Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Biblical Yoga: Why not?

Albert Mohler's original article on the "The Subtle Body" got picked up by Yahoo News and boy, he wasn't so pleased with the response. "Yahoo, Yoga and Yours Truly" was his response to the hundreds of emails he received, and apparently most yogis and yoginis didn't agree with him.

Mr. Mohler has requested a biblical argument upholding the use of yoga in the Christian church. He bemoans the email responses as (and I paraphrase here) mostly women, so-called Christians, who have ultimately replaced the Christian biblical religion for yoga. And he may be correct, some Christians have chosen to practice yoga as a means for spiritual growth in lieu of their religious obligations. An issue all Christian churches (including the Catholic church) have been battling for years, what some call "cafeteria Christians", people choosing parts of the religion they wish to believe or follow. A clue to this is church attendance dropping over the years - except for high holidays like Easter and Christmas of course.

So is Yoga replacing the biblical religion? Perhaps for some it may. But I personally know a contingent of Christians that are active in their church (weekly even!) and their local yoga studio. So, given that this population does exist, can Yoga and Christianity work together? According to Mr. Mohler, no. According to The Daily Yoke, yes.

Here's why:

1.) The very definition of yoga is "union, to yoke". The yoking done in yoga is to God. However, yoga - not being a religion - does not prescribe any one God "to yoke" with. Therefore, Yoga is not anti-Christian. One may use yoga practices to calm the mind and the body while meditating on Christ without conflict.

2.) The bible calls Christians to meditate:
  • Psalm 77:12 "I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds." 
  • Psalm 119:15 "I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways." 
  • Joshua 1:8 "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful."
Much of the practice of Hatha Yoga (the yoga of movement and breath) is focused on prepping the mind for meditation using physical techniques. You do not have to pray to Hindu gods for Hatha yoga to work. What is mandatory is a dedication to calming the mind and a commitment to a healthy body.

3.) The bible calls Christians to care for our bodies:
  • I Cor. 6:20 "Glorify God in your body, and in your spirit."
  • I Thessalonians 5:23 "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
  •  I Corinthians 6:19-20 "What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."
Medical journals - small and grand - have touted the benefits of yoga for a number of bodily ailments including but not limited to osteoporosis, osteopenia, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, menopause, and so on. If a Christian decides to care of the body using yoga, meditates on nothing but Christ and continues to attend church and follow all the rites and traditions of the Christian faith ... so far I'm not finding a biblical decent.

Ultimately, "people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." Hosea 4:6 And I find Mr. Mohler's (and others') attack on yoga to be full ignorance and intolerance.  This intolerance is killing Christianity (and many other religions) today. All religions must find in roads, not build walls. The Golden Thread that weaves through religions and spiritual practices throughout the world can teach us about our humanity. The similarities do not threaten Christianity but may serve to preserve and potential grow it.  Building walls, drawing lines in the sand, will kill any religion (or society for that matter). 

Paul wrote to the Church of Corinth saying "I buffet my body (handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships) and subdue it, for fear that after proclaiming to others the Gospel and things pertaining to it, I myself should become unfit (not stand the test, be unapproved and rejected as a counterfeit)." I Corinthians 9:27

Yoga provides a means to subdue the body and mind, creating what Tom Gillete describes as a "mini crisis" on our mat. We then have the opportunity to practice basic humanity and love - to be nonreactive (as was Christ) in the face of crisis and hardship. A discipline that can be learned through reading the bible (and other religious texts) but also should be practiced. Yoga allows us to practice our religion internally and then bring that beautiful calmness and unity out to the world.

So I may be preaching to the choir, but Mr. Mohler, if you hear me, I beg you to dive into the bible and find the reasons to practice yoga. If you can't find those, please provide me the biblical reasons not to practice yoga. I still haven't been able to find those ...

All in good spirit,
The Daily Yoke


  1. My friend, You have done an able job of showing there is a biblical precedent for a Christian Yoga practice. What I sense in Dr. Mohler's chief objections is fear that he is losing control over the hearts and minds of his congregation. That they are being lured away into syncretist practice. Instead of fearing these trends, perhaps his congregation, and all Christians, would be better served by examining what it is that people find in yoga that is missing from their regular worship experience. As you rightly point out, there are many who faithfully attend worship AND have a daily yoga practice. I think a deeper understanding of yogic tradition, which includes scripture, would go a long way towards illuminating his rhetoric. His fears are based in what he has observed. But I think perhaps he has missed the cause/effect relationship. It is not because they are faithless that they seek physical discipline. It is because they are faithful and LACK a discipline that they seek something more. Bravo to you for putting the challenge back where it belongs.

  2. Very interesting topic, for sure! And one rife with strong opinions all over the place. And so not to be left out, I'll add my thoughts to the mix. :))

    Yoga is, intrinsically and traditionally, a wholistic spiritual practice. Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path (eight steps, or "limbs") outlines a complete practice that addresses the Body, Mind and Spirit. However, that being said, what many practice in the Western world is often a variation of Yoga with primary focus on Asana (the third limb), followed by some meditation ... maybe.

    I constantly struggle with how much Spirit to add to my class when teaching in a gym, for instance. I feel much more constrained in that environment that at a studio that supports the full teaching of Yoga (like Eyes of the World in Providence.) And I, too, know many folks who practice regularly and who consider themselves devote Christians (or Jews, etc.). In fact, the Self-Realization Fellowship, founded by Paramahansa Yogananda (Autobiography of a Yogi), toutes very openly that Christ is part and parcel of Yoga. (http://www.yogananda-srf.org/tmp/about_notitle.aspx?id=61)

    So, who's right? I agree with The Daily Yoke in that lack of knowledge and understanding is usually more the root of the problem than whether someone who's Christian is attending a regular Yoga class. I do understand Mr. Mohler's viewpoint, I just happen to disagree with it. He's looking to preserve the Christian tradition as he sees it. But any organized religion -- and it's members -- needs to be organic in order to keep growing, learning and actually moving closer to finding Divinity. If it stays stagnant, it loses members -- something with which the Christian/Catholic church is definitely struggling.

    This may not be a Christian traditional viewpoint (but then again, I'm not Christian), but isn't opening one's heart to God/Divine/Goddess/Spirit, to lead more compassionate and present lives the point? Isn't it about bringing us closer to God et al? And if so, doesn't it make sense that we'd use every means available to us to find a way to do so? In my humble and limited opinion, an emphatic YES.

    For I see this as survival. Our world has problems ... Lots and lots of problems, In the course of history, religious intolerance and ignorance has been at the root of many, many problems. (We can't blame all problems on organized relgion, but it's certainly caused its share.) By becoming more aware of our own Divinity and the fact Divinity resides in every living thing and looks out at your from every pair of eyes (Namaste!), can only lead to more harmony, more equanimity, more understanding, more communication, more peace.

    So, Mr. Mohler ... what exactly is wrong with that?

    Deb/Hiking Yogini

  3. Deb and Louisa, thank you both for responding. Our world is constantly changing, and as it changes we desire consistency. Change is scary, but as Deb pointed out - you either adapt or die. To maintain relevancy, organized religion must engage with this changing world. Not that Yoga is new by any stretch of the imagination - but it's uses, applications and widespread appeal is new.

    And here we go, off into the unknown. Tomorrow is just a dream, yesterday gone - let's connect here in the present, it's all we've got.


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