Yoga and the Christian Faith

Is it already Monday, y’all?

How did I blink and the weekend just flashed before my eyes?

I’m really not sure, tbh, but I did, and it did, so here we are. Today I’m mulling over a pretty sensitive topic for most Christians, and it’s in response to a message I received about some of the things I’ve shared I’m doing with EV to reinforce healthy habits in our home. Specifically, stretchy bendy things. Yep. I’m talking about yoga, as much as the mommy-and-me stretching that EV and I have managed thus far could be considered official ‘yoga’.

I’m going to be very honest – I have zero experience with actual yoga. I’ve put it out there to my kid and although we’ve had a few successful sessions, it’s not EV’s favorite activity, so we’ve been drifting towards dance parties over dog-cat-cow.

Hashtag preschoolers, man.

So it’s safe to say we’ve only been marginally successful in jumping into yoga. But I know folks who are really, really into it, and I’m totally jelly of their flexible limbs and toned abs, not gonna lie. Like most human adults with a passable understanding of world history, I have a basic idea of what yoga is; a popular exercise derived from a sacred Hindu practice meant to unite oneself with the universal consciousness. It’s used by members of both the Hindu and Buddhist belief systems.  

I would venture to say that the vast majority of folks who practice yoga outside of these religions are doing so for the health benefits of stretching and not for the whole aligning-with-the-universe aspect of the practice, but that’s what it’s actually designed to be.

So what does that mean for a person who professes faith in Christ? For a huge number of Christians, it doesn’t mean much. A good solid stretch session is obviously super beneficial for your health, and there are several scriptures that reference meditation in the Bible, so if you’re listening to worship music and focusing on Him while you do it, your heart is in the right place.

That’s kind of where I’ve always fallen, tbh, but I wanted to do my due diligence and seek out opinions and scriptural references to practices that are rooted in specific religious cultures.

Here’s what I found out.

Yoga is not equal to stretching for physical health.

Webster’s Dictionary says this: Yoga is a system of Hindu philosophy, strict spiritual discipline practiced to gain control over the forces of one’s being to gain occult powers but chiefly to attain union with the Deity or Universal Spirit.”

It’s a spiritual practice with a specific goal, completely unrelated to limber muscles and bendy body parts.

Most of what the western world knows as yoga is derived from Hatha yoga, which focuses on physical posturing. This article on Christians and yoga points out that “hatha yoga is a preparatory process so that the body can sustain higher levels of energy. The process begins with the body, then the breath, the mind, and the inner self”.

Essentially, the poses practiced in yoga are not a simple stretch, although they’re usually branded as just that. The modern version of yoga practiced in gyms and studios across the country is actually considered the gateway to the other seven limbs of yoga.

God literally says in His word to avoid adopting religious practices from other cultures in His name.

When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. Deuteronomy 12:29-32

Can I be real honest right here? This isn’t something that has ever jumped out at me before. I absolutely envisioned gold cow statues and cutting oneself and human sacrifices every time I read this. You know, the flashy stuff.

Digging into scriptures and essays on this subject was the first time that I’d ever considered yoga in this light. And it’s uncomfortable, honestly, to think that there are a lot of things that modern Christians do in the name of ‘worship’ that may or may not actually be pleasing the God we claim to worship.

That’s a heavy realization, y’all.

Meditation meant something entirely different in the Bible than what the popular interpretation of meditation means today.

This deep dive, y’all. I’ve been schooled, and to say that I’m disappointed in the whole class is an understatement.

It’s not just the class. It’s me, too, student number one.

Meditation, as we commonly understand it, is to clear one’s mind, relax, breathe deeply, and focus on…. Something. Usually gratitude, positive vibes, or, if you’re a believer, a scripture or attribute of God.

That’s actually not what the Bible means at all.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:8-9

The original Hebrew word for ‘meditate’ used here is hagah, meaning to speak, mutter, muse, imagine or plot.

Biblical meditation is speaking the word of God and imagining ways that we can apply it to our lives.

It is not emptying the mind and focusing on connecting to one’s essential nature.

Y’all, I know this is a lot of heavy stuff. I’m not an expert on theology, I’m just someone who took a dive into a big, controversial subject and came up with a whole lot more understanding than I bargained for.

And I’m not here to tell y’all how to live, but I will absolutely tell you to educate yourself, on this and on any subject where the line between holy and unholy has been blurred in your life.

That being said, I can’t ignore the many, many studies proving that stretching is healthy and beneficial. What I can do is separate stretching and yoga, though, and recognize that for me, personally, participating in a spiritual practice that does not align with my beliefs is wrong.

This article has some recommendations for Christians who are looking for the health benefits of yoga-ish activity, without the spiritual connection. For me, that’s going to look like therapeutic stretches and more intentional, scriptural meditation/reading scripture aloud. But for you, that might still look like yoga.

And that’s your choice. I’m not gonna make a choice for you, unless you’re my kid and we’re standing in front of the closet, running late, and for the love, justputonthepinkone. The power to choose is one of our weightiest responsibilities, and this mama’s not here for taking on any more of that.

Happy Monday, friends!

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