Is yoga a form of exercise? Spiritual program? Hindu practice? Safe for Christians and practitioners of other faiths? Yoga is fundamentally all of these things. Whenever I'm researching a yoga trend or reading a popular blog article that allows for reader commentary at the bottom, there is invariably a reader who lets it be known that if you are a Christian, yoga should be avoided at all costs.
And this issue is more widespread than an overzealous web surfer or two. Encinitas, a San Diego school district, was sued after becoming one of the first districts in the country to offer yoga as part of their curriculum. Parents sued the school under the First Amendment, and argued that yoga is "religious... with a consistent anti-Christian bias ? and a pro-Eastern and strange religion bias." A judge ruled against the parents, citing that modern yoga, "as it has developed in the last 20 years, is rooted in American culture, not Indian culture."
The issue even hits close to home on the opposite side of the country. Here in Virginia, Yoga Accessories? home state, uber conservative Lt. Governor candidate E.W. Jackson has publicly made his controversial views on yoga known, stating, "When one hears the word meditation, it conjures an image of Maharishi Yoga talking about finding a mantra and striving for nirvana. . . . The purpose of such meditation is to empty oneself. . . . [Satan] is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it. That is why people serve Satan without ever knowing it or deciding to, but no one can be a child of God without making a decision to surrender to him. Beware of systems of spirituality which tell you to empty yourself. You will end up filled with something you probably do not want." This statement has caused political uproar and debate even among fellow Republicans.
While yoga undeniably has an underlying Hindu history and philosophy, it has been and is continuingly adapted over time to be more accessible to a wider audience. Some new forms of yoga, which I have lovingly nicknamed 'gritty yoga', have completely ridden themselves of all Hindu-based philosophy and practices. No chanting, no sanskrit, no relaxing Shavasana -- just the poses under their Americanized names.
WholyFit is a Christianized form of yoga. Their website?s homepage asks the reader, "Are you afraid that you might dishonor God if you do an exercise that looks like a yoga exercise?" Wholyfit looks like yoga, but insists it is NOT yoga, instead it calls itself "a Biblical alternative to yoga, so you can stretch and exercise for health without doing yoga."
A recent article by the Ledger-Inquirer out of Columbus, GA, featured Wholyfit instructor LaToya Brassell, who began doing yoga for weight loss, stress management, and improved sleep. In her classes, before flowing into the next yoga pose, a passage from the Bible is read and then meditated on. Further linkage between traditional Indian yoga and Christianity is the basis of a controversial book on Amazon titled The Yoga of Jesus, claiming that Jesus himself practiced this ancient art and actually was a yoga teacher to his disciples.
There seems to be two distinct camps: those who believe Yoga is fundamentally anti-Christian, and is unsafe for those of a Christian faith to practice, or hardcore yogis who believe any non-spiritual (Hindu) form of yoga isn't really yoga. But does it really matter? Yoga is a spiritual practice rooted in Hinduism that is beneficial to the unity of mind, body, and spirit. You don?t have to believe in the tenets of Hinduism to reap the mental, spiritual, physical benefits of this type of exercise. What I tell skeptics is to be open-minded, and if you are new to yoga, feel free to take what you like from the class and leave the rest behind.
Gay Meredith Date 9/4/2013
The physical (asana) portion of yoga is simply wonderful stretching and has the potential to add years to your life. While the study of a yogic lifestyle can take practitioners along a peaceful and strengthening path, doing one without the other is quite common and has no downside. This has NOTHING to do with "religion". If someone could clean up and dispose of all the religious nuts in politics the world would be a better place.
