YOGA – Should Christians Participate ?
(200) EMERGING TRENDS IN YOUR CHURCH TODAY
YOGA – The influence of Eastern Mysticism on Christianity
Who does YOGA? Probably most of us know someone who does it and some who read this posting probably have participated in it. What is YOGA? Most will associate YOGA with maintaining a health lifestyle, exercise, and as Tim Hawkins sings about in one of his songs – most have an image of people doing YOGA in their “Yoga pants” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QltPmNxbDss
(1.) YOGA has flooded our society by storm. Americans participate in YOGA – whether you are a Christian, non-Christian, atheists, fitness instructor….etc. The following statistics point to the growth in popularity (Yoga Journal’s “Yoga in America Study 2012)
- 20.4 million Americans practice yoga, compared to 15.8 million from the previous 2008 study.
- Practitioners spend $10.3 billion a year on yoga classes and products (“Yoga Pants”). The previous estimate from the 2008 study was $5.7 billion.
- Of current non-practitioners, 44.4 percent of Americans call themselves “aspirational yogis”—people who are interested in trying yoga.
- It only takes 0.27 seconds to come up with over 411,000,000 results for Yoga on Google’s search engine. When searching Amazon.com’s “All” category for Yoga, one quickly comes up with a staggering 143,081 results. That’s just within Amazon.Com. If one searches for book titles only on Amazon.com, the search yields 26,316. Certainly, the influence of yoga can be found almost everywhere. In Time Magazine’s book, Alternative Medicine: Your Guide to Stress Relief, Healing, Nutrition, and More, it states:
BACKGROUND: As difficult as it may seem,YOGA in this country was once considered heretical and dangerous. Yogis in America were viewed skeptically while some were thrown in jail. TODAY – most fitness centers, many public schools teach it, a number of doctors have started to prescribe it….etc. On top of all this, a growing number of CHURCHES are starting YOGA programs.
Let’s define YOGA:
- One definition states that yoga is essentially: “a practice involving intense and complete concentration upon something, especially deity, in order to establish identity of consciousness with the object of concentration; it is a mystic and ascetic practice, usually involving the discipline of prescribed postures, controlled breathing, etc.” (Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary)
- The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary adds: “a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation.”
- Cyndi Lee, expert yogi and writer for Yoga Journal, defines Yoga as such: The word yoga, from the Sanskrit* word yuj means to yoke or bind and is often interpreted as “union” . . . The Indian sage Patanjali is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra an estimated 2,000 years ago. The Sutra is a collection of 195 statements that serves as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today. It also outlines eight limbsśof yoga: the yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyani (meditation), and samadhi (absorption).
Today, YOGA is marketed for its health benefits – specifically making references to its mind/body health benefits. You can tone your body while clearing your mind. YOGA is a $30 billion-a-year business in America today. Christians are joining YOGA classes like everyone else – everybody’s doing it..so they say. Churches advertise “Christian Yoga” with their implied approval of a harmless activity.
Beyond the health related images that are marketed today, the philosophy behind yoga is much more than physically improving oneself. It is an ancient practice derived from INDIA, believed to be the path to SPIRITUAL GROWTH and ENLIGHTENMENT.
As stated above, the word yoga means “UNION,” and the goal is to unite one’s transitory (temporary) self with the infinite Brahman, the HINDU concept of “God.” This god is not a literal being, but is an impersonal spiritual substance that is one with nature and the cosmos. This view is called “PANTHEISM” the belief that everything is God and that reality consists only of the universe and nature. Because everything is God, the yoga philosophy makes NO DISTINCTION between MAN and GOD.
Hatha yoga is the aspect of yoga which focuses on the physical body through special postures, breathing exercises, and concentration or meditation. It is a means to prepare the body for the spiritual exercises, with fewer obstacles, in order to achieve enlightenment. The practice of yoga is based on the belief that man and God are one. It is little more than self-worship disguised as high-level spirituality. (“Got Questions?”)
(3.) SHOULD CHRISTIANS PARTICIPATE IN YOGA even if only as a method of exercise without including the spirituality and philosophy that it represents?
Well, keep in mind, YOGA is what it is (an Italian proverb). There is no problem in stretching exercises in and of themselves. . . . stretching helps the blood flow, that breathing in oxygen helps our overall health. . . . There are numerous exercise programs that incorporate stretching that in no way relates to yoga (and its perspective). Religious syncretism (combination of differing beliefs) is probably the most dangerous thing we can involve ourselves in because we can rationalize its purpose. Essentially one cannot practice a portion of Hinduism and continue to walk with the true Christ who is not a Hindu Guru. It doesn’t represent Christianity and if anything is anti-Christian in its philosophy. That hasn’t changed! Its focus is on oneself instead of the one true God. It encourages participants to seek the answers to life’s difficult questions within their own consciousness instead of in the the Word of God. This leaves one open to deception from God’s enemy, who searches for victims that he can turn away from God (1 Peter 5:8)
The effect on influencing one’s consciousness is dangerous because you open yourself up to being in an altered state of consciousness. Classical yoga is intended to put one into an altered state of consciousness. “Believers who think they’re ‘just exercising’ are being swept into a counterfeit religion.” Eastern mysticism leads to destruction.
Certain postures, such as the lotus position, are taken to activate the psychic energy centers [the chakras]. And specific breathing exercises are practiced to infuse the soul with cosmic energy floating in the air. A guru might have students gaze at a single object, such as a candle, to develop and focus concentration. The guru might have them chant a mantra to clear their minds and become one with the object in front of them. The goal is to achieve increasingly higher meditative states until reaching oneness with the cosmic consciousness.
- “Let no one be found among you … who practices divination or sorcery, iinterprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead” (Deut. 18:10-11).
- Whatever we do should be done for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31), and we would be wise to heed the words of the apostle Paul: “Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8, NLT).
- Also he caused his sons to pass through the fire in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom; he practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft and sorcery, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger (2 Chronicles 33:6)
Affixing a new handle to an ancient Hindu practice may make it palatable for the Christian consumer, but it doesn’t change the fact that offering yoga in a Christian setting is unacceptable. You cannot separate yoga from the Hindu religious system.
While there are positive aspects to YOGA, there are also potential harmful aspects. The reality that practitioners of yoga, including Christian practitioners, can become physiologically and psychologically “unhinged” is a terrifying consideration. When one yields to the spiritual forces of darkness that fuel the world of yogic spirituality, one ought to be prepared to face dire consequences—that for millennia yogis in the East have endured, and by which have tragically been destroyed.
Practicing yoga can result in the severe dismantling of the human personality, resulting in total spiritual devastation, and oftentimes including demonic possession. The respect, honor, and adoration of rats, snakes, monkeys, cows, and the worship of 330 million gods of Hinduism surely ought to speak volumes to the Western yoga practitioner who thinks he or she can Christianize yoga or simply turn it into a benign physical exercise program.
When you stop and realize that increasing numbers of Christian churches are now allowing Yoga classes, and when you look at the sheer facts, this is simply hybridized yogic evangelism in the church. Sadly, the bulk of Western Christians seem to be blind to this.
Paul the Apostle, remembering the sinful disaster that took place in the garden of Eden, warned the early church at Corinth about the danger of spiritual deception in the name of Christ:
But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlity, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3)
Some additional resources: