The Allure of Yoga
The attractive woman on the beach gracefully moves her body into the next yoga pose — arms extended, head tilted slightly back, a deep breath in.
Yoga gurus from India introduced yoga to the West. By the 1980s, yoga had become popular as a system of physical exercise across the Western world. Taught at fitness and community centres, churches, schools and in hospitals, it is promoted as healthful exercise, a way to reduce stress, and a means of improved flexibility and circulation. Healthcare professionals are interested in the documented benefits of eastern practices like yoga. But is there a hidden price tag? Are there any risks or dangers?
What Really is Yoga?
Yoga originates from an Eastern metaphysical belief system or worldview. The word ‘yoga’ is a loose translation of a Sanskrit term meaning to yoke, merge or unite. According to the Collins Dictionary, yoga is:
“A Hindu system of philosophy aiming at the mystical union of the self with the Supreme Being in a state of complete awareness and tranquility through certain physical and mental exercises.”
The sound ‘om’ chanted in many yoga classes is meant to help students empty their minds in order to join with the universal mind. ‘Namaste’, often said at the end of yoga classes, means: “I bow to the god within you.”
For Christians, the God of the Bible is a Trinity of Three Persons — God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Christians are those who have entered into a living relationship with God the Father through God the Son who is Jesus, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).
Christianity is about a personal relationship with Jesus, Who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). To live this out, Christians are inspired and empowered by the Word of God, and by God the Holy Spirit.
But Hinduism, of which yoga is an integral part, is profoundly antithetical to Christianity. It teaches that our innate nature is god, and this knowledge can be realised through training and refocusing the mind. In India, yoga is taught and practiced in many forms. Bhakti yoga is linked to devotion to a guru or god; karma yoga emphasises right action; raja yoga uses the discipline of awareness.
In Western countries, we most often encounter hatha yoga, which seeks to attain mystical union through developing control of the physical body. Hatha yoga uses various postures called ‘asanas’. Many of these are based on postures that honour Hindu deities, who manifest themselves in forms such as the sun, the tiger, the tree, the snake, etc.
These body postures were designed to aid in meditation and to strengthen the body for the strenuous mental exercises leading to realisation of the true divine self, and eventually to ‘samadhi’, union with the divine.
The Dilemma for Christians
Many yoga classes are very explicit that the exercises do form part of a spiritual package originating in Hinduism and strictly adhere to Hindu teaching. Yet, yoga is often marketed as merely an exercise program. Many yoga participants or yogis share that the teacher does not mention any religious or spiritual ideas at all. But can a Christian in good conscience be in a yoga class and not compromise his or her faith?
It is a dilemma which many Christians grapple with. Dave Hunt warns in his book Yoga and the Body of Christ:
“In spite of the advertisements and talk about health and fitness, yoga’s real goal is to awaken the Kundalini power, coiled like a serpent at the base of the spine, ready to manifest itself through alleged “chakras” (centres of universal force) of the body.”
Tragically, yoga often opens a door to unsuspecting Christians to enter into a New Age lifestyle. This is what happened to Laura Wills, who for 22 years immersed herself in New Age practices.
Thankfully, back in 2001, God delivered her from spiritual deception and bondage, and gave her the idea of a Christian alternative to yoga, called PraiseMoves. Certified as an aerobics instructor, she developed exercises and postures for praising Jesus through music and words. Today, PraiseMoves is in many countries.
Choose Your Yoke
The suggested approach of American pastor John Piper to this dilemma for Christians who are allured by yoga is not to ask, “What is wrong with yoga?” but, “Will it make me more Christlike?”
The Bible makes it clear that God’s ultimate desire for every true child of God is to “be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). Every Christian is to become more and more like Jesus, Who said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9b). And so John Piper counsels: “If yoga begins to take the place of the pursuit of becoming more like Jesus… we need to reassess.”
The aim of the Hindu life is to be yoked or merged with an impersonal Hindu deity. But the aim of the Christian life is to be yoked (up close and personal!) with Jesus, Who is the image of God. Jesus invites His followers:
“Come to Me,
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
~ Matthew 11:28-30
By taking the yoke of Jesus upon ourselves, He invites us to be at His side and to learn from Him. Jesus will lighten our burdens, and we will find a rest for our souls that only He can give. How marvellous!
Father God, thank You that You sent Your Son Jesus into the world to show us Yourself and to open the way to have a right relationship with You. Your desire is that every person will become more and more like Your Son Jesus, Who is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) and “the radiance of God’s glory” (Hebrews 1:3a).
By Your Word and by Your Spirit, help us in this by taking the yoke of Jesus upon ourselves and learning of Him. Help us to walk beside Him and so “share in His sufferings that we may also share in His glory”. (Romans 8:17)
Please deliver those who, through yoga and other New Age practices, are yoked to false gods and anything demonic. May they cease the wilful emptying of their minds which opens them to danger. Instead, may they see Jesus and fill their minds with a knowledge of You. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.