Please also read my follow up post >> It's Not About Yoga.
Oswald Chambers says to not make a principle out of your life when God is working something else out for others. (My Utmost for His Highest, June 13) I'm hesitant to share my journey in giving up my traditional yoga class, because I don't want anyone to think this is a prescription or a conclusion on all forms of yoga for all followers of Christ.
Instead, just know that what I'm sharing here is my personal journey with God. I share it with you in hopes that it might spark something relevant to your own life and walk with God, maybe not related to yoga at all. Please know it's one woman's (my) experience to grow a bigger conversation, not a definitive conclusion on this specific topic.
With that said, here we go...
My "Background" in Yoga
I've done yoga poses in my stretching long before I ever knew what yoga was. It started as a kid when I finally had to admit I wasn't a gymnast, but I loved the stretches I did to warm up. It relaxed me and made me feel like I was helping my body somehow without adding the stress and strain of aggressive exercise.
When I first heard of yoga, it was with negative connotations of it being some sort of Eastern worship of gods (plural). It wasn't until sometime in college that I realized it had become a little more mainstream than that. And lots of the stretches I did on my own also happened to be yoga poses without my even knowing it.
So, I naturally jumped right in. First with a friend's yoga-lates (yoga and pilates) DVD, a couple classes in the mountains of California, and finally weekly yoga classes conducted at our local gym that was a perfect blend of challenge, relaxation, and plenty of practical life application.
Everything about it seemed pretty harmless. Except the few minutes at the end when we'd breathe in life and return what we do not use, contributing to the flow of the universe (or whatever her little spiel included). Sure that was weird and uncomfortable. But, for me, it was about the stretching I had always done and loved, and the quiet I thrive on; this time with someone trained to do the stretches right and with constructive feedback to guide me.
The rest of it, I ignored. When they talked about the circle of the universe, I would pray to God and thank Him for His incredible creation. When they instructed to clear our minds, I would meditate on God and all that He is doing in/through me. When they'd mention the name of a pose (like sun salutations), I used them as pointing to the Creator.
Somewhere in all of that, I started quietly questioning if this was really okay. Was this traditional yoga okay to practice as a follower of Christ?
Something about it didn't feel right. What with all the talk of the universe instead of God as Creator of that universe. I didn't share this questioning with anyone, because I didn't want to be pushed into or out of something before I took it up with God.
Should Christians Practice Yoga?
Shortly after I started asking God if this class was something He was leading me to give up, my sister-in-law sent some links on Christians practicing yoga for me to read and for us to discuss. I couldn't believe the timing, because I hadn't told anyone about my doubts.
I read through each of the articles and had a flood of responses, both for and against where this was leading. That's only grown as I continued to pray about what God was leading me to do.Was this class something I needed to give up, or was it really as harmless as I had been making it out to be?
I'm sure there is lots to read on Christians practicing yoga, but those couple links were enough to get me started. (See a few related articles at the end of this post.)
In no particular order, here are some initial reactions as I figured out if I should give up my traditional yoga class. They might appear a bit contradictory. I was specifically weighing out my own concerns/enjoyment from it, and considering it in light of taking it in a class vs. practicing it at home, or finding other alternatives.
1 | Hindus do not own the way God made our bodies to move.Long before I did or even knew about yoga, I stretched. Stretching is calming and stress-relieving. It helped me meditate in prayer to God, and strengthened my muscles in stress-free ways--in the same ways yoga does. A lot of the stretching I did turned out to be yoga poses--because just about every stretch is a yoga pose. I don't think I was converting to Hinduism without knowing it. I don't feel the yoga positions as stretches are inherently bad.
Saying the relaxing stretches found in yoga poses is always and only to worship Hindu gods feels a little bit like saying sacrifices to idols takes away from the sacrifices the children of Israel made to the one and only true God. That's not true. I feel environment, purpose, intention--all play a part in deciding if it's okay.
2 | The environment matters.My instructor talks about energy and the universe and the circle of life (as do many yoga instructors). That's uncomfortable to me because it ignores the Creator--God. That's a good indicator for me that something wasn't right. That said, it doesn't seem that yoga-esque stretching in other environments and with other teachers is necessarily wrong.
3 | What we do with our minds matters.Being instructed to clear our minds is a dangerous environment and could be a temptation for some. I personally used that time to pray. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says to "bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ," because we are in a spiritual warfare (vs. 3-4). Colossians 3:2 says, "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth." What we do with our minds matters.
4 | The outward appearance of what we do matters.When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were told to bow to the idol when the music played, they could have knelt and prayed to the God of Heaven in their hearts. But the outward appearance of what they were doing mattered; everyone else would have seen them bowing. Instead, they stood tall because they loved God and would not bow to an idol or even look like they were bowing.
To me, it seems my yoga class is the same. I'm in the environment, calling it something else. But in many traditional classes it's lead as a Hindu worship. The instructor is still instructing in this "circle of life" and universe worship--and in all appearances, I am. Who might see me doing this, and be confused on what it means to be a follower of Christ?
