Monday, December 27, 2010

Yoga and the Christian Walk

I don’t subscribe to the common thinking surrounding the practice of yoga.

Some eastern religious traditions use yoga in an attempt to empty the mind and quiet the thoughts. There is nothing in our Christian tradition that validates this as a desirable goal. God created us as active thinkers, not passive vessels that need to be emptied. There is no model of mind emptying in our scriptures and attempting to empty the mind leaves one more susceptible to brainwashing.

In India, yoga is prescribed as a method to facilitate communication with the Hindu gods. As Christians we are explicitly  told to abandon the worship of false Gods and turn to the one true God only.

Many new age philosophy adherents claim that regardless of attempts to empty the mind or fix it on the supernatural during yoga, just by putting the body in certain postures and breathing in certain ways can open the physical body up to other dimensions/spiritual realms. This spiritual awakening is why they turn to yoga. A portion of conservative Christian leaders believe this to be true also and assert it is the reason why yoga should be shunned by Christians.  We know there is no other god but ours, but there are demons they remind us, waiting to pounce.

The way I see it, there are three possibilities here with yoga movements and the supernatural:

1. The poses and breathing do open up a spiritual door to the Hindu gods.

2. The poses and breathing do open up a spiritual door where demons can creep in and influence our mind.

3. The poses and breathing do not open up a spiritual door, this was a misinterpretation of the physiological response that Hindus experienced. The yoga movements and breathing affect our neurological system in a way that other exercise does not. They do not affect our spirituality directly. If anything perhaps they open one up to a slightly more suggestive mental state (much milder than transcendental meditation) due to nerve interactions in the brain that could be manipulated but highly unlikely unless you actively practice brainwashing alongside in the form of chanting, emptying the mind, etc.

Obviously as a Christian I can reject the first possibility immediately as there is no other God but Jehovah. Even though some Christians (incl some I respect) hold to possibility two (yoga as a spiritual door) as truth, I just can’t find any evidence to support this.  Therefore, with no facts to prescribe against it, I'm currently attending a weekly yoga class for the physical benefits (lower resting heart rate, increased flexibility,etc). I also use the yoga stretches before running to loosen up my muscles so that I don't pull something during running. I've never felt a spiritual door open and I've never tried to open one during yoga- to God or to anything else. I've tried to focus exclusively on the exercises themselves. Yeah my instructors sometimes spout out the typical new age nonsense during the class but I just ignore it the way you would when you hear undesirable advertising on the metro, on the tv, etc. No thank you, I don’t need your philosophy I have my own.

However, I’ve still been challenged on my yoga practice by other Christians who believe as I do: that yoga does not open any spiritual doors. They claim it still should be shunned. Why? They believe it could cause others to stumble on their Christian walk. Weaker Christians might not be able to shut out the spiritual claptrap the instructors typically try to impart (brainwash) during the session. One blogger said:

… the truth of the matter is that regardless of your intent, to the outside world you look like you are condoning yoga - all aspects of it. Your actions could very well be a stumbling block to others and causing others to fall into the trap of occultism, new-ageism and idolatry.

"For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ." - 1 Colossians 8:10-12

What do you think? As a Christian, have you ever practiced yoga? If so have you attended the classes and worked diligently to block out the spiritual nonsense the instructor speaks so that you could just focus on the exercises, or do you practice it independent of an instructor so that you don’t have to work so hard to block out the new age philosophy that comes along with it? And in either case have you ever felt anything akin to a spiritual door opening during yoga? To god, or to something more sinister?

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