Monday, February 24, 2014

Should Christians Practice Yoga?

Introduction

Yoga seems to have taken the world by storm. However, many remain unconvinced. So let’s maintain that yoga is rapidly gaining popularity.

Minimally and popularly, Yoga (Transcendental Meditation – TM1) is understood as a path of union with the divine in Hinduism. Yoga is any type of exercise (physical, mental or spiritual) that promotes an individual’s journey to a union with the divine.

The human psyche is usually tempted by that which is popular. In the world of marketing, the supreme endeavor is to invade into people’s minds by luring them with USPs (unique selling propositions). For instance, the slogan of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes is, “Every bite of these crispy, golden flakes is just as delicious as the first.”2 Apparently, consistency, texture, flavor are some of the USPs of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.  

If Kellogg’s corn flakes are popular, we are motivated into tasting it at least once. If we like it, and can afford it, then we constantly consume it.

But if our doctor advises us against corn flakes, we are quick to eliminate corn flakes from our regular diet. But is it easy to eliminate that which we are addicted to? It may be easy for a minority, but for the majority, eliminating an addiction may be difficult and torturous.

So is it wise to exercise caution before integrating anything new? I would most surely think so.

It is in this backdrop we are to evaluate yoga. In other words, are we to practice yoga because of its popularity?

Yoga’s Development

You could watch this 20 minute video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KsIWDhuvyY) when you find time  to gain an initial understanding of Yoga and its development.

Some of us belong to a generation where we have observed yoga grow from minimal to a rapidly gaining popularity. But generations from now, people will consider yoga as something that has always been in most popular existence. Unless they research, they would not be aware that yoga grew in popularity in recent years.

We ought to be cognizant of this developmental dynamics of yoga. For to gain popularity, the promoters of yoga strive hard to disconnect yoga from its religious significance. How else would they lure non-Hindus to practice yoga?

This is one of the primary USPs of yoga today – that yoga is not a religious discipline and that yoga is not specifically a Hindu religious ritual.

Some Christians and Christian churches bite this bait to practice yoga. Then they become so dogmatic about yoga that they assert that yoga is fully compatible with Christianity. This is where mortal danger creeps in.  

Please watch this video where practicing Hindu’s are agitated, and quite rightly so, about the secular world disconnecting yoga from Hinduism. 





Our society, consumed by consumerism, desires to make a few quick bucks at any cost – even at the cost of disconnecting a religious component from its religious roots.

Yoga In Light Of Christianity

If you desire to understand the real power of yoga, you should read “Death of a Guru” by Rabi R. Maharaj, a former yogi. 3 Reading this book will not give you an opinion that yoga is non-religious. Yoga is a Hindu discipline.

Christians and Christian churches who practice or support yoga should think through their decision.

Did Yoga begin as a Christian practice? No, yoga did not begin as a Christian practice. Why? The Bible does not teach yoga explicitly or implicitly. This is certain.

Since yoga in its core spiritual essence is salvational, is there a similarity between yogic salvation and salvation taught in the Bible? The Bible teaches that man is saved (receives his eternal life) by the grace of God through his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation for mankind is only through Christ (Acts 4: 12; Romans 10: 9). Salvation, most surely, is not through yoga.

Contrarily, Hinduism teaches that man unites with his maker through yoga. The Vedanta philosophy, based on Upanishads, 4 teaches four paths to liberation (Atman is the Brahman):

1. Karma yoga (selfless service to work off karma)

2. Bhakti yoga (path of devotion)

3. Jnana yoga (path of knowledge)

4. Raja yoga (path of formal meditation)

Some may say that “Hatha yoga” (physical exercises towards self-transformation) isn’t salvific, so practicing Hatha yoga is not a concern. But Hatha yoga is deeply rooted in Hinduism. 5

Therefore, man is either saved through Christ or through yoga, certainly not through both. When Christians practice yoga, they are negating Christ.

But you may ask, “What’s wrong if I practice yoga only for exercises?” This is the juncture at which one falls into the enticement of those promoting yoga or Transcendental Meditation (TM).  

You may defend your practice of TM by quoting Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who stated that TM is not a religion, “Transcendental Meditation is a simple, natural program for the mind, a spontaneous, effortless march of the mind to its own unbounded essence…. Transcendental Meditation provides a way for the conscious mind to fathom the whole range of its existence — active and silent, point and infinity. It is not a set of beliefs, a philosophy, a lifestyle, or a religion. It's an experience, a mental technique one practices every day for fifteen or twenty minutes.”6

But Maharishi also declared that TM is yoga, “Maharishi explained that Transcendental Meditation is Yoga. “I had to give it a new name—Transcendental Meditation…”” 7 Therefore, TM is yoga, and yoga is a Hindu practice.

Yoga has nothing to do with Christianity. In reality, yoga or TM is deeply spiritual and very much non-Christian.

At the heart of TM is a deep distortion of other religions to prove a point that these religions are harmonious and not hostile to each other.

