Yoga has been increasing in popularity due to its ability to increase muscle strength and reduce stress, but is it a sin for Christians to practice yoga? Yoga is very closely associated with the Hindu religion, so some Christians wonder whether it is a contradiction to their own faith to practice yoga.
Should Christians Do Yoga Or Is It Sinful? While some religious institutions have stated that Christians should not practice yoga due to its Hindu origins, many Western practices of yoga have become so far removed from the spiritual components of yoga that many regard it simply as a form of exercise.
Determining whether yoga is a sin will require personal reflection to determine whether the practice is directly in contradiction to your faith. Many Christians wonder whether practicing yoga is a betrayal of their religion. To some, it is not considered religious since it does not reflect the traditional Christian focus upon beliefs and words, instead concentrating upon experience.
If one uses yoga for exercise but does not take part in spiritual aspects, is it acceptable to Christian faiths? Determining whether yoga contradicts your faith will require spiritual self-inquisition to determine if the practice is threatening your spiritual beliefs.
For those who are attracted to the physical benefits of yoga but feel its practice would result in a compromise in his or her faith, there are alternatives available. PraiseMoves is specifically designed for Christians, combining worship with stretching and poses.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a physical discipline with spiritual and mental components that originates in ancient India. It is a spiritual exercise that is grounded in the Hindu faith. In more recent years, especially in Western cultures, yoga has shed its reputation as a spiritual practice and has become popular as a form of exercise and meditation.
Yoga is a broad term that can apply to a wide variety of activities, some of which are more openly religious than others. For example, Bhakti Yoga is a form of yoga with a focus on ceremony and achieving a heightened personal relationship with God, translating to mean “to adore or worship God.” This would most likely be understood to be in direct conflict to other religions and is generally not practiced by Christians.
How Do Western Cultures Approach Yoga?
What most Western approaches to yoga consists of tends to be Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga tends to be more rooted in achieving the physical benefits of the practices, such as muscle toning and flexibility, but also concentrates on mental health benefits such as stress relief and reduced depression through meditative exercises.
Hatha yoga is considered gentle yoga but can still be mentally and physically challenging, depending upon class instructors and experience levels. Yoga focuses on meditative movements that are meant to challenge participants both physically and mentally.
According to data from the National Institute of Health from 2017, one in seven U.S. adults practice yoga at least once a year. One in twelve children age 4 to 17 practiced, according to the data. The percentage of yoga participants has been on a steadily increasing trend over the past decade.
Is Yoga a Different Religion?
There is some controversy when it comes to detangling whether yoga is considered a religion. According to a report issued by the Christian Syro Malabar Church in India, yoga presents a danger to Christians who might interpret it to be a component of their spiritual beliefs and expect it to bring a person into a closer relationship with God.
According to the report, Hindu leaders do not agree with separating the practice of yoga from the Hindu religion. It is therefore considered by these leaders to be a definitely Hindu form of worship. As such, the practice of yoga by Christians appears to some Hindus simply as a covert attempt to convert people and also disrespect the customs of the Hindu religion.
The report specifically quoted Pope Francis, who said “there is no need to seek spiritual answers in a yoga class. When you try to imitate the spiritual ways of other religions, chances of spiritual accidents are more.”
As such, many religious leaders find that yoga is so strongly associated with the Hindu faith and it may be a conflict of interest for Christians to practice it.
Currently, many schools permit yoga to be practiced in schools, meaning that the federal government has so far refused to classify yoga as a religion. If yoga was to be classified as a religion, it would not be permitted in schools due to the separation of church and state.
Do Yoga Poses and the Yoga Pursuit of “Enlightenment” Act In Direct Contradiction to Christian Teachings?
Yoga is associated with achieving “enlightenment”, but the definition of enlightenment can vary based on traditions and individual practitioner approaches. For many, enlightenment may simply refer to finding a balance and calmness in your mind.
Many of the positions in yoga still retain spiritual significance, such as poses intended to greet specific Hindu gods. Many of the original Sanskrit names are still used. However, one could argue that an analogous position in Christianity could be kneeling.
Does a person kneeling automatically have to be praying, or can one kneel without the religious implications? Personal participants in yoga will need to make these mental distinctions in order to determine how yoga influences his or her own faith.
Are There Any Christian Alternatives to Yoga?
If you are a Christian who is attracted by the documented health benefits of yoga exercises but feel like it would be a direct contradiction to your faith, there are alternatives.
Most notably, a program called PraiseMoves offers similar benefits of improved flexibility and increased strength that one finds in yoga, but with the religious component being focused upon Christian ideals. Poses are linked to passages in the Bible, and the courses are intended to help bring about a closer relationship to God while exercising.
Can Yoga Have Positive Health Benefits?
While many yoga enthusiasts will sing the praises of participating in yoga activities, are there any documented benefits?
The National Institute of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health analyzed a number of studies and was able to draw the following conclusions:
- Yoga improved physical or psychological measures related to stress in 12 out of 17 studies reviewed
- Yoga was shown in 10 out of 14 studies to improve overall mental well-being and increase likelihood of a positive attitude
- There was no definite conclusion that yoga could improve clinically diagnosed mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety
- Yoga can improve sleep duration and quality
- Those who practice yoga often engage in other good health practices, such as eating healthier and participating in more regular physical exercise
- Yoga has been shown in a few studies to reduce back pain, and chronic neck pain.
Can Yoga Be Taught in Schools?
There has been some controversy about whether yoga should be offered in schools. Given its religious background, some believe that yoga should not be offered in secular schools. Many concerned parents have raised objections to the programs, stating they promote a non-Christian system of beliefs.
However, most schools have attempted to circumnavigate these complaints by restructuring the yoga courses to eliminate the religious influences. For example, poses are renamed from the Sanskrit names to instead be called non-denominational things such as “the surfer” or “the kangaroo.” In addition, most schools do not permit any chanting.
The programs being offered in schools typically focus on the physical exercise component, with a secondary consideration to the relaxation and meditation components. Most of these programs are found only in larger cities and in schools on the East and West Coasts of the United States.