When people in our church discuss yoga, they look at me and ask, ‘Paul, you are from India. What is your opinion? Can Christians practice yoga’. Let me give you my thoughts on this matter. Today we have many kinds of yoga. Christian yoga, Muslim yoga, zen yoga, atheist yoga etc etc. For the millions of people who practice yoga, it is nothing more than a physical exercise for health and wellbeing of their body and mind. But, remember, yoga was invented and developed as a spiritual discipline in India. It was born out of a pantheistic worldview. Every human being possesses spiritual energy. This is called prana or life force. It is called Force in Star Wars movies. This force or energy is concentrated at the base of the spine. Through yoga, this energy can be channeled upwards through wheels or chakras. When this energy reaches the crown of the head, one can connect with the divine or universal consciousness. Through yoga and meditation, one can unite with god. his is the path of liberation and salvation Hinduism offers to humanity.
Needless to say, it is diametrically opposed to the gospel of Christ. C.S.Lewis once said, ‘There are only two religions in the world: Hinduism and Christianity. Salvation by works and salvation by grace’
Only Christianity offers salvation by grace, all other religions offer salvation by works.
Yoga is salvation by works.
Zen is salvation by works
Transcendental meditation is salvation by works
Islam is salvation by works
Buddhism is salvation by works.
But the gospel of Lord Jesus Christ offers salvation by grace alone.
Jesus came to this world as our Savior
He lived to show us how to live
and He died to prepare us a way of salvation.
He was buried, but raised from the grave on the third day.
Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.”
No man cometh unto the Father but by Jesus. There is no such thing as universal consciousness. God is a distinct person like you and me. We can connect to God only through Jesus.
In Bhagavad Gita, Krishna promoted yoga to connect to God. The spiritual roots of yoga are planted in the soil of pantheism.
Now, we have Christians who say, ‘I don’t care about the spiritual roots of yoga. I only care about it’s physical practice to benefit my body and mind’. Let me share with you some truths from First Corinthians chapter 8.
Let me read from verse 1.
Now concerning things offered unto idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
Corinth is a great city in Greece. Greeks were worshiping nature. Their most important ritual action was animal sacrifice. They would take an animal into the sanctuary of their gods or goddesses, and sacrifice it on the altar. Hesiod wrote Theogony. In this work, he describes how Zeus became the king of gods. Zeus’s life is marked with violence, usurpation, incest, patricide, castration and jealousy. Zeus kills his father, Kronos, and marries Hera. Zeus and Hera then rule the world. Each generation of gods rebel against the one before it. Then the next generation of gods rebel against this generation. These gods need to be appeased with animal sacrifices. Lot of meat would pile up after these animal sacrifices. The greeks used to consume and sell this meat in the market.
Can we consume this meat offered to the pagan gods? That became the point of contention among the Christian believers in Corinth. Some Christians said, ‘We just came out of greek religion. We just came out of idol worship, oracles and we are afraid that eating this meat which was offered to idols might take us back into idolatry’.
Other Christians said, ‘We don’t care what they did with the animals. We don’t care about the gods, goddesses and the sacrifices. We don’t believe in any of that stuff. We just want to enjoy the meat’.
Apostle Paul told them, ‘Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth’. Good, you have the knowledge to discern. You have the temperament to control yourself. But that’s not enough. Why?
Let us verse 7.
- However, there is not in every man that knowledge; for some, with conscience of the idol until this hour, eat it as a thing offered unto an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.
Paul told them, ‘Not everyone has the knowledge to discriminate the sacred and the profane. You eat it nothing as more than meet. But for some others, that meat carries the whole pagan worship and observances with it.’ You might say, ‘I will do yoga just like an exercise. I don’t care about Hinduism or Eastern mysticism. But for some others, the yoga carries the whole pagan worship and observances with it. They might be tempted back to mysticism because they see you doing yoga’.
In verse 9, Paul says,
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.10. For if any man see thee, who hast knowledge, sitting at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols.
You might eat the meat offered to idols without a second thought about the idols. But the person who is weak, may not stop with eating the meat. He or she might go into idol worship itself. You might do yoga just as a physical exercise without any of its mystic trappings. But the person who is weak, may not stop with just physical exercise. He or she might go into transcendental meditation, mysticism, pantheism and idol worship.
In verse 13, Paul says,
- Therefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
If my eating of meat is going to offend any brother or sister, if my eating of meat is going to entice any believer back to pagan worship and idolatry, I would rather not eat the meat for the sake of that brother or sister.
I think we should also follow that example. If my practice of yoga is going to influence or entice someone into mysticism through yoga, I would rather not do yoga.What about all the health benefits of yoga?
Scientific research has shown that yoga can affect mood, sleep, anxiety, stress and quality of life. Yoga brings awareness to our body, mind and breathing. Yoga practice increases the levels of certain neurotransmitters in brain. There is a neurotransmitter called GABA (Gamma-amintobutyric acid) in our brains which slows the firing of neurons. When the firing in our neurons slows down, we get a calming effect giving us a feeling of relaxation. Lot of research was done on yoga practitioners. Their brain activity was monitored using CT scans, MRI scans and PET scans while measuring the levels of hormones and neurotransmitters in their body. In one study done at Boston University School of Medicine, researchers found out that yoga practice could increase GABA levels in the brains of yoga practitioners by 27 percent. So, it is not surprising that yoga increases relaxation.
Yoga is also used for pain relief, especially in patients with chronic pain. It is used to help lessen the risk factors associated with heart disease, like physical inactivity, stress and high blood pressure. Yoga is introduced for helping individuals with drug addiction. Yoga made its way into weight loss programs. It is used in patients with depression and anxiety. Sun Salutations are encouraged to get more vitamin D from the sunlight. Power yoga is introduced in sports. There is a special kind of yoga for businessmen. Yoga has some benefits, no doubt about it. After all, it is a physical exercise. And physical exercise benefits all of us. Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:8, ‘For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come’.
Bodily exercise profiteth little: Physical exercise does help us. Yoga too helps us to some extent. But recently many taller than life claims have been made about yoga, like yoga cures cancer, yoga cures diabetes, yoga cures blindness etc. Enter correlation versus causation. Perhaps the most common logical error in all of human history is correlation versus causation. Let us say, this morning I got up and went for jogging. I applied for a job last week. While I was running, one employer called me and said, ‘Congratulations, you have been selected for this job’. What inference can I draw from this? I got the job while jogging. So, jogging got me the job. Can I say that? Jogging is the correlation, not the causation for my job offer. This same logical mistake is committed with yoga. ‘I was doing yoga when my doctor called me and told that I am cancer free now. So, yoga cured cancer’. You see, yoga is the correlation not the causation for cancer remission. There is absolutely no relationship between yoga and cancer.
As I described earlier, yoga is not just a physical exercise. There is a spiritual worldview behind it. It’s like baptism. Baptism is not just immersion in the water. Through baptism, you are proclaiming a worldview: ‘I received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I can no longer live for myself. For the world and sin, I am dead’. You espouse those beliefs before committing to baptism. In the same way, there is a pantheistic worldview behind yoga. You channel your energy through the spine and concentrate it on the crown of your head, then communicate to universal consciousness through meditation. A Christian may not subscribe to that worldview, but as we have seen from 1 Corinthians chapter 8, he or she might become an influence on a weak Christian or a non-Christian to go deeper into yoga, meditation, mysticism and pantheism. There are many other exercises beside yoga which you can do for the wellness of your body and mind. So, my answer to the question, ‘Can a Christian practice yoga?’ is no. Christians should not practice yoga.