Yoga is far more common in western societies today than it was 50 years ago and its prevalence is growing. Many people recognize the health benefits that stem from relaxing, being present, and training the body. But does that mean it is okay to practice yoga?
Yoga is an ancient Indian practice with its roots In Hinduism. It is a deeply spiritual practice, attempting to bring soundness of mind and body, a higher understanding of one’s power, and to create oneness with the universe and the divine. In yoga, one empties himself or herself to be filled with something greater.
Although yoga existed before the New Testament was written, there are no references specifically to yoga in the Bible. However, it is clear in the Bible that the people of God are not to participate in any type of divination or spiritualism associated with pagan gods. The ancient sutra texts are clear that yoga is a spiritual practice connected with spiritual forces that are deemed as gods.
Divination is a broad term in Scripture (translated as such by a few words in the original Hebrew) that has to do with pagan spiritual practices. Such practices are condemned throughout the Bible and are at times specifically associated with demonic activity.
While many people today believe that all religions teach the same essential “truth,” in doctrine and in practice it is clear that all religions and spiritualities do not cohere with one another and are flatly contradictory to one another at some level. The Bible is unapologetic in its claim that the message of salvation, of knowing God, loving him, and enjoying him forever, is only found in the gospel, in the person and work of Jesus. All other spiritualities are not simply benign alternatives; they are in fact hostile to the truth of God’s word. Even so, Christians are called to approach those who believe the teaching of other spiritualities with love, grace, gentleness, and a desire to see such a person be transformed by the message of the gospel in a way similar to a parent’s desire to see a sick child healed, or a baby take her first steps.
Engaging in spiritual practices is not harmless but rather an issue of truth and falsehood, the worship of God or the worship of false spirits. Believers are not called to participate in false spiritual practices. Instead, we are to test them to see if they align with the truth revealed in the Word of God, making much of Jesus, encouraging others to faith, love, and obedience.
The Bible does not specifically address the practice of Yoga. For this reason, Christians would do well to learn all they can about Yoga and discern whether its teaching aligns with or is distinct from biblical teaching.
The Bible does make it clear that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of God, the third person of the Trinity. As temples of the Holy Spirit, we are called to steward our bodies well and glorify God with our bodies. When we glorify God with our bodies, we seek to submit all of our thoughts, feelings, and actions to God, to do with them what he would have us to do rather than ourselves. Some questions for a Christian to ask themselves if they would like to practice yoga:
- Does this practice glorify God?
- What aspects of yoga do I not understand? What do those practices mean?
- Am I being asked to center myself on anyone or anything other than God?
- What is the goal of yoga, and what are the means being used to reach that goal? Do those means bring glory to God and are they clearly in line with the Bible?
- What happens when I extend my mind beyond reality (Sutra 2.48)?
- Am I opening myself up to spiritual experiences that are outside the bounds of the Bible?
- Am I opening up to demonic spirits?
There are Christians who practice yoga with a Jesus focused approach. These people enjoy the health benefits and are able to center their minds on God exalting mantras. Essentially, these Christians are attempting to redeem yoga’s original intent. But, worldwide, it is more common that practitioners of yoga do so for the powerful spiritual depth (such as spiritual peace) than simply for the mental or physical benefits. This spiritual encounter, however, is in its very essence something other than Christian.
God knows our heart and knows the motivation behind our actions. There are many people unaware of the spiritual doctrine of yoga who may try it for fun. That being said, whether or not it would be sinful to engage in yogic practices depends on the heart as well as the intent behind the yoga. Exercise, relaxation, mindfulness, meditation on things of God are not sinful. Participating in spiritual experiences apart from God is a sin. Christ died to save us from sin, and there is grace for those who are wrestling with whether or not to engage in yoga (1 Timothy 1:15). Salvation from sin, however, is never an excuse to sin (Romans 6:1).
As often as yoga is simply thought of as an exercise or a relaxation technique, the practices associated with yoga, even today, are very much rooted in Hindu spirituality. Hatha yoga is very much connected to raja yoga, forming a link in the overall spiritual goal of the practice. As a religious practice, it is meant to clear one’s mind in order to become one with the universe, one with the divine, or reach a perfect state of self-understanding. This type of practice is sinful.
In the Bible God instructs his people to not dabble in pagan experiences. In the yoga sutras, however, yogis are instructed to devote themselves fully to a controlled mind and Ishvara, a god associated with Hinduism.
The God of the Bible is not Ishvara and the spiritual beliefs and practices of the Bible are not congruent with the beliefs and practices associated with Hinduism.
The Yoga Sutras are the foundational doctrines of yoga. These sutras teach the purpose of yoga along with how to reach ultimate spiritual freedom. There are many specific yoga teachings that God opposes found in the sutras, and as a whole, the sutras would be biblically classified as pagan or demonic worship.
Yoga is an ancient practice and is very spiritual in its nature. In Sutra 1.28, chanting the syllable “om” is instructed. Many people know that chanting is an important part of yoga, but it is less known that “om” is thought to be a sacred syllable that represents the god Ishvara who brings ultimate consciousness.
As Christians, we should not participate in meditation while chanting the name of a false God. This is entirely opposed to Biblical teaching. Opening up one’s mind to be filled with “self awareness” actually leaves you very vulnerable to demonic attack.
The only name we should quiet our souls to is the name of the Living and Only God, Jesus.
Sutra 2.45 suggests that the more devotion one has for Ishvara, the more open they will be to receive grace and thence blessings. The yogic goal of spiritual purification is not simply relaxation. Rather, it is an act of worship and devotion to the god from whom that purification is thought to come. The god Ishvara is opposed to the eternal God who created all things and who has revealed himself in the Bible as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The true God extends grace to his people long before they extend devotion to Him. It is His kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4), not our dedication to Him that then leads to his grace.