Janet Date 9/4/2013
Don't you know the most intelligent, educated and those in powerful positions are people that believe that if you empty yourself and surrender to God, the devil will waltz right in and take over your body? Yoga is an excellent form of exercise and a means of self- liberation to a higher intelligence. God gave us free will and choices of what to do and allow into our lives. Get with the program and leave those losers who dwell in the dark with their unfounded fears where they are and where they belong. Yoga is only a means to finding out about what it means to be in a physical body; with clarity and focus. It does not mean selling out to the devil in any way, shape or form. It is mindfulness of the physical body, attentiveness to how you conduct yourself as an individual in the waking world. To become aware of the true gift you are and acknowledge the glorious gifts that the Almighty has provided for us. These are but some of what Yoga has to offer. Yogic lifestyle is a guiding way through life.This is what I've come to realize after being on the spiritual path for at least 2 decades.
Penny Crochiere Date 9/4/2013
Without question, Pilates fits all aspects of movement for all age groups . Pilates is the answer to true core strength, correct posture and flexibility without the religious issues.
aaron sulam Date 9/6/2013
Those people that are concerned that Yoga is a religious oriented practice should participate in a Yoga class see that their fears are really unfounded. It is great exercise and the mental and spiritual benefits are valuable. I've practiced Yoga in many settings and with a wide variety of people. Most gratifying is working with children.
Gia Date 9/6/2013
I suggest the nay-sayers- especially one E. W. Jackson of VA read the book, "Prayer of Heart & Body - Meditation and Yoga as Christian Spiritual Practice" by Father Thomas Ryan (a CATHOLIC priest and long-time Yoga practitioner/teacher). The book was written in 1995 and published by Paulist Press. Readers could pay particular attention to Chapter 10 - The Bridging of East and West: "Interfaith encounters provide all parties with a positive prod to striking a more holistic balance. We stand to benefit from their gifts, and they from ours. We know that the Mystery of Christ is always present in the church and is the secret by which she lives. But until the way we live our Christian lives defers at least as much to this mystical presence as to laws and doctrinal formulations, we have not yet learned religion's most essential teaching."
Jason Date 9/6/2013
It depends on the school of Yoga, much like it depends on the church or Christian. I've been to some schools where sanskrit prayers were said, meditation was on a specific deity, etc. and other schools where the only sanskirt said was the name of the pose and no aums were said. Just like I've been to some Christian churches that were zealots and others that combined Christianity with Buddhism. Meditation can be whatever you make of it. If you want to meditate by emptying your mind, fine. If you want to go into your heart and see what's there, that's great, any religious philosophy I would think would be ok with that. If you want to meditate on a passage from the Bible instead of a sutra, then as long as it's beneficial to you, do it! Both Yoga and Christianity have evolved so that you can find instances of both that are extreme and instances that are very open to all participants. Just like some Christians believe Yoga is evil, I've met some yogis that give Christians a cold-shoulder. It goes both ways. Find whatever works for you to help you and grow and just do it.
Larry Garvey Date 9/6/2013
Yoga is Science. Pure and simple. Only recently with quantum physics are modern scientists catching on.
Religion has always had problem with science.
Jaimee Date 9/6/2013
This is well written. I've taught yoga off and on for around 5 years, and I've practiced on my own about 7. And I'm a Christian. When I'm on my mat, and I invite my savior along side my practice, it truly is a beautiful time with him. often, the only time I spend with him. I'm challenged regularly by fellow believers. I've lost friends and support and been accused of leading my brothers and sisters astray. I've had Christians suggest, I just don't call it yoga (which, is what it is...I'm very sorry...it is yoga). A rose by any other name? At the core of my personal understanding of how yoga and faith intertwine is the practitioner's heart. Where is it? And what are our intentions? If someone is SO uncertain of their own faith and salvation that the mere suggestion of emptying oneself invites the devil to come in and wipe away what Jesus has done, If they actually believe that...then no they probably shouldn't do yoga, or at least avoid classes that weigh heavily on other spiritual influence. If however, a believer such as myself is firmly grounded in the promises God has made to us, and they know and love HIs son above all else, and understand that nothing can possibly undo the precious gift Jesus freely gave them...then, by all means...Let's EMPTY OURSELVES OF OURSELVES and be filled with the presence of God. "More Jesus, less of me". Draw closer to him. Seek him. And commune with him. And freely use yoga to do it. I firmly believe yoga is a tool to use freely for spiritual, mental and physical health, a gift from God above, one available for all. Just my 2 cents. Peace and love to each of you :)
Rick Date 9/6/2013
I've been practicing yoga for several years to include asana, meditation and the study Vedic text and yoga philosophy. Neither my teachers nor the texts have asked nor required me to believe anything, All I've been ask to do was experience the yoga and determine for myself what I believe.
