that is clear from all of Moses’ writings), but this specific section makes clear that there needs to be a distinction in how they worshipped. They were not to incorporate the pagan practices of worshiping their false gods into worship of God. The application to our modern time is that we dare not incorporate Yoga into our Christian worship practices because this type of compromise is forbidden by God.

What about the “ohm” or the mantra that practitioners of Yoga are encouraged to do? Some choose to do this, some do not, but many more are lulled into practicing this as well. Without getting into all of the technicalities of this, let me just cut to the quick and say that the reason for saying the “ohm” or a mantra is to empty or quiet one’s mind. A mantra is defined as “a sacred verbal formula repeated in prayer, meditation, or incantation, such as an invocation of a god, a magic spell, or a syllable or portion of scripture containing mystical potentialities.”8 It isn’t important what the practitioner says, the could say “ohm”, “la”, or even recite the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 7, the repetition of words and sounds in the manner that is taught is the way to quiet your mind.

The problem with this is manifold. First of all, I have heard on numerous occasions (from numerous sources) that proponents of this type of mantra chanting that is often associated with yoga empties the mind, but you must be careful because you may get an evil spirit when doing this. I heard this attributed to a proponent of Yoga and meditation who would never identify himself as a Christian. Knowing that since I cannot find the source material for that statement and that hearsay is practically worthless, I have a better authority to speak on this issue. In Matthew 12:43-45 Jesus teaches that demons will go to occupy people minds and hearts that are “unoccupied, swept, and put in order.” Although He was not teaching about the mental emptiness inside of this pagan practice, but He was speaking about a religiosity or “spiritualism” that left the inside of a person bare of the protection of the Holy Spirit.

“But Eric, Christians can’t be possessed by demons since we’re already indwelled with the Holy Spirit.” I agree, but that doesn’t mean that by dropping all of our mental faculties and empty our mind of any kind of engaged defense against temptation or influence that we will be unharmed by demonic influence. Even if it weren’t possible that we would be more susceptible to demonic influence in this process, we still should not ever pray in this mantra fashion. The “ohm” or mantra type exercises go outside of the realm of any acceptable Christian practice. We are not instructed to empty our minds, but to fill our minds by dwelling on what is good and lovely and worthy of praise. And the practice of mantra or repetitive prayer is explicitly forbidden by Christ Himself.
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
"And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.” (Matthew 6:7)

I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that the gentile pagans prayed with meaningless or vain repetition. I think that it has been the method of demonic religions from the beginning of time.

Now, I laid this groundwork regarding the spiritual nature of Yoga knowing (hoping) that the majority of my friends and acquaintances who have been engaging in and practicing Yoga have been doing so simply as a form of exercise, and they would classify themselves (by affiliation or by basic doctrinal confession) as Evangelical Christians. I understand the desire to get and remain healthy, and so now I would like to look at the idea of practicing Yoga that is completely divorced from any spiritual component, whether Christian or Hindu, and attempt to show why even doing it for this reason would be wrong.

Again, I want to state adamantly that I do not think it is possible to separate Yoga from Hinduism in any way. But, in order to deal with the desire to “just do Yoga” for exercise or stress relief without any spiritual goal, I will not hammer on that point any further.
“All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)

This verse has been brought up in defense of practicing Yoga for some type of non-spiritual exercise or recreation. Well, in this verse, Paul here is telling the Corinthians that they can feel free to eat the meat sacrificed a to heathen idols because it is not sinful to do so (i.e. eating meat is neither righteous nor sinful). However, if a less mature Christian brother (in that culture, he was probably recently saved out of the exact paganism that sold its leftover sacrificial meat in the market) is unable to partake of that meat because it is sinful to him, then the more mature Christian is not to eat of the meat either. I think that this is a great passage to look at in the context of this discussion, but not in the way that defenders of practicing Yoga would like it to be.

Eating meat, even meat sacrificed to demons, is not the same as participating in or copying a worship practice intended for a demon. We are instructed on how to pray, worship, take the Lord’s Supper, and other things, but we are not told where we can or cannot buy our meat. When it comes to buying meat, just don’t ask if it were sacrificed to idols and enjoy, that is part of the message of 1 Corinthians 10. The application to the modern day could be buying coffee from Starbucks or Caribou.

