Should Christians avoid yoga? Can a Christian maintain a close walk with the Lord while practicing yoga?My answer is a little more nuanced than a simple “yes” or “no”. “Yoga” can be a disturbing word for some Christians, but what are some of the problems Christians may have with yoga?
- They feel they are engaging with a New Age or Hindu philosophy.
- The meditations are focused on Hindu entities and/or deities.
- They have heard the postures were demonically inspired.
So, can a Christian, in good conscience, practice yoga? I personally tried a few classes out and just did not feel right about it. It’s hard to describe, but my spirit felt pulled away from the Lord. The teachers were not Christian and did not promote an atmosphere of faith in the Lord. They instead used New Age and Hindu mentalities and terminologies.
What about ‘Christian’ yoga?
Then, I discovered Christian yoga through a dedicated Christian on YouTube. Christian yoga takes the poses and methods of yoga and incorporates Christian meditation into it. Christians have done this with many things – Christmas and Halloween (It used to be “Hallelujah Night” at my church growing up!) are two examples.With a clear intention to focus on the Lord during my practice, I felt refreshed – spirit, soul and body! Am I now worshipping the devil or entertaining false gods because of this practice?
In 1 Corinthians 8:4-8, Paul talks about whether or not meat offered to idols should be consumed. Many Christians felt it was wrong to eat that kind of meat, but Paul felt free to do it, knowing that idols were empty and powerless. I feel the same way about yoga. Knowing it is done unto the Lord and with the right heart and focus, I am not condemned.
I’ve come to realize that – like many other modalities in life – yoga can be practiced for good or for evil, for God or for the devil, in His presence or in another presence. It’s the heart attitude as opposed to the outward formality that determines whether something is godly or ungodly! I believe it’s the heart attitude that the Lord is concerned about.
Keys to Spiritually ‘Safe’ Yoga as a Christian
So, how can we be purposeful about creating a spiritually safe place for yoga practice as a Christian? I believe the first step is to invite the Lord into your yoga practice. This could mean asking God to be with you as you practice yoga or starting your yoga practice in prayer.
Then we need to focus on having the right attitude towards the Lord. By inviting the Lord into our practice and meditating on Him while practicing, we are prioritizing Him as opposed to any other idol or religion.
Finally, practicing in the right kind of environment. Some Christians may only feel comfortable in a Christian-only environment, while others feel their walk with God is stronger than any dark or questionable influences coming through their non-Christian yoga environment. Here are two thoughtful questions to ask yourself:
Two Important Questions
#1 Where is my heart towards the Lord? Am I focusing my attention on the Lord, pursuing a stronger walk with Him? Or am I allowing Hindu philosophies to be bigger than the Lord in my practice?
#2 What kind of atmosphere am I practicing in? Am I aware of and taking my authority in Christ over the atmosphere?
Caroline Williams, a qualified yoga teacher who is passionate about integrating God’s presence into yoga, shares her top 3 reasons Christians can and should practice yoga:
- Because we walk in and with the power and authority of the Holy Spirit, we have authority over the spiritual environments and do not have to be afraid “if our hearts are earnestly seeking and to and be known by God!”
- Jesus redeems all things.
- Christians infuse yoga with the deeper meaning since we are created in God’s image and that our breath comes from Him alone! They “make space to hear from and worship God” through their yoga practice.
Yoga is unique in that it intertwines the mind, the body and the spirit in a way that most Western exercise practices do not. There are a myriad of benefits for the mind, the body and the spirit – especially if you’re a Christian! Let’s get into all these benefits of yoga:
Mental benefits – a Meditative Tool
Christian yoga is a fabulous way to quiet the mind. New Age has us focusing inwardly on ourselves. However, as Christians, we can use this same idea to focus on the Lord, cutting out all distractions. There’s a reason the Hindus found yoga to be such a powerful spiritual practice. It’s unique in that it has been and continues to be used very intentionally as a spiritual practice. For us, it’s a really powerful tool to connect with the Lord through meditation.
In her blog “Getting Still”, Kelly Mc Lellan considers the following: “Asana, the physical practice of yoga, was expressly designed to prepare the body and mind to experience the presence of God. When practiced within a Christian worldview, practitioners are seeking communion with the Holy Spirit who dwells within. In this state of communion (referred to as Samadhi) the practitioner is no longer consumed by external realities (‘the world’) but instead is absorbed by the presence of God (the things that are above).” Ref: Colossians 3:1-3
Getting Still Helps us Hear God’s Voice
In his book, “4 Keys to Hearing God’s voice,” Mark Virkler explains that one of the keys to hearing God’s voice is “getting still“. He says, “The first key to hearing God’s voice is to go to a quiet place and still our own thoughts and emotions. Psalm 46:10 encourages us to be still, let go, cease striving, and know that He is God. In Psalm 37:7 we are called to ‘be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.’ There is a deep inner knowing in our spirits that each of us can experience when we quiet our flesh and our minds. Practicing the art of biblical meditation helps silence the outer noise and distractions clamoring for our attention.”
