For some, the spiritual side of yoga is one of its most enticing aspects, but for those who already subscribe to a religion, the religious leanings of the exercise can be somewhat problematic.
Granted, yoga in itself is not a dogmatic belief system in the same way that Christianity is, but it does borrow a lot of explicitly religious elements from Hinduism. And Christian scripture is pretty clear in its attitude towards other creeds… they’re to be avoided.
Of course, the Bible doesn’t reference yoga directly, but there are plenty of blanket statements that could easily be applied to yoga, and we’ll be taking a closer look at them today.
Are Christianity & Hinduism Similar?
There are myriad overlaps between the narrative structures of various religions, but Christianity and Hinduism have very little in common, which is perhaps why yoga is such a controversial practice to some Christians.
Perhaps the headlining divergence between these faiths is that Christianity is a monotheistic religion, while Hinduism is polytheistic, meaning Hindus acknowledge more than one god/goddess.
This contradicts the fundamental tenet of Christianity, a religion that doesn’t mince words when it comes to “false profits” and the like. Let’s take a look at some of the stand-out Bible verses on this topic.
What Bible Passages Relate To The Practice Of Yoga?
You shall have no other gods before me.
This is perhaps the most straightforward and concise passage in the Bible that seems to illustrate the dissonance between Christians and the practice of yoga due to its associations with Hinduism.
Even though yoga and Hinduism are distinct, the association alone can be troublesome for devout Christians.
You might argue that yoga is more about self-worship or submitting to the greater force of the universe than deity worship, and you’d be right, but therein lies another problem, as it, in a way, posits a reality where god may be unnecessary.
Have nothing to do with irrelevant, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
In Timothy 4:7-8, we again witness the tunnel vision all Christians are advised to adopt in order to better serve god and secure a position in heaven. Here, yoga would fall into the “irrelevant, silly myths” category.
It also doubles down by mentioning that bodily training is of little value compared with godliness, which is about as close a reference to yoga as you’ll find in the Bible. It suggests that the yogi’s mission statement of self-realization is redundant, as only in God will we find ourselves.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.
Here’s another warning not to let your beliefs wander, but more than that, it’s a request that “diverse and strange teachings” should be avoided, which some might argue could refer to yoga.
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
One of the things that makes Christianity so enticing is its corporeal elements, such as the human savior who walked the Earth.
Scripture then utilizes this pseudo physicality to construct a binary system in which Christianity is real, and everything else is “myth”, and that would likely include yoga.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In this short, snappy line, the self is devalued in the shadow of god, which seems to directly contradict the primary yogic goal of devaluing the self in the context of the universe and the energies flowing through it.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
This is yet another allusion to the idea that self-worship is wrong in the eyes of the Christian god.
Is It Sinful To Practice Yoga As A Christian?
Considering the passages above and the countless others preaching the same principles, it’s hardly a surprise that some Christians are conflicted when it comes to yoga, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t do yoga, and here’s why…
Western Yoga Has Been Despiritualized
Although yoga instructors may speak with a certain degree of mystic authority, most Western studios don’t incorporate any of the spiritual aspects of ancient yoga in their own practice.
In fact, so far removed from its religious roots is Westernized yoga that many Indian academics and Hindus argue it has been culturally appropriated and stripped of meaning.
On the one hand, this is a terrible thing, as it is disrespectful to the culture from which yoga came to us. But on the other, it’s a fantastic thing, as it opens the practice of yoga up to the masses sans complex theological conundrums.
Yoga Is Highly Adaptable
Yoga is highly adaptable, general enough in tone to be applied to almost any religion, Christianity included, which is why there are Christian yoga classes popping up all over the nation.
And this malleability is no new development. As soon as the practice of yoga began to spread from India to the Far East, people have been tweaking it to align it with their religion.
It’s easy enough to extract certain aspects of yoga for your benefit and completely leave out the stuff you’re not so keen on. It all comes down to intention.
If you, as a Christian, intend to immerse yourself in the spiritual elements of yoga, understandably, that’s dicey, but if you intend only to seek the health benefits, then that’s what you’ll get.
You can even simply learn the poses online and perform them at home in any context you like. That way you don’t have to take a gamble with any instructors who may or may not subscribe to the spiritual aspects of yoga.
Yoga Is Not A Belief System
Yes, yoga has loose ties to Hinduism, but strictly speaking, is not a belief system, meaning it doesn’t necessarily contradict the one god golden rule of Christianity.
Ultimately whether yoga is compatible with your beliefs is something only you can figure out, but it would be a shame to exclude yourself from such a beneficial practice for what are objectively tenuous grounds.
But, if you’d rather opt out, you can still get a lot of the benefits of yoga by taking up Pilates, a similar, more scientific and health-oriented practice.