YOGA: worshipping other gods?

There are many questions and concerns that Christians may have about whether and how and if to practice yoga. I want to address some of these questions and concerns in a series here on my blog. If you have questions or concerns about the practice of yoga as a Christian, I’d love to hear from you. Would you reach out to start a conversation? It would help me immensely with understanding and engaging the worries and fears that are rooted in peoples minds and hearts around this practice.

It’s also important to say at the outset that there’s no reason at all that anybody, or everybody, ought to, or needs to, or should, practice yoga. I am not trying to proselytize yoga, I intend to give a witness of my own experience, and to address widely-held fallacies.

So here’s the first go: that doing yoga poses unwittingly worships other gods, and is a gateway to worshipping satan. “The movements in and of themselves are god worship practices whether we mean them to be or not.”

This is not a straw man — this is an actual objection that was put in my email inbox this past week.

As a priest with ten years of full-time parish ministry, I have seen lives fall into darkness and evil and death. I have seen people choose to be separate from God. In my experience, this has happened from pride, from willful indifference, from addiction. I have not seen anyone “unwittingly” fall into separation from God. I have seen grave concern and much ink and worry spilt over possible sin or evil that a person might fall into in ignorance, but I have not found that innocent ignorance tears lives apart or shunts one into darkness (willful ignorance — ignoring the good counsel of the faithful around you — does destroy lives and move one into darkness).

It’s a powerful idea that putting one’s feet in a certain pattern, or bending one’s knee in a particular angle, or breathing in while crouching down, could have the effect of calling upon something in a spirit world — controlling or drawing up some force greater than oneself. This is not an idea which is subscribed to in Scripture or Christian tradition (Matthew 10:28; Psalm 104:26; ).

We cannot unwittingly worship a false god by moving our bodies into a push-up position, even if it is a posture that is part of a series called a “sun salutation.” To consider our bodies to be such dangerous weapons, to be ignorantly discharged in innocence toward such destructive ends, makes one wonder what the creator of such a dangerous tool might be thinking.

What if we were to run a race without sufficient thought and glory to God? What if we were to lift weights with ourselves in mind? What if we were to garden for the sake of commercial gain? Are all of these activities sown with such danger to our eternal lives?

The stretches and strengthening of yoga, the poses, and postures, and series, and repetitions, have served me to observe my inadequacies and overindulgences. Yoga practice has been a way that God has communicated to me when I am avoiding the message he is seeking to bestow, or the duty I have been given to undertake, or the work to which I’ve been called. Yoga practice has been a way that God has shown me the goodness of my body, the strength and resilience of this creation he has made and given me for my care and responsibility.

It is absolutely true, and I do not seek to obscure the many threads of yoga’s origin in various world religions. I am personally unconvinced or convicted that it is an irredeemable practice which intrinsically leads practitioners to darkness, evil, and death.

Back to the start

  Here I am! Starting my yoga journey–or so I thought to myself tonight as I washed my face in my new home. 

Then I realized, going to class tomorrow wasn’t the beginning. Neither was driving up to Asheville earlier today. It wasn’t signing up for this course in January, or even committing to complete this course 18 months ago, when my husband and I decided on this step in my journey. 

Was it three years ago when I started practicing yoga again in earnest? Was it six years ago when I first thought I might want to be a yoga teacher? Was it seven years ago, the first time I stepped into a yoga class?

It’s hard to pinpoint the beginning, or to declare one moment that brought me to this place–but many moments contributed along the way, and whatever the defining moment was, I didn’t know it at the time. 

What other journeys am I beginning now? What other “first” steps have I already taken that will lead somewhere I can’t imagine? 

What sorts of habits am I cultivating or adventures am I seeking, taking new steps that might lead somewhere wonderful?

What kind of life are you building in your everyday decisions?