Starbucks is a big mover and shaker inside of the pro-homosexual agenda in the U.S. and Caribou is owned by an Islamic firm that is in favor of Sharia law (i.e. world domination by Muslims). I can choose to buy my coffee from either of them and not be sinning. However, if I were with you and you were so outraged at the political/social activism of either or both of these companies; it would be sinful for me to take you out to coffee at one of these establishments.

Again, I don’t believe that 1 Corinthians 10:23 supports a Christian practicing Yoga. Furthermore, I think that the beginning of the passage goes farther to show that even though God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, He still destroyed many of them (most) because of their sinful behavior.

In the same manner that we should not excuse Yoga as being acceptable because of 1 Corinthians 10:23, we should also not foolishly dive into it because it seems like a good thing.

Why should I avoid drugs (i.e. marijuana) if I view them as a good thing? Why should I not (if I were a single man) go out on a date with a lady who I care about and engage in intimate (non-sexual) behavior? They both seem excellent to me, and they make my body feel good? Why not? Because the Bible does give us instructions on what to do and what not to do regarding these types of things. Does it explicitly say “don’t smoke pot” or “don’t go to second base with your girlfriend” or “don’t practice Yoga”? No! But the principles for how we are to deal with drugs are present in the Scriptures. The principles for how we are to interact with women are present. The principles for worship and prayer are present too. Just because something seems…neutral…doesn’t mean that it is. Just because much of our culture says that participating in something is okay or even beneficial doesn’t mean that it is.

The principle for pot is the same as alcohol – don’t be drunk (Luke 21:34; Rom 13:13; Gal 5:21; 1 Peter 4:3). The word translated “sorcery” and listed among the “deeds of the flesh” that will result with those who “practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19,21) The Greek word translated as sorcery is the same root word for the English “pharmacist” and carries the meaning of “the use or the administering of drugs”9 (see also Acts 19:19 and Revelation 18:23).

As far as how we should deal with intimacy before marriage; without getting into a long (and we could) discussion about purity and how far we need to keep ourselves pure, let me say one thing. If you, sir or madam, can kiss, cuddle, or touch without either party lusting in your mind, then that may be acceptable. But, there is not a person living who could do that without crossing the line over to lust, and lust is just the same as adultery (Matthew 5:28).

In the same vein of thought, going to a Mosque, rolling out a mat, facing east, and bowing down towards Mecca multiple prescribed times a day would not be an acceptable way to pray to God, even if you are praying to Jesus (see Deuteronomy 12:1-4). Making a statue or getting a picture depicting Christ and placing a bowl of incense below it while praying to Jesus and focusing on the image that is before you is not an acceptable way to pray before God (Exodus 20:4).

And to my friends who want to practice Yoga with the thought that it would be detached from any spiritual aspect and only use it for a form of exercise, it would be the same as spouting off profane and blasphemous curses to God and to others with the goal of practicing diction and enunciation in order to speak better. Likewise, training with and competing in the “I hate Christ” Decathlon may be the best form of physical exercise around, but it would not be something that would glorify God by our participation in it. And finally, playing with an Ouija board is not a God honoring or an acceptable form of family entertainment even if we do believe that there is nothing spiritual or satanic about it. In the same way, practicing Yoga is not a form of exercise that is neutral and that would be ok for Christians to participate in.

There are some things that cannot be separated from the pagan and satanic affiliations that stem from where practice originated from (and from where it still flourishes). Yoga is one of them. In no way is right to compare a Christian practicing Yoga to Paul’s instruction on the Christian’s freedom in purchasing meat that had been sacrificed to idols. We must be diligent and not let our guard down; otherwise those who come after us may not hear the true gospel from the very churches that we attend.

1 “Christian Yoga” is supposed to be the practice of Yoga that is separated from Hinduism and able to be done in such a way that the Hindu religion is not present or dominant in that practice.

