I was to truly confess, I'd have to
admit that I've always seen yoga as
an activity for "yuppie health
nuts" who insist they cannot stretch
without their brightly-colored rolled
up mats; they proudly wear the spandex
that you couldn't get near me regardless
of any health benefits and run to the
nearest juice bar following their stretches.
However, according to a recent study
by U.S. News & World Report,
18 million people in the U.S. practice
have always ruled out this controversial
practice for two reasons: First- and
this is the big one and rather simple:
It's a spiritual practice of a faith
in which I do not believe. Surprisingly,
according to Rev. Thomas Ryan, author
of Prayer of Heart and Body: Meditation,
Yoga as a Christian Spiritual Practice,
at least half of "yogis" identify
themselves as Christians. And the May/June
'01 issue of Yoga Journal proclaimed
that yoga didn't conflict with any religions.
In a different issue, however, they
did state that it's a potential $27
billion industry, with the average participant
spending $1500 per year on everything
from clothing to weekend retreats. Why
would they think about taking any chances
to balienate their biggest audience--"Christian"
second reason? I can't even sit on the
floor, and the closest I come to being
a human pretzel is when I have an itch
I can't reach. Regardless, the growing
trend of health benefits intrigued me,
and since I have Christian friends that
faithfully attend their classes, I wondered
if there could be something beneficial
in it after all.
did my research and came up with surprising
but controversial results.
one study of chronic pain patients and
the use of yoga as pain treatment, Yoga
Journal (September/October 2001)
says, "Most of the patients identified
themselves as Christians, and when asked
how consistent the mindfulness practices
were with their own religious background,
an overwhelming number said that not
only did they feel comfortable doing
the poses and meditation, but they also
felt the practices helped them to grow
spiritually." That sounds positive,
but according to an ABC News Poll, 83%
of Americans identify themselves as
Christians, so we cannot assume that
all of the Christians who are practicing
are using reasonable discernment.
How are Christian Leaders
Handling the Yoga Issue?
churches are participating in this growing
trend by offering yoga classes than
I would have expected. In 2003, Susan
Bordenkircher, founder of www.christianyoga.us
received an award from the United Methodist
Conference for her efforts at evangelism--through
yoga! As a certified yoga instructor,
she integrated the disciplines of yoga
with her own Christian faith, resulting
in a class called "Outstretched
in Worship." This eventually led
to a video series which taps in to the
physical and psychological healing benefits
of yoga while instructing students to
"quiet the mind" and "come
to God with no baggage."
says, "Yoga has helped me to realize
it's not all about me, to become stronger
and more agile, to work out imbalances
in my posture and my personality. Spiritually,
I feel a much closer connection to the
Lord. My quiet time is more intimate
with Him and my prayers more focused."
Smith, M.D., Assistant General Secretary
of Christians in Caring Professions
in the United Kingdom argues in an article
entitled Yoga and Transcendental
Meditation: A Christian Option?, "There
is little doubt that yoga [is] inextricably
linked by [its] Hindu origins. In Matthew
7:18, Jesus said, "A good tree
cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree
cannot bear good fruit.'" He explains,
"[The word yoga] comes from a Sanskrit
word meaning 'yoke' or 'union.' The
purpose of yoga is to yoke the human
spirit with Hindu gods or the great
'Universal spirit' by means of physical
postures." So, where do we go from
there? The scripture, "You shall
have no other gods before me" (Exodus
20:3) comes to mind. In my mind, anything
to do with "higher powers"
is a waving big red flag.
is Christian Yoga?
an objective view, I sat down to watch
Bordenkircher's video, Outstretched
in Worship, and was pleasantly surprised
at the Christ-centered focus of what
appears to be simple stretching and
strength training exercises. The video
is enlaced with instructions of, "ask
the Lord to keep ourselves Christ-centered.
. . with arms stretched to the Lord."
Smith disagrees that simply changing
the wording does not change the spiritual
realm. "We need to be aware that
Christian patients who have been involved
in these activities (as well as some
other alternative therapies) may suffer
spiritual ill-health as a very unwelcome
result," he explains in his article.
"Ill effects may include anxiety,
depression, fear, lack of Christian
assurance, interference with prayer
life and Bible reading."
Willis would agree. She is founder of
Moves, which is described
as "The Christ-Centered Alternative
to Yoga: Yoga? No!" Her web site
passionately states, "Does everyone
open themselves up to demonic influences
when practicing yoga techniques? I know
I did, and I believe the majority do-whether
they realize it or not, and whether
or not they believe in the existence
of these deceptive forces." Her
literature, however, states the following
about her videos: "Some [positions]
look similar to yoga postures. Some
look a lot like yoga postures. . .Could
it be that these lovely movements meant
to relax our bodies and keep them healthy
while praising the Lord were 'stolen'
by the enemy and twisted to bring people
to the feet of a false idol?" (Note:
After Laurette read our article she
made some changes to clarify her viewpoint.
Yay, Laurette! Thank you!
I found was one similar exercise program
which stems from two different perspectives.
One, "Christian Yoga" (even
called by some "Chroga") that
adds Christ to many of the yoga postures
that have been around for centuries.
in the process of worshipping Christ,
we add "historical movements"
for the body. It seems as if some believe
that any Christians who want to worship
God while stretching, must have moves
which could be interpreted as "yoga
moves." After all, how many positions
are there that a body can get into?
And why exactly should Hindus get to
claim all of these position in order
to worship their gods? As Ecclesiastes
1:9 says, "There is nothing new
under the sun." Who knows what
positions David took as he danced and
Alternative Medicine, by P.C. Reisser,
D. Mabe and R. Velarde says, "At
the risk of sounding narrow-minded,
we recommend staying away from yoga,
even when it would seem to be nothing
more than simple stretching and breathing
exercise." But Alternative Medicine:
The Christian Handbook, written
by Christian Medical and Dental Association
members C. O'Mathuna and W. Larimore
states that yoga can be used as a complementary
practice that "can improve general
well-being," but it "is antithetical
to Biblical Christianity" when
used "as a deeply religious practice
with the goal of union with the divine."
I interpret this as the CMDA saying
Christian Yoga is possible and beneficial--it's
not an oxymoron.
agrees. "There are a number of
ways to combine the yoga practice and
a Christian prayer life. For example,
you can voice your prayer focus using
an Affirmation of Faith (or 'Trinity
Prayer') or you can link postures together
to form a prayer using songs."
to Draw the Line
controversies one thing is clear: I
have extreme reservations about a Christian
participating in a secular yoga class.
Matthew 7:15 says, "Watch out
for false prophets. They come to you
in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they
are ferocious wolves." Bordenkircher
explains, "I encourage students
to use discernment in what the Holy
Spirit is saying is right for them.
Those who are still unsure of their
faith would be best served by staying
away from classes that make them question
what they are learning. Take responsibility
for listening to your heart and know
my opinion, I have a need for stretching,
mild exercise and yes--worshipping the
Lord. The simple command, "Be still
and know that I am God," is a challenge
for me to obey, so perhaps making the
commitment to stretch while meditating
on a scripture would be my best option.
Your decision is personal; discuss your
options with a Christian mentor and
health issues with a doctor. 1 John
4:1 says, "Dear friends, do not
believe every spirit, but test the spirits
to see whether they are from God, because
many false prophets have gone out into
my viewpoint, we cannot find better