5 | Who we choose to lead us matters.Joshua 9:14 says "they did not ask counsel of the Lord." While I loved my instructor's feedback on my poses, her life applications and presentation--like many yoga instructors, she was taught a specific yoga practice. While I personally spent that time in class praying to God, meditating on His truth in my life, and thinking about Him, she was leading the class as a whole in something very different. If I personally am choosing Jesus--the Creator of the universe she praises--why am I trusting her to lead me in this class by being there? Again, it circles back to environment.
If you think the Bible doesn't say anything that applies to yoga, then look again. All of the verses below, I stumbled into as part of my recent reading, and this is only a sampling of what is actually there. These, of course, are just snippets and need a lot more context and further study. But they stood out to me in my reading, so I thought I'd share them:
- Deut. 17:3 says serving/worshiping other gods, either sun or moon, is not okay. In my traditional yoga class, we do lots of poses described as a tribute to the creation. But the Bible clearly says we are to worship only the Creator.
- "You shall not worship the Lord your God with such things." | Deut 12:4 -- things and places meant to worship other gods. Refer to #1 above--environment, purpose, and intention all play a part in deciding where the glory goes.
- "Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For He is our God." | Ps. 95:6-7 -- verses 1-5 talks about His creation and how He formed it with His hands; then, verses 7-11 warns us not to harden our hearts like the children of Israel in the wilderness who bowed to idols.
- "For the Lord Your God is a consuming fire a jealous God." | Deut. 4:24
- The Lord said: "Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep my commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever." | Deut. 5:29
- "You shall not at all do as we are doing here today--every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes." | Deut 12:8 Each person's prayer and seeking is important.
- You can't serve God and other gods. He will consume you if you try. | Josh. 24:14-21
- Anyone who trusts in these inanimate "idols" becomes like them with eyes that don't see and ears that don't hear. | Ps. 115:4-8
- "Oh, that man would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, And His wonderful works to the children of men! For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness." | Ps. 107:8-9
Making a Decision about Yoga
It's a minor thing to give up my yoga class if it brings me one step closer to Christ (more about how that might be the case below). Still, I didn't want to give it up without due diligence. Especially because it's been such a calming and stress-relieving part of my life. And it's something I knew someone might eventually question (or I might freely share on my blog). I wanted to be open to God's convicting and not be the crazy person that says, "It's just evil."
In 1 Thessalonians 5:21-24, Paul gave me a few things to think about in testing all things, finally giving me the direction I needed to make a decision about this yoga class in particular.
1 | Test all things.If I'm feeling like the yoga class I go to isn't okay for me, then I need to test that by intentionally not going. And stick with what's good from those "tests." Instead, I should find other fillers for the stress-relieving benefits I enjoy in my class--stretching at home with the kids, quiet moments with God and meditating on His Word, a warm bath, reading, even a non-traditional Holy Yoga type class, etc.
2 | Abstain from every form of evil.What I read in Deuteronomy (texts above) says that using worship of other gods to worship God isn't okay. My traditional yoga class started feeling like that.
3 | Our whole spirit, soul and body are to be preserved blameless.Many things we do involves our spirit, soul, and body, yoga included. Here in 1 Thessalonians we're called to keep every part of us blameless in God, for the coming of Jesus. If something I do, like this traditional yoga class, feels "off," then it's not worth continuing.
4 | He who calls is faithful to do it.If God really is calling me away from something like this class, and I test it and cling to what is good, then He will be faithful to provide and lead through it--by continuing to assure of the decision, maybe leading me to healthy, relaxing alternatives, or other ways of helping me move on to a better life.
5 | Whatever is not from faith is sin.Paul says in Romans 14:22-23, "Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats... whatever is not from faith is sin." This is really what it comes down to for me. I was having minor doubts that grew the more I spent time with God and in His word, to the point that it didn't feel right to keep going. I'm not going to make any declarations on yoga as a whole, because there seem to be so many variations to it. The traditional class I started questions didn't feel right, so I needed to not ignore that. In some cases ignorance might be bliss--but not if it keeps me from a growing relationship with Christ.
Yoga and My Story of Growth
I preceded this post with one about growth and how there are areas of my life that feel like they are dying, but in reality this "death" is just making room for a real, lasting life with Christ. (Ps. 116:12-15; Rom. 14:7-8)
1 Thessalonians 1:3-9 talks about the work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope. Following God takes effort and waiting. Not just in receiving and believing the Gospel message (verse 5); but receiving the Word in such a way that it afflicts us to action with the joy of the Spirit (verse 6). Affliction insinuating there will be struggle, but joy assures that it will be worth it.
By this struggle to actually follow the Gospel message, we will become examples (verse 7), because we turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (verse 9). We think idol worship happened only in Moses' time or happens only in foreign Eastern countries or only if we have an addiction. But it happens today right where we are.
But I will ask this:
What is God calling you to let die, so that He might live in you?
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