The way I’ve experienced it, Christian yoga is another way to, “meditate on the Lord day and night” according to Joshua 1:8. At the moment, with fears bombarding us from all sides, taking time to meditate on the Lord and finding peace in Him through yoga practice or otherwise, is a really good idea!
Physical benefits – Fascia and your Breath
Fascia is the interconnected strong, elastic tissue that envelopes all your muscles. Fascia is only now being understood and appreciated as it should be. Up until now, the main focus has been on muscles and bones and we haven’t really been aware of this thin protective layer holding our muscles together. The fascia around your arm is connected to the fascia around your legs. Likewise, the fascia around your ribs is connected to the fascia in your thighs.
Sadly, without regular stretching or movement, our fascia goes dormant and sticks to our muscles and bones. Martial arts in general but yoga and qigong in particular are fantastic for loosening our whole body fascia system. Western style stretching tends to be static and “back and forth” which over time can actually harden our fascia. It’s why it’s easy for athletes to easily pick up injuries.
Yoga can release this fascia, and like most exercise, is also great for the lymphatic system where otherwise sluggish toxins are stored. It can be as intense as a whole body workout or as relaxing as deep stretching. Either way, it’s a fantastic way to improve the suppleness of your fascia, gain flexibility or get your blood pumping!
Last but not least, yoga makes use of slow and deep breathing and offers some incredible health benefits in addition to calming down your nervous system. It is extremely relaxing and deep breathing has also been shown to hep prevent and even treat cancer!
Spiritual Benefits – Feel His presence on your yoga mat!
Yoga can also be practiced with no spiritual intention, as in yoga at a gym class where fitness is the main goal. It is commonly integrated into stretching, pilates, and even the US Army workout! But why not include the Spirit into our workouts? A workout and a prayer session in one!;) Hey, two birds with one stone! Those of us with little time and tight schedules can really appreciate this.
When you invite the Lord into your yoga practice, He shows up! He is not going to leave just because you’re practicing yoga. He wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives. We can choose to connect with the Lord through yoga, just like we might connect with Him through prayer or praise on a run or a walk. I find that Christian yoga is like dancing during a worship service at church.
I’m using every fiber of my being (literally) to worship the Lord! You can choose to put on worship music during a yoga session or you may choose to find a Scripture to meditate on or you may choose to just quiet your mind and focus on the Lord and listen to Him. But any way you choose to do it, He’ll meet you there, guaranteed.
So, What are the Basic Guidelines for Christians?
So, here are my suggested guidelines for proceeding with yoga as a Christian:
- Keep your heart focused on the Lord during your practice.
- Be aware of the environment (atmosphere) you’re practicing in. Is it Christ- centered or not?
- If it’s not, ask the Lord to protect and guard your heart, mind and soul.
Where do I Start?
If you’d like to try Christian yoga, I’d recommend starting out with Caroline’s “Meet Jesus on your Yoga Mat – Seven days of Creation” video series and see if you don’t meet Jesus on your yoga mat!!
If this topic intrigues you and you’d like to study this further, the book “Prayer of Heart and Body” has been extremely insightful to me. Or if you’d like regular support, I can’t recommend the Yoga Abbey enough! It is a fantastic resource for monthly yoga videos, (both power and slow), lectio divina teachings, playlists and meditations, which I have thoroughly enjoyed.
The Benefits are Worth It!
Not every Christian is ok with yoga, Christian, secular or otherwise. I’d love for Christians to grasp the wonderful benefits that come from yoga, but if you feel strongly against it or believe the Lord is convicting you not to do it, I’m not here to pressurize.
“The very practice of calming our minds allows our heart voice to grow louder“.
My perspective is that Christian yoga is a beautiful way to calm ourselves down through slowing our breathing and our movements (We could all use some of that!). We purposefully get away from the activities and mental noise of our day. Doing that allows our heart voice to grow louder. As we hear God’s voice through our hearts, we become more aligned with the Lord. Our bodies are strengthened and stretched, all the while “practicing His presence”. With all these benefits in mind, I’d say Christian yoga is worth a try!