2 http://www.Yoga.net.au/what_is_Yoga

3 Robert A. Davis, “Stretching for Jesus,” Time, September 5, 2005 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1098937,00.html

4 http://www.abc-of-yoga.com/yoga-and-health/yoga-lifestyle.asp

5 http://www.classicalyoga.org/page30.html

6 Ibid.

7 http://onetruthministries.com/my_story.html

8 http://dictionary.reference.com/search?db=dictionary&q=mantra

9 This is by no means a condemnation against medical treatment, but against the use of drugs to get into an altered or “enhanced” state of consciousness for some nefarious purpose.


Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati (Swamiji, Swami J) said...

Would one say that people drinking wine are necessarily practicing the Christian rite of communion? Would one say that people eating bread with a meal are practicing the Christian rite of communion? Of course not.

If one does physical postures outside of its context as a 100% spiritual practice, you cannot call it Yoga, any more than you can call merely drinking wine and eating bread Christian communion.

Here is a brief video entitled
"Can a Christian Practice Yoga?"

EJ said...

Thanks for your comment, Swami (I’m not familiar with the proper way to address a Hindu Swami, so please forgive me if I’ve offended you by using just the title in addressing you).

I saw your video and, by your definition of yoga, categorically a Christian cannot. Some who claim the name of Christianity may say that you can and practice it, but the Bible does not teach the mysterious union with the divine or union of all things that Hinduism does.

One problem that I found with your analogy between communion and yoga is initially that someone does not go to Communion class or a church service for a snack. If a Hindu wanted to taste some wine after it had gone through the Roman Catholic Eucharist process, then he/she would be participating in that rite. The problem with many yoga practices among Christians is not primarily with stretching…but it is with the stretching in combination with the clearing of ones mind, the ohm, and other knock-off’s of Hinduism.

In your video you even mentioned that the postures of yoga are “but a step along the way” toward the greater goal of Hinduism. I think a more fitting comparison to yoga would be with the Christian practice of baptism. A Hindu can no more practice the postures of baptism while using some of the language of the Bible (in the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…) without doing a Christian ceremony even if that Hindu has no idea that he/she is participating in it. The actions alone identify what it is, even if the participant tries to deny it.

Further more, a Christian is told to worship God not with vain repetitions (ohm or contemplative prayer) as the heathens do (Matt 6:7). Can a Christian stretch in a yoga style without participating in yoga? Possibly, but the problem is that the instruction of yoga originates from Hindus, and Hindus wouldn’t separate out the mystic and spiritual components from it because…it is a step toward the greater goal. Christians who unwittingly come in to stretch will be, overtly or covertly, instructed on Hinduism as it is wrapped in and around the practice of yoga.

Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati (Swamiji, Swami J) said...

Hello EJ,

What you have pointed out is precisely the point that I'm making. I say with respect that drinking wine and eating bread are not unto themselves communion. So, in the same way, why do so many people in America keep insisting that Yoga is a physical fitness program, which it definitely is not. It is inaccurate to say that Yoga is necessarily Hinduism, but that is an entirely different matter (The word "Hinduism" was superimposed by foreign invaders, including those who were dominantly Christian. It is a geographic term that the invaders used to force everybody into one box to help conquer them, much as the foreign invaders into what is now the USA referred to the many indigenous peoples, cultures and religions as "Indians").

The point is, which I think that I'm seeing also in your note, is that Yoga is not merely a physical fitness program. It most definitely has to do with "realization" which is described or defined in several ways. Only rarely, it seems, are Christians as individual people targeting those goals (though it does seem fitting that I acknowledge the very small percent of Christian mystics through history who have had mystic leanings of union and direct experience).

What most are doing in the name of Yoga is not Yoga because of the lack of context of the practices. The reason for the comparison to communion is because it is so utterly obvious that drinking wine and eating bread with a meal are not, unto themselves, Yoga. Actually, in America it is mostly the conservative Christians who are most outspoken about the true nature of Yoga as spiritual (though their understanding and descriptions are typically quite wrong, such as the suggestion that Yoga recommends the "vain" repetition of mantras or prayers, which it does not), while most of the so-called Yoga teachers are trying very hard to hide the true nature of Yoga as a spiritual pursuit, which it most definitely, 100% is.

Yoga is no more a physical fitness program than drinking wine and eating bread are Christian communion. It is not correct to call wine drinking and bread eating alone communion in the absence of the proper context. It is also not correct to call physical postures alone Yoga in the absence of the proper context.


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