CAN CHRISTIANS DO YOGA?

NO.

NO?

BY Ting Mee Kean & Ong Juat Heng

Yoga is a popular exercise that, many claim, can relieve physical and emotional ailments, and even treat certain infirmities. Developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation in Northern India over 5,000 years ago, yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred text, the Rig Veda. Historically, yoga has evolved from Vedic Yoga to Preclassical Yoga, Classical Yoga and Postclassical Yoga[1].

Vedic Yoga aimed to transcend the limitations of the ordinary mind while Preclassical Yoga focused on achieving deep meditation so as to transcend the body and mind and discover the true nature. Classical Yoga was taught by Patanjali in the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. in his Yoga-Sûtra, which outlines the eight limbs of yoga like a staircase leading the yogi (practitioners of yoga) from ignorance to enlightenment.

Finally, postclassical Yoga centres on Hatha-Yoga (spiritual union through body control and meditation).

The purpose of traditional yoga is to connect the individual with the Supreme Being. Considering the Hindu underpinnings, semi-retired pastor K.M. Lee from Glad Tidings Petaling Jaya quoted Exodus 20:3: “Christians shall have no other gods beside Jehovah God”. Moreover, the Bible teaches that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities… against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places…” (Ephesians 6: 11-13).

Typical exercises encourage students to combine a variety of breathing techniques (pranayama) with relaxation postures (asanas). Both exercises are steps three and four of Patanjali’s road to union with Brahman[2]. Another pose, the lotus position, aims to activate the psychic energy centres (the chakras)[3]. Specific breathing exercises are practised to infuse the soul with cosmic energy floating in the air.

Students concentrate on a single object, like a candle, while chanting a mantra to clear their minds and become one with the object. The goal is to achieve unity with the cosmic consciousness.

Pastor Lee clarifies that “yoga exercise movements have religious significance. They really are offerings to the 330 million Hindu gods”. Essentially, one cannot practise a form of Hinduism and remain loyal to Christ who is not a Hindu Guru.

According to Indian tradition, Kundalini Yoga (spiritual union through focusing inner energy) involves a type of “power” or “force” (shakti) resting in a dormant state at the base of the spine in the human body[4]. When this energy is awakened through the practice of spiritual disciplines, it rushes upward along the spinal column to the crown of the head, whereupon the yogi experiences samadhi or total absorption in the Godhead. Kundalini, or coiled serpent power, recalls the serpent in the Garden of Eden when he beguiled our first parents (“you will be like God”) when they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

Online businessman Moses Kee believes “yoga is a branch of the New Age Movement and is really a channel of spiritual deceptions. Many Christians think that it is harmless. In its very core, yoga is demonic in nature and has been used to cleverly deceive many believers”.

In summary, the ultimate aim of yoga is to strike a balance between the mind and body, and attain unity with a supreme being through the use of mantra and meditative stances. Christians should ask themselves whether yoga will make them more Christ-like, be more effective in prayer and increase their love for Christ. Ultimately, any activity we engage in should enhance our godliness and draw us closer to God. – BY TING MEE KEAN

[1] www.swamij.com/history-yoga.htm

[2] https://www.livescience.com/42204-what-is-yoga.html

[3] https://www.spiritualresearchnetwork.com/yoga-and -christianity-are-they-compatible/

[4] Ibid. In Lee Sannella, The Kundalini Experience: Psychosis or Transcendence (Lower Lake, CA: Integral Publishing, 1987, Revised 1992), p. 25.

Can Christian Do Yoga?
NO?

Susan attends a yoga class. “I can’t answer for all yoga classes, except for my personal experience with my instructor, who’s a Christian. We only do breathing and physical exercises in our classes, and none of the chanting and meditating you read about,” she says.  

Nell has been doing yoga for 10 years and sees it as a purely physical exercise that has increased her body awareness and encouraged good body postures. She observes that yoga has evolved into “mild gymnastics” and feels that many Christians who denounce yoga have not attended any yoga class and are therefore not aware there are yoga classes that only focus on the physical exercise.

As for the warning against following the stretching and breathing exercises of yoga, Nell questions whether Christians are so insecure in their faith that they have to avoid them (the stretching and breathing exercises). “Are we doing them in front of any idol? Are we going to get ‘demonised’ if we practise yoga? Is our faith so shallow?”

She adds, “We hardly utilise our lungs to full capacity on a normal daily basis. Therefore, practising deep breathing is good and beneficial to our health and well being.”

Ellen, in her 70s, was attending yoga classes until a group of ladies from her church coerced her into quitting. “They went on about how demonic yoga was. But the classes I attended had no chanting and meditating. Anyway, I quit because they kept pestering me and I wanted to stop their nagging.”

Ellen maintains that while attending the yoga classes, she “knew what she was doing during the class and was ever conscious of her Christian position”.

Linda took up yoga long before she became a Christian. An instructor now, she says she was not comfortable with the chanting and meditating during her past classes even when she was not a Christian back then, and did not participate in them.

“I took up yoga for the stretching and core-strengthening exercises. I became a Christian years later and as a Christian instructor, I run my classes completely without the spiritual elements. The students in my classes, Christians and non-Christians alike, join my classes to build strength and agility,” she explains.

OBJECTION

Susan, Nell, Ellen and Linda decline to be named as they have experienced their fellow Christians’ disapproval of yoga. Susan says some of her Christian friends react negatively and warn her against yoga. “I tell them my conscience is clear and it’s just a form of exercise. To each his own. I don’t try to convince people to come for yoga class and neither do I judge them for seeing it in a negative light. I just do it quietly, without drawing too much attention lest I stumble anyone,” she shares. 

For Nell, most of her Christian friends will give her the disapproving look. “Some even lecture me! I try to explain that my yoga class is purely stretching and breathing. No chanting. Even the instructor is a practising Christian.

“I can’t control how Christians respond and judge. The best way is to invite them to observe or try out one session to get a more balanced view. The bottomline is that my attitude and spirit is right with God,” she says.

Most Christians object to yoga because of its origin in Hinduism. But so are Easter, which originally celebrated the Assyrian fertility goddess Ishtar (hence the eggs), and the Christmas traditions of gift-giving, evergreen trees and even mistletoe and holly, which originated in ancient Babylon during the feast of the Son of Isis[1].

One wonders how the early Christians reacted when their fellow believers started celebrating Easter and Christmas. With the benefit of history on our side, perhaps we should give more charity to fellow believers who practise yoga in the non-religious form.

Finally, to quote the article in Relevant magazine: “To say that Christians can’t take a practice that was intended for something else and use it to worship God is to ignore not only history, but the transformational power of Christ.” – BY ONG JUAT HENG

[1]https://relevantmagazine.com/life/whole-life/features/23243-is-it-okay-for-christians-to-do-yoga

Asian Beacon: Apr – Jun 2018 (Vol 50 #2, p24-25)

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