As a faith-based yoga and wellness instructor, I am routinely asked whether a Christian can practice yoga. I am confronted with comments such as, “Christians should not participate in yoga, because it is a Hindu practice and opens the spirit up to worshiping Hindu gods.” I have addressed these types of questions, concerns, and more in person after my workshops and classes, via Facebook and email, and it’s a valid concern that deserves a proper response. So let’s get to it!
For starters, more people are practicing yoga now more than ever. According to the 2016 Yoga Study in America conducted by Yoga Journal and the National Yoga Alliance, the number of American yoga practitioners has increased to over 36 million in 2016, up from 20.4 million in 2012, while 34% of Americans say they are somewhat or very likely to practice yoga in the next 12 months—equal to more than 80 million Americans. Some of the reasons why people try yoga include flexibility, stress relief, and fitness. So there you have it! The one component that is debatable isn’t even listed as a top reason why more and more Americans are practicing yoga.
What is yoga really?
One of the concerns I hear from many Christians is the meaning of the word “yoga” and the origin of yoga. The word “yoga” means to yoke or to unite. Nothing strange there. We are a soul, communing with God through our spirit, while we live in a physical body so we can do kingdom work here on earth. However, the origin of yoga is a little more complicated. According to the National Yoga Alliance (NYA), the largest nonprofit association representing the yoga community, yoga was developed up to 5,000 years ago in India as a comprehensive system for well-being on all levels: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. But today, millions of Americans use various aspects of yoga to help raise their quality of life in such diverse areas as fitness, stress relief, wellness, vitality, mental clarity, healing, peace of mind, and spiritual growth.
Further, the NYA says that yoga is a system, not of beliefs, but of techniques and guidance for enriched living. Yoga has in recent times branched out in many new directions, some of which are quite different from its traditional emphases. All approaches to yoga, however, are intended to promote some aspect(s) of well-being.
Here or There?
Now lets take a look at Kemetic yoga. Kemetic yoga philosophy says the people of ancient Kemet Egypt practiced a unique style of yoga that predates the yoga of India. Kemetic yoga philosophy also says that the practice and philosophy of yoga in India was informed by knowledge that came out of Africa. Examples of Indian yoga can be found in ancient Egypt, but examples of ancient Kemetic yoga cannot be found in India. The conclusion one can draw from this is: the yoga of Egypt is much older than that found in India.
So do you see why I don’t get caught up in the origin or how man uses God’s gifts? Whether yoga started in India or Africa is still up for debate, but the fact remains that God is the Creator of the mind-body connection.
The Bible speaks specifically about key elements used in most forms of yoga: meditation, breathing, and movement. For me, Acts 17:18 sums it up: “For in Him we live and move and exist.” So I will put truth up against philosophy any day, as philosophy is simply man’s attempt to understand God, His creations, and purpose. Joshua 1:8 reminds me to meditate on His Word day and night; Genesis 2:7 defines the source of my life: “He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person”; and numerous Scriptures speak of our bodily posture toward God. King David had a keen understanding that our outward posture is reflective of what’s going on inside, because God, the originator of the mind-body connection, knows that the way we move can positively or negatively affect the heart and mind.
The Evolution of Yoga and Spirituality
Another concern for some Christians is the spiritual component of yoga. Because some Christians believe that yoga is taught as a means to salvation in Hinduism, it is considered off-limits to Christians. Why? Some believe that the system of yoga was defined by a certain group of people and that the entire system can’t be redefined or evolved, but the fact of the matter is that yoga in America has evolved.
Science reveals that the intentional use of the mind, breath, and movement can effect positive change in the physical body. Through scientific research and studies, over time the intention of yoga in America began to evolve from its traditional origins to be repurposed and repacked for a more mainstream appeal to fitness enthusiasts, those facing health challenges and trauma, and others interested in the benefits of this mind-body modality.
The Great Pagan Debate
Did you know that our beloved country has a history of repurposing and repackaging things that we didn’t necessarily discover? Take our beloved Christmas tree for example. Did you know that decorating trees and giving money was a part of worship to various gods during Egyptian times? It is also part of the Germanic pagan solstice tradition.
The exchange of wedding rings did not originate in the church, and various religions worship and practice meditation, prayer, and fasting just like Christians. So should I take my ring off based on the original intent, or stop purchasing Christmas trees and decorations because the Egyptians utilized the tree first? No, I don’t, because I serve a God who can redeem anything, as He is the Creator of all.
Did you know that fasting can be a spiritual practice for some, and for others, fasting may be used to purge toxins from the body or used for weight loss? No one claims fasting as their own because we are all free to use the practice as we see fit, and yoga should be no different.
Share your thoughts on yoga and Christianity below and come back soon for Part 2 of this series.