A pastor at a local megachurch recently gave a sermon in which he condemned practices such as ouija boards, witchcraft, psychic readings, horror movies, and most notably, yoga. Word of the sermon spread quickly throughout our town, and even made national news. As you might imagine, people received it with heavy criticism and swift judgment, given the prevalence of yoga in our culture. While most Christians could understand his position on the other items about which he spoke, yoga just didn’t seem to match the list.
According to the pastor, the common threat that each of these share is their connection to the paranormal. In short, he argued that when we engage in these activities, we open ourselves to spiritual forces of evil that are antithetical and destructive to the Christian life. Thus the conclusion that Christianity and yoga are incompatible.
The question for this post, then, is: Can Christians do yoga, or should they avoid it on the premise that it poses risks to their spiritual well-being? Is yoga just another form of physical exercise, or is it an inherently spiritual practice?
The brief answer to this question is: Christians CAN do yoga, and here are three reasons why:
Reason #1: Yoga’s origins don’t dictate its end.
The most obvious reason that yoga doesn’t fall into the same category as ouija boards, witchcraft, and palm-reading is that all these are a means of connecting with spiritual forces/entities other than God for wisdom, peace, power, or whatever. Apart from this purpose, it is hard to imagine what benefit would exist in doing such activities, let alone how a person could do them without opening themselves up to the paranormal.
On the other hand, there are many benefits to practicing yoga, none of which require Christians to connect with spiritual forces other than God, and all of which may actually assist Christians to do so. While many will rightly contend that the original and ultimate purpose of yoga was something other than to connect with the Christian God, they wrongly assume that this disqualifies yoga as a means to this end. Who says Christians can’t re-purpose yoga? If one makes it an act of devotion to God, it becomes an act of devotion to God. A Christian’s intent is what will determine its positive or negative spiritual impact. Let us not forget what it means to have the Holy Spirit inside us, to be one with Christ.
Reason #2: Yoga can be redeemed.
Yoga is rooted in Hinduism; there’s no getting around that. Its breathing/meditation techniques were designed as a means of reaching the Hindu goal, moksha, and its postures were created to worship pagan gods. But so were various kinds of ritual sacrifices in the pagan cultures surrounding ancient Judaism. Yet God still told Israel to make sacrifices that appeared to be identical to these, except to do so in devotion to Him.
Fast forward to Jesus’ day, and the Jews were convinced they couldn’t eat certain foods, particularly those that were offered to idols. But to this issue, Jesus said, “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” (Mark 7:15, NLT) And that Paul stated, “I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat.” (Romans 14:14a, NLT) And further, “…whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31, NLT; italics added)
Here’s the point. Christians can redeem, or “clean”, anything when we do it for the glory of the Lord, in good faith and thankfulness. This includes yoga. If food once offered to idols posed no threat to Christians then, why would body poses and breathing techniques once offered to idols pose a threat to Christians now? Doesn’t yoga, just like food, provide nourishment to the body, mind, and soul? And if so, can’t we redeem yoga, too, by offering it to the Lord? Unequivocally, yes.
Reason #3: Satan doesn’t own yoga.
You see, Satan doesn’t own anything that we don’t give to him. Just as he doesn’t get to claim certain types of food, he doesn’t get to claim certain physical postures, breathing techniques, or meditation. And when we denounce yoga on the grounds of it being “demonic” or “Satanic”, we are effectually giving Satan ownership of something that could otherwise be God’s.
Let’s remember: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” (Psalm 21:1) God is working to redeem all that is rightfully His. The fact that yoga is so beneficial and, even more, that it’s increasingly being divorced from pagan worship, may be evidence that God is redeeming it, too.
So what if, instead of just giving yoga to Satan, we stripped it away from him?! What if, instead of fearing what is non-Christian about yoga, we transformed it? And what if, instead of worrying about other religions staining us, we let the gospel color everything we do? Isn’t this what it means to be Christian? Isn’t this what it means to have a Spirit, not of fear, but of power, love, and self-control? (2 Timothy 1:7) Isn’t this what it means to glorify God and to work alongside Him in redeeming the world?
Remember, all that is good is God’s. Don’t fear yoga, redeem it. Don’t avoid yoga, transform it. Receive it as a blessing, and make it an act of devotion.
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17, ESV)
A Closing Note
Now that I’ve made my point, please let me make something clear. As a pastor myself, I care deeply about the well-being of my people. This requires me, at times, to speak truths that aren’t fun for anyone. But it’s my calling. And I love my people. So I do it. There are a plethora of church leaders who avoid potentially controversial and divisive issues on the grounds that they’ll lose influence, and there’s a shortage of those who confront these issues when necessary. So I have much respect for those pastors (one of whom I mentioned at the beginning of this post) who have the courage to say unpopular things for the benefit of those whom they shepherd.
Next, while I certainly strive to teach the truth in everything, there are some matters about which, I must admit, I am simply doing my best. These are matters with which I have strong convictions, but in humility, must admit that I am not absolutely certain. I must teach, nonetheless. So when I’m wrong, or when people disagree, all I can hope is that those who hear me can place greater trust in why I say something than what I say, that they will judge me based on my intentions rather than my inaccuracy, and that ultimately, there will be another voice to correct what was incorrect. We must afford our leaders this grace.
Thus, despite others’ speculations about the pastor mentioned earlier in this post, I trust that his intentions are just as pure as my own. I simply disagree with his sentiments about yoga, and I hope that my voice offers a loving correction to those who need it.