I don't subscribe to any religion but I've found that my spiritual journey and my yoga practice have helped me to clarify and understand my spiritual foundations and core principles.
Other yoga practitioners I know have related to me that yoga has helped them strengthen their faith in whatever religion they follow.
In meditation and chanting, I've never been asked to "believe" in any Hindu deities. These are merely various names of God, representing different aspects and qualities of the Divine. In practices where I've visualized Ishvara, my teachers have always said to visualize whatever is sacred to me or inspires me. It might be Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, my mother...whatever is meaningful to me.
Yoga does not ask us to believe anything. Yoga only ask that we experience our spiritual journey by following our own path, in our own way. Yoga opens the door but we ourselves must enter.
Jack Whitaker Date 9/6/2013
Yoga is not rooted in Hinduism. Hinduism has roots in Yoga as do many other religions. Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning "union", union of mind-body-spirit, the three beautiful aspects of who we are. The Jesuit priest, mystic, philosopher, and scientist said it well, "We are not human beings having occasional spiritual experiences. We are instead spiritual beings having human experiences." Yoga as practiced by it's patron saint, Patanjali, quiets our turbulent minds so we can discover truth for ourselves which, unfortunately, is a threat to some religionists. I am a Yoga teacher and a Christian. Recommended reading would be "The Yoga of Jesus", "Living Buddha, Living Christ, and "The Third Jesus". We are all One regardless of our beliefs. One day we'll all act accordingly. Namaste'
Ken Allen Date 9/6/2013
Simply amazing how religon gets in the way of being human in so many aspects of life.
Ken Allen Date 9/6/2013
Simply amazing how religon gets in the way of being human in so many aspects of life.
rand Date 9/6/2013
What Westerners recognize as yoga is the physical, or Hatha yoga. It is a very small part of the science of yoga, or " God union". Yoga is a technique for spiritual advancement. Jesus talked of his path as "the way", indicating that it too was a path, not a religion. Meditation is mentioned over 50 times in the Bible, including the new testement.
Christianity was stuffed into a very small box by Constantine and his, and has lost it's power. Yoga can bring that back.
George Date 9/6/2013
Yoga, the religion of serenity, staying in the moment and flexibility...More than an exercise less than a religion.
YogiBar Date 9/6/2013
Yoga is inclusive. Religion is exclusive.
Dhana Date 9/6/2013
What a bunch of nonsense. I am a Christian, non-Partisan fiscal Conservative, social liberal.
If you are strong in your Faith, you are covered with the armor of God, and yoga ain't gonna hurt you!
For Pete's sake. Last night someone in my Jazzercise group was talking about being a little kid and a traveling preacher told their church the Smurfs were Satanic and all the kids threw away their toys. That's just sick, and I don't believe in that silliness, and I AM A CHRISTIAN! I do yoga.
Realist Date 9/6/2013
Wow, is this enough proof that majority of "westerners" are very close minded when it comes to religion? I am not religious in anyway but I do believe in respect and spirituality. Yoga poses and meditations help calm each individual for inner peace and hey, instead of praying to "god" somehow, asanas help heal you physically and mentally. I'm going to stop here, yoga is not a religion, it should be practiced by EVERYONE for health and serenity.
jo brennan Date 9/6/2013
I am a christian, a yoga teacher and a studio manager. A christian is who I am and Yoga is what I do. During my training I was exposed to many spiritual concepts that opposed my faith. Western culure is changing Yoga into a physical practice but in the schools this needs monitoring. We arenot being honest if we say Yoga doesnt have teachers that teach spiritual things...OM, Chakras, etc. Having said that, I thinnk Yoga is a good addition to a class PE program but must be monitored for any spiritual practices...
