yoga and christianityBy Clyde Granger

Yoga in the United States has been distanced from its roots by its geographic location, the language differences and the intent of the practitioners. But does this make Yoga secular, and if so, is it appropriate for dedicated Christians? These questions have been addressed- and answered differently- in such mainstream Christian publications as “Christianity Today,” and “Today’s Christian Woman.”

John MacArthur, a pastor in a California megachurch, called Yoga a “false religion,” while Pat Robertson refers to chanting during Yoga as “really spooky.” What is the basis for these religious leaders’ fears? The supposed incompatibility of Yoga and Christianity stems from the understanding of Yoga as a religious practice itself.

The Purpose of Yoga

The purpose of Yoga is defined by some as a spiritual discipline, which allows the body to channel the divine. Christianity, on the other hand, does not view the human body as divine; that is reserved for the Savior. Christians are called upon by their practice to listen to the Word of God, not themselves and their bodies. Southern Baptist Seminary president Albert Mohler says, “We are not called to escape the consciousness of this world by achieving an elevated state of consciousness, but to follow Christ in the way of faithfulness.”

What if the postures of Yoga are separated from its spiritual components and teachings? After all, many American Yoga teachers do not speak Sanskrit and may not even own a passport. There are branches of Yoga which would seem entirely divorced from spirituality (Dog Yoga comes to mind.) This seems to be the heart of the controversy for most Christians. Those who agree that being a good Christian and doing Yoga is possible, say that the physical movements and opening of the mind can be directed towards Christ as easily as towards anything else. Those who disagree, say that Yoga without the spirituality is merely stretching exercises, and that Yoga’s promises of spiritual enlightenment for every follower are at odds with God’s plan to accept only his chosen followers.

Other Viewpoints

Left mostly unpublished in Western media is the viewpoint of Hindus. Is the separation of spirituality from physical practice in Yoga disenfranchising them, as the co-founder of the Hindu American Association, Aseem Shukla, writes in the 2010 Washington Post article, ” The Theft of Yoga”? He calls upon devotees to “reclaim the intellectual property of their spiritual heritage

[and] not sell out for the expediency of winning more clients for the yoga studio down the street.”

Understanding the controversy, regardless of which side of the debate one falls on, can help make one a better Yoga instructor.

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