When my little YMCA in Southern Oregon first started offering yoga classes, I was repulsed. It was my job to make fliers for the sessions, and I felt that even in doing that I was sinning. I didn’t know anything about yoga, except that it had something to do with Eastern religions. I didn’t exactly know what that meant, but I knew it was evil.
Fast forward more years than I care to admit, and I found out that a very Godly woman whom I admired, regularly did a Christian yoga DVD at home. She loved it. I was confused.
Fortunately, I found a book, Yoga for Christians, by Susan Bordenkircher. Susan, like me, had her first exposure to yoga at her local YMCA, where her husband served on the board of directors and she taught fitness classes. She writes in her book about her concerns that yoga would compromise her Christian beliefs, but that she went ahead and began the process of becoming a certified yoga instructor.
“…I quickly fell in love with the physical practice of yoga. It gave me a workout like nothing I had ever done before. It made me notice my breath and become aware of how my body was reacting in every posture. I could feel it working not only my muscles, joints, and respiratory system, but also affecting me psychologically and spiritually.”
Why Consider Yoga?
Yoga provides a great overall body workout. It’s surprisingly cardiovascular, as it requires a lot of deep, intentional breathing, which strengthens the lungs without the joint-punishing aerobics that we all associate with cardiovascular workouts. It builds muscle using the same types of resistance you might get with weight lifting, but you’re primarily using your own body weight. And anyone can do yoga. You can easily modify the different poses to accommodate pregnancy, disability, inflexibility, or injury.
I was suffering from a stiff neck for nearly three months. I could not turn my head more than 20 degrees to the right past center. Driving was extremely painful as I tried to look over my right shoulder to check traffic. Then I attended a lunchtime restorative yoga session at a little studio in downtown Leavenworth, Kansas, where I was living at the time. Restorative yoga has a much slower pace, you hold the positions for much longer, and there are pillows involved. At one point during the session, I did hear myself snore. As I walked out of the studio, my neck was about 50% improved. By the next morning, it was back at 100% turning function. After weeks and weeks of pain and who knows how many ibuprofens, one 45-minute session had taken care of the problem. I can tell you countless stories of people whose lives have been dramatically changed through simple body movements known as yoga. Yet, despite the overall physical benefits of yoga, I still hear Christians voice concerns about its religious origins.
Is Yoga Unbiblical?
Have you ever held a $20.00 bill? I know–stupid question. Just go with it. Now, I would never use a $20.00 bill to buy illegal drugs, pay for a prostitute, or bribe someone to do something illegal. You probably wouldn’t, either. But it’s possible that someone, somewhere, used the exact $20.00 bill in your purse right now to do one of those things. Does that make the money evil? No. The money is just a vehicle which can be used for good or for evil purposes, depending on the heart of the person using it. I’ve come to believe that the same can be true for yoga.
Now, that’s not to say that the Christian doesn’t need to be wary. There are some very Hindu/Buddhist yoga instructors out there. I recently tried out an independent yoga studio where I’m living in Greenville, South Carolina. During the early part of the session, the instructor encouraged us to think of a person, living or dead, and “invite them into your practice today.” I invited Jesus. I spent a solid 90 minutes chatting with my Savior as I stretched and did salutations and shavasana, and I loved every minute of it. But I never went back to that studio. Some might argue that I should have left. And that would certainly have been an option. But I was not practicing unbiblical worship. I was worshiping my Savior. In the real world, I’m constantly surrounded by people worshiping money, fame, or other false gods. I can’t remove myself from the world–THAT would be unbiblical.
How Can I Learn More?
If you haven’t tried yoga yet, I want to encourage you to try it. Most YMCAs offer yoga sessions; you can even call and ask if they have any instructors who incorporate Christian themes into their classes–I’ve know many who do. You can also try a virtual or on-line class through groups like Yahweh Yoga in Arizona. They also provide Bible-based instructor certification for those who have been interested in becoming instructors, but don’t want to have to learn all the Hindu lingo that most secular certification courses require. There are also many good Christian yoga DVDs available at your local Bible bookstore or on-line. If you attend a class, don’t be afraid to arrive a little early and talk to the instructor about their philosophy. It’s even okay to outright ask them if they’re a Believer.
These bodies are temples, created by God for His glory. Yoga postures are nothing more than moving these God-made bodies, and those movements are designed to take care of and strengthen these temples He has gifted to us. If you feel uncomfortable doing yoga because of your concerns about its connections to Eastern religion, I would encourage you to listen to that check in your spirit, and do some research. You don’t have to do everything, just because its there. But don’t let the fear of the unknown keep you from something that could do your body a lot of good.