Free Thinker Date 9/6/2013
If yoga was a form of religion, I would not practice it.. I have taken yoga classes for almost 20 years. Never once has religion been introduced in a class. The world would be a better place if people replaced faith with reason.
Diane Date 9/6/2013
I am a certified yoga instructor and a Christian. I do not call my classes "yoga"; I call them "stretching and relaxing" out of respect for the original tradition of yoga. I include the wonderful stretches, deep breathing and encourage a quieting (not emptying) of the mind. I leave out the sanskrit chanting, stories of Hindu deities, and other pseudoreligious eastern spirituality (which are an integral part of true yoga). I feel content that I am teaching valuable skills to my students without promoting any specific spirituality.
Denise Date 9/6/2013
Up to "here" with this subject. Yoga is not a religion. How many times do we have to say this! It's a SCIENCE.
Regarding meditation, we know the Jesus meditated often.
I teach in mostly community settings where people are looking to reap the many health and wellness benefits yoga brings.
happy baby Date 9/6/2013
Any fellow Jews out there uncomfortable about being in a potential position of "bowing" in front of an IDOL?!!!! Christians, you might want to consider this too, since bowing to an idol is prohibited in the 10 commandments (along with theft, murder, adultery, etc.). Many studios have statues of Hindu gods up front, and often, unbeknownst to you (because you don't speak Hindi or Sanskrit) the music in the background is a recitation of the names of the Hindu gods, even overtly worshiping the names of these gods, including offering prayer to them. Some instructors just buy Yoga CD's and have NO IDEA what the words mean, and would be as surprised as you to learn this. So, what if the song gets in your head and you start singing along - either aloud or in your mind? (this happens to me all the time.) Even if you don't KNOW that you are worshiping an idol, if you do in fact, utter words of praise to a god in a foreign language, and bow your body down in front of an idol, is it somehow NOT worship, just because you don't know what you are saying? I love Yoga and practice about 5 times a week, but I have had to change studios to avoid taking a bowing posture towards an IDOL. I am actually surprised that the Christians on this forum haven't brought this up - I thought they believed in the 10 Commandments - so maybe I am wrong on that - but observant Jews need to be careful HOW we practice Yoga to avoid bowing to an idol.
Deborah Rowe Date 9/6/2013
The last sentence says it all. When the instructor says to set an intention for the practice, I thank God for something. During meditation, I pray. As our instructor says, it opens your heart and Jesus is in my heart. You do not have to do anything you are uncomfortable with, it is YOUR practice.
Keith Date 9/6/2013
I think Jesus himself would approve of the peaceful practice we call "yoga".
Adam Segulah Sher Date 9/7/2013
I'd like to draw your attention to the proliferation of Yoga in Jewish contexts, which is enjoying increasing popularity and leaving participants reporting transformative experiences due to the integration of the art-science-spirituality of Yoga with a Jewish context and spirituality that unifies their interests & passions that might otherwise be experienced as divergent or conflicting. Spiritual synergy works!
Torah Yoga is an example: http://isabellafreedman.org/torahyoga
Christian Date 9/7/2013
Wow. What a hot topic this is. One thing that we can all agree on is the undisputed scientific facts out there that prove the numerous benefits of yoga stretching for the body. I know many, many people who have avoided back or shoulder surgeries through the benefits of yoga exercises. That being said, I am a yoga instructor, and I am a Christian. I was introduced to yoga five years ago through a physical therapist who was helping me deal with some painful shoulder issues. I have also always had flexibility issues so I was skeptical of my PT's advice to start a yoga practice, but I did begin taking classes at my local YMCA anyway. The improvement I felt in my whole body after six months was so significant that I felt strongly called to become and instructor and pass on the same gift of healing that I had been enjoying. But, as a Christian Yoga instructor, I've often felt like I'm balancing on a fine line. Many of my Yogi brothers and sisters practice these healing stretches while teaching Hindu philosophies in their studios. As, "happy baby" commented, I will not bow to idols or other gods so I do not practice with them. On the flip side, there are several churches in my area where my Christian brothers and sisters have been taught from the pulpit that any type of yoga instructor, even a "Christian" yoga instructor, is spreading the work of Satan. In conclusion, I know that I'm doing what I've been CALLED to do. I only have my Creator and myself to answer to in the end, and I feel at perfect peace. Ignorance abounds, but let's all try to focus on what we have in common as Yogis and as human beings. Let's learn to love and respect each other despite our differences. The Divine light in me honors and respects the Divine light in you, always. Pass on the light of LOVE. Namaste and God bless.
