Yoga and Christianity: Can Christians Practice Yoga? Yoga can enhance people’s spiritual practices – whatever they are. But as a Christian, you’ve probably heard several times that a true Christian can’t have anything to do with yoga – that yoga and Christianity can never go together. But is this true? Are Christians not allowed to practice yoga?
Yoga is a tool that you can use for whatever end you wish. You might come to a yoga class to relax, or to relieve pain in some part of your physical body. You might also use yoga as a way to connect with a higher power. Before we can conclude that Christians can or can not practice yoga, it’s better to understand the connection between yoga and Christianity. But what exactly is yoga?
A lot of people in ancient times believed that yoga is a complete system. The postures are just a small part of yoga. In fact, the word yoga in itself pertains to the whole, and not just a part. As for its purpose, it is spiritual in nature. You can classify yoga into four categories: Vedic Yoga, Pre-classical Yoga, Classical Yoga, and Post-classical Yoga. Keep in mind that even though the popularity of asanas in modern yoga practice, there isn’t any evidence that asanas was a primary aspect of Indian yoga.
Yoga and Christianity: Traditional vs Modern Yoga
Yoga, as currently being practiced in the US today diverges from the yogic practices of ancient India. 19th-century groups of intellectuals in both Europe and the USA developed an interest in all things Indian. This interest was complicated by India’s status as a British colonial outpost. Swami Vivekananda, an Indian monk who frequently lectured in England and America, brought this practice to the attention of Western intelligentsia.
In the early 20th century, yoga transformed into a fitness craze, thanks to the effort of Eugenie Peterson. She read a book about yoga – and then, later on, studied yoga in India. She traveled to the US in the 1940s where she opened a yoga studio in Hollywood. While the yoga she studied was more like a spiritual practice, her form of yoga was more general, teaching adherents a unique method for an integral development of one’s mental, physical, and spiritual sides, which allows the employment of a happy and healthy life.
What’s the difference between traditional yoga and today’s yoga? For starters, keep in mind that traditional yoga, or yoga in its real essence is a spiritual or religious practice. Its purpose was to have a union with the absolute or the divine. But today’s yoga has been historically taught orally –nuances depend on the lineage and teacher. Because of this, there isn’t really any agreed-upon practice of yoga from a traditional standpoint.
However, the yoga we know today focuses more on the physical aspect of yoga. There are different contemporary styles of yoga that are variations of what is called hatha yoga – a branch of yoga that focuses more on the physical exercises. The purpose of this is to master both body and mind.
What a lot of people don’t know is that yoga postures are just a part of yoga as an entire practice. Even the Jnana yoga doesn’t involve physical postures. It only involves rational self-inquiry, and the purpose is to seek to get rid of ignorance in one’s nature.
How yoga and Christianity can be connected
Let’s take a look at some of the ideologies that are associated with yoga so you can evaluate how yoga and Christianity can fit. The most taught ethical yoga standards focus on the Yamas and Niyamas. These are ways of abstaining and acting, which create a moral life.
- Ahims – nonviolence
- Aparigraha – non-possessiveness
- Asteya – non-stealing
- Brahmacharya – non-excess
- Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender
- Santosha – contentment
- Saucha – purity
- Satya – truthfulness
- Svadyaya – self-study
- Tapas – self-discipline
Upon seeing these ethical standards, you can easily tell that they follow closely to the teachings of Jesus Christ. They are very simple moral codes that everyone would probably agree would lead us to a healthier and better life.
They make up the first 2 limbs of the 8-limbed path that was set forth by Patanjali, who wrote the Yoga Sutras. He wasn’t one of the first writers of yoga, but he was one of the first people to put together a codified system of practice.
Within the Sutra, he asserts that the practice of yoga involves eight parts:
- Yama – outward morality
- Niyama – inward morality
- Asanas – body postures
- Pranayama – the control of prana and breathing exercises
- Pratyahara – the control of the senses
- Dharana – concentration
- Dhyana – devotion
- Samadhi – union with God
Many forms of yoga assign prayers and Christian terms to certain yoga sequences or postures to replace the South Asian imagery with Christian imagery. For example, the popular Om symbol is replaced with the cross. Other forms of Christian yoga remove all explicitly yogic imagery and language, which includes the term yoga itself. This is to avoid any association with yoga’s historical connections to Hinduism and other religions.
How can Christians practice yoga?
Can yoga be dedicated to Jesus Christ? Judging by the growing popularity of yoga among Christians, many critics lose the cultural debate. Christians reason that if someone dedicates an activity or practice to Jesus, it is automatic, by definition, Christian. One can simply dismiss criticisms with two words: Jesus Christ. Claiming devotion to the Lord Jesus is the ultimate argument-stopper to anyone who criticizes the practice of yoga among Christians.
Christians can practice yoga as a method of exercise and meditation in glorifying God. Taking the time to move, stretch, and strengthen our bodies can be a way to worship the Lord and honor the Holy Spirit within us. More than most other methods of exercise, yoga encourages and offers intention, mindfulness, and focus. When we direct them toward the Lord, all of these can be beautiful and worshipful.
Practicing yoga should not be an issue to Christians because God always looks at the heart in His people. As long as you’re practicing yoga to glorify God, then there should no problem.
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