Are there any “red lines” with regard to the practice of yoga for a Christian?
Some people have asked me about Christians practicing yoga? Where is the red line in this practice, of whether Christians can do yoga?
I am sure you know that I am not going to give you a “red line,” as to create red lines is to practice legalism. We do not need red lines in Christianity on debatable matters.
However, yours is still a good question. What so many believers do not realize is that yoga derives directly from Hinduism. Obviously, Hinduism is not something that a Christian ought to support or to personally practice. When yoga instructors tell their student to find their center, they are asking them to find the god-self within. The problem is that this is idolatry or paganism or very bad theology. Choose which description you want to use. Hindus do not believe in a personal Creator. They are pantheists. They believe in an impersonal “god” who pervades the universe. They believe that, in essence, we are God. The thing you are focusing in on when you practice yoga, in principle is a false concept of God–on yourself as God.
I recognize that the vast majority of those who do yoga outside of India are simply doing a form of exercise. If I understand correctly, it is a useful form of exercise. It creates a mind/body connection which can be useful and can help people, not only to get their bodies in shape, but also to calm their minds and to have a kind of holistic health. Bottom line, if I understand it correctly, yoga works!
For those who simply do yoga as a helpful form of exercise, and who look at the theological implications of what is said and done during yoga exercise through Christian eyes, taking part in such practices is not sinful. However, I would caution such people. Are you SURE you are not taking in the false theology of yoga? Are you not concerned that you are, in essence, putting your supportive stance on a practice from a non-Christian religion? Are you at all concerned that other Christian believers might even be confused by the fact that you do yoga? Aren’t there other kinds of exercise which do not raise theological questions? Why not do those instead? It is for these reasons that I, personally, do not take part in yoga. I would not “freak out” if someone asked me one time to do a single yoga exercise, and I would not make a massive thing out of it. However, as a teacher and as a person who others will be watching, I do not do yoga. That is a personal decision and I do not mean to criticize those who do yoga merely as a means of exercise. This is a gray area, but this is my personal stance on this question.
We have biblical advice on an issue similar to that of yoga in the Scriptures. Paul deals extensively with the question of eating meat sacrificed to idols in Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8 and 1 Corinthians 10. I will not go into a detailed exegesis of these passages here, but you can read them. You will see that Paul gave nuanced advice about participating indirectly in pagan sacrifice through eating meat from such sacrifices. The issue are not the same, but they have a fair amount in common. One can eat meat sacrificed to idols without actually worshiping the idols, just as one can do yogic exercise without giving one’s heart to the false theology of Hinduism. Like Paul quotes the Corinthians ironically, “all things are lawful” but he reminds them that not all things are beneficial (1 Cor 10:23). For me, personally, doing yoga may be “lawful” but I really question whether it is beneficial.
Sorry to not be able to give you a red line, but I am confident that you can take these principles and apply them wisely, as can those you advise. I do not advise giving out directives on yoga, but asking people to consider the issues and decide for themselves.