The debate comes up for me about once a year and each time it does I take it very seriously. I’ve written about this topic before but as with everything, I’m also on a journey and with new information my mind can be changed.
But it never has been on this one.
The debate is whether, as a christian, I can practice yoga.
To that, I would answer – no. I can not. Because yoga, at its roots is deeply tied to the Hindhu religion and the entire practice of yoga is a deeply spiritual one connecting your mind, body, soul and spirit.
As a Christian I do not believe I should partake in this, opening my mind and spirit up to another religion. But I do take a ‘yoga’ class. So what gives?
Well, as with anything, us westerners like to find things and make them our own. We’ve done so with holiday celebrations, with beer making, with juggling. (For the record, my son has devil sticks that he juggles with and I believe he is in NO WAY worshiping the devil as he tries to flip them about unsuccessfully.) As I’m sure you can agree with me, we also tend to butcher these things as we make them our own. So Christmas, in the Western World, has become about gaudy decorations and buying more, more and more. Not what Christmas was started as or meant to be. We try to make beer but we end up with Molson Canadian. Enough said. We also try to practice yoga here but guess what? We don’t.
In our busy culture none of us have the time or energy (or want?!) to engage in the discipline of actual yoga. A practice which requires hours upon hours of study, day upon day of meditation and connectivity, year after year of training the body and the mind and the spirit into this discipline. Instead, western society has taken this practice and watered it down into a 90 minute workout and put the yoga label on it. Bikram Choudhury said it himself in his book Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class, “Americans are very inventive, even if what they invent is wrong. They are inventing posture after posture, making up names for them. Then they sell their wares to innocent, uninitiated people who do not know that they are getting ripped off……There are more flavours of Hatha Yoga in the West than Ice Cream. Americans think that’s wonderful. I tell you it is disastrous. Most of these so-called yoga systems are not yoga at all. Giving them a Sanskrit or Bengali name doesn’t make them yoga.”
And to Bikram I say, thank you! Because he said it himself. As a Canadian living in a suburb I am not practicing yoga. I am twisting my body into pretzel like shapes for the purpose of health and fitness. I am not developing a spiritual practice. I am not opening my heart or my mind to anything, nor is this even talked about in the studio I attend.
I will say that recently there were new owners in the studio I attend and I wondered if it might change things. But it hasn’t. Same no talk of anything spiritual or meditative and still just body twisting while talking about the medical benefits of each.
Of course, I would never recommend yoga to anyone as I don’t know what your studio practices, what your teachers look like or how they guide you. But for me, I’m sure if you came you would agree, having the label of yoga on it actually seems demeaning to those actual pracitioners of yoga.
Now, is it still wrong for me to attend this class based on the fact that yoga’s original roots were founded in spiritual practice? The answer for me is no. It’s not wrong and this is where I’ll lay out why.
First of all, in any and everything we do we need to ask our self what the motivating factor is behind why we’re doing it. Are we buying that dress to impress someone? Are we eating a certain way because it makes us feel superior to others? Are we practicing yoga to worship a hindu god? Our hearts are little idol factories always searching for something to worship and so, like with anything and everything I do, how I exercise needs to be checked. Am I going to the gym to show off to the beefcakes lifting weights, hoping they’ll sneak a glance at me (in my 36 year old glory! ha!) Am I out for a run so that those who pass me will notice just how dedicated I am? Am I at Bikram yoga because it’s the new trendy thing to do and I feel hip when I’m there or because I’m looking to dabble in foreign religions? All of these would be reason enough to stop the gym, quit running and never step foot in yoga again.
But what if these aren’t the case? What if I value the body that Christ has given me and I take seriously the way I care for it. What if I believe that because I am made in his image and likeness I should pay attention to the way I am treating my body and what I’m putting into it. To that I say, get your workout on!
But the true question is, does the origin of something make it wrong? Does having a Christmas tree symbolize tree worship? In fact, many of the holidays that we ‘celebrate’ today were in direct counter to pagan holidays where we took the day and created something different and made it our own. I won’t even get into the fact that christians everywhere are dressing up for Halloween…
What I’m saying is that the roots aren’t the end factor. Just because an artist is an atheist doesn’t mean I can’t hang his painting in my home. Though I have no idea how he created it or what he may have ‘prayed’ over the piece.
I realize these may seem like a stretch to you but I don’t believe they are because as a Christian I am given freedom as a person in Christ. I’m given freedom to listen to rock music and appreciate it with the heart of one who loves Jesus. I’m given the freedom to have a mojito on the porch with my husband as one who is not condemned. I’m given the freedom to use money to purchase things that I may want or need and I’m given the freedom to stretch my body any which way it bends without it invoking some sort of religious practice in me.
In all of these things, my mode of operation is as a follower of Christ. In all of these things I must think about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I must check my heart and my conscience. If I were to do anything in my life without thinking it through, be it running or smoking or going to work, it would be both unwise and senseless. I think all things through and I do all that I do to the glory of God. Nothing prohibited. Nothing outside of His grasp. Not eating or drinking or exercise.
But because I am a follower of Christ I have freedom to operate in this world with and for Him. Not freedom to do anything and everything I want. But freedom to make decisions based on what I know, freedom to make decisions through prayer and supplication and freedom to do things differently than others based on who we are, where we live, the culture surrounding us, those we come in contact with and so much more.
Read Romans 14:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;11 for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
I wholeheartedly believe that context is important. If I were in India where they ACTUALLY practice yoga my take would likely be different. But I’m not. If I were in a studio that boasted statuettes or mind opening meditation my take would be different. But I’m not. If I were friends with someone and it was a harm to their growth as a christian or even to my witness to them of the life I live my take would be different. But at this point, it’s not.
It’s important for us not to make rash judgements of others or call black what isn’t. Doing westernized yoga for me is not an issue of salvation. It does not go against anything I read in the bible about what I may or may not do. In fact, 1 Corinthians 8 states very clearly that we are not to let false gods get in our way. By saying that my doing yoga is worship to a god is actually saying that said god exists.
Instead, I’d rather be clear and state that I am free to partake in yoga because the “god” that is being worshipped holds no power over me. The Hindhu gods are not real to me and they can not control what I do or do not do. 1 Corinthians 8 says that eating meat that is sacrificed to idols is actually not a big deal because they are false idols. Not eating the meat is like saying that the idol may actually hold some power to make the meat inedible. In the same way that it states that food does not bring us close to God and we are no better or no worse if we do, so does stretching not bring me close to God and it doesn’t matter if I do or don’t.
What does matter is that I am not worshipping any sort of hindhu god by stretching my body. Maybe you are? But I’ll leave that between you and God.
As an aside, I’m so thankful for the people that challenge me on this. It causes me to dig deeper, to keep questioning and to read more and pray more and consider what God has for me. At this point in my life, this is where I stand. Yoga in Abbotsford is neither here nor there in terms of religious offerings to a god I don’t believe exists and I will continue to stretch my body in ways that heal it, challenge it and leave me nearly unable to walk the following day. But I hold no judgement on you for not going. As with so many things it comes down to personal conviction and I will honour yours and ask that you honour mine as well, always challenging, always learning and always seeking God of all, our Creator and Sustainer, together.
**our church does an ‘extra’ podcast where they talk about random things that people ask. For the record, our two pastors disagree on the topic of yoga one saying freedom and the other saying no way. I thought it was an interesting example of how we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, ought to operate. These are two pastors of the same church disagreeing on a subject matter but willing to talk it out nonetheless. If you feel like listening you can find it here. Yoga Fight?