Ricky Tran Date 9/7/2013
ignorance and wrong knowledge.. that's all i gotta say.
Lelia Date 9/8/2013
I would agree this is a hot topic. I grew up in the Christian Church and have taught Sunday school for my kids. I have taught Yoga since college days over 20 years ago and am certified in 4 different methods. . I lived at a Yoga Ashram and studied with an Indian doctor. I am still a Christian. Yoga Has so many benefits physical and mental. The practice of Yoga has changed my life for the better. My classes focus on Hatha Yoga and relaxation (meditation). you can use Sanskrit mantras or English matras that help quite the mind - like the lord's prayer.
pamela Date 9/8/2013
Celebrating and caring for our earthly vessel honors God, in my humble opinion. I am a yoga practitioner, yoga instructor and practicing Catholic. After contemplating this subject for many years I have come to a place that my practice is an offering to God. Other religions, ideas, make our yoga practice rich. I believe I am a better christian because of my practice. I am not threatened by others with whom pray differently I attempt to learn from them. I am forever greatfull for my practice and feel honored to share it with anyone who chooses. Humans are naturally drawn to these types of questions, we so want to be special, important recognized. Who's right, whose wrong? At the end of this day it is really not up to us. What is within our power is to celebrate what God has given us. In what ever form that brings. We as yogis have the power to unite because we understand our collective goodness and our present to our sanscaras as well.
Marilyn Lindgren Date 9/8/2013
One person got it right. Yoga is not rooted in Hinduism. YOGA PRE-DATES HINDUISM (and also pre-dates Buddism). It was not a religion but a science or philosophy of life with a system of ethics (very much like the Ten Commandments). It reflected the culture in which it arose; but it has adapted to the surrounding culture over the ages. Today in the U.S, it is both or either a physical and/or a spiritual practice in line with the beliefs of the culture and the practitioner. Like all philosophies, it asked and still asks, "What is the meaning of life?" In today's Western World, yoga is compatible with all religions. It encourages the belief in one God or one Supreme Power (God by any other name is still God.) Ignorance combined with religious fanaticism is dangerous and has been the cause of most wars. Let people practice the physical postures, breath fully, improve their health, and pray to the God of their own religious tradition, meditate on how to live and die in an honorable way. Or let them believe nothing and do their exercise.
Jesus H. Christ Date 9/8/2013
Honestly I think all religion is kind of retarded.
2000 some years later and I think it's pretty crazy ya'll thought I was like .... the son of God or whatever.
Truth is, it was all really just a social experiment me and 12 of my buddies put on and it got WAY out of hand.
D Richter Date 9/8/2013
I am a Christian (though am super tolerant and fascinated by other beliefs and religions). I love yoga in its spiritual form and love meditation (though I still find it challenging). Most yoga here while it sort of has a spiritual component really doesnt other then relaxing and stuff It does not really contradict at least in my mind anything that I can think of in christianity as it is about being healthy and taking care of your body. I have had people make comments about it and I always get super upset and tell people yoga is not a religion though it can be used by religions. Personally I think the benefits are great enough that you can just ignor all the spiritual stuff if that isnt you and just focus on the stretching. Also the bible does talk about meditation and doesnt specify how to go about it.