False Teaching In Christianity To Encourage Yoga

Some false teachers within Christianity who encourage yoga8 emphasize that the yogic codes such as Yamas and Niyamas can strengthen our appreciation towards the Christian teachings. They maintain that the yogic codes resonate with the Christian moral teachings.

“Ahimsa” (non-violence) is one of the “yamas” (restraints) of the yoga sutras of Patanjali (an Indian sage - considered to be an incarnation of the mythical serpent Anantha, as some believe). It seems Ahimsa resonates with the Christian moral teaching “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Similarly, one of the “Niyamas” (observances) of Patanjali’s yoga sutras is “Saucha” (Cleanliness or purity). Saucha teaches the necessity of purity or cleanliness in body and mind so to attain union with God. Apparently, Saucha resonates with the cleanliness teaching of Matthew 15: 16-20, and prayer, fasting and Scripture reading that focuses on the cleanliness of the heart.

Exposing The False Teaching

At the heart of the false teaching that yogic codes are essential to appreciate Christianity is the notion that all religions should converge, and truth (from various disparate worldviews) is always convergent.

This is Syncretism (fusion of divergent religions) in full force. Syncretism presupposes an inadequacy of any single religion to comprehend the divine on its own.

But every Christian should understand that God can be adequately understood from HIS Holy Word – The Bible. Christianity does not require Hinduism or one of its practices, namely yoga, to help understand and believe God and HIS Son the Lord Jesus Christ.

What is the significance of these similarities between Pathanjali’s Yamas and Niyamas with the Bible? None! There is absolutely no significance! So what if two worldviews teach similarly? Does similarity in teaching syncretize religions? No!

Hinduism and Christianity are two fundamentally different religions (Godhead, salvation etc). Certain points of interconnect in the teachings of these religions will certainly not harmonize these religions.  

Application

While it is a given that a Christian is to move away from yoga, what should he / she do when forced to do yoga?

Today’s dilemma is the teaching of yoga in schools. Our children are forced to attend these sessions.

It would be wise to move the child to another school where yoga is not a necessary subject. So the child can opt out of yoga. If moving the child out of the school is not possible due to various restrictions, then it’s vital that the child is aware of yoga’s danger. At the most, the child can go through the motions without getting involved. But educating ourselves and our children is of utmost importance.

What about stretching or breathing exercises? Anything that comes under the brand of yoga is a no-no. Stretching or breathing exercises is not a problem. So, one can do these exercises as long as it’s not connected to yoga.

Christians practicing yoga should get out of yoga by repenting and seeking forgiveness from God. It may not be an easy transition, but if we remain in Jesus through fervent prayer and reading of HIS Word, HE will surely deliver us.

Conclusion

Please think about this. Our God, the God of the Bible, is an Almighty God. HE says, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jeremiah 32: 27, NASB; cf. Genesis 18: 14a).

When nothing is too difficult for our God, why do we run to other gods through practices such as yoga? Running to other gods portrays a lack of trust in our God. While we run to another god, we are running away from the true living God.

Do we need yoga to heal us? Can the living God not heal our bodies and minds? Praying to our Heavenly Father and obeying HIS commands revealed in the Bible is the most viable solution for any of our problems.

God will answer our prayers. God surely has a good and a just reason even if HE does not answer our prayers according to our desires. However, it is mandatory to trust in the living God – the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

We do not need yoga to be united with God. We only need to believe in Christ and offer our lives as living sacrifices to HIM, for God to dwell in us (John 14: 23).

When we honestly seek to love and obey the Triune God, HE will enlighten our hearts with HIS understanding, and will empower us to be HIS true disciples. Amen.


Endnotes:
1 Transcendental Meditation (TM) was promoted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who merely followed the philosophical thoughts of [Swami] Vivekananda and Yogananda. While Maharishi promoted TM, the popular English rock band Beatles popularized TM.

TM is yoga says Maharishi, “Maharishi explained that Transcendental Meditation is Yoga. “I had to give it a new name—Transcendental Meditation—because I felt Yoga has been commonly misunderstood in terms of the physical level alone.”

Maharishi said that a great Yoga truth is that “Yoga is superior action.”

“When you want a superior quality of action, then you should practice Yoga on all levels,” Maharishi said. “Yoga is a good word, but it should be properly understood and practiced beyond the physical level. The result will be a rapid, holistic evolution of life.”” (See more at: http://www.tm.org/blog/yoga/maharishi-on-yoga/#sthash.XcTwTbXg.dpuf)

2 http://www.kelloggs.com/en_US/KelloggrsquosCornFlakes.html

3 http://globeservejournalofmissions.org/?p=206&m=200805

4 “The treatises that deal with brahma-knowledge are called the Upanishads and so pass for the Vedanta…The Upanishads more clearly set forth the prime Vedic doctrines like Self-realization, yoga and meditation, karma and reincarnation, which were hidden or kept veiled under the symbols of the older mystery religion.” (http://www.hindunet.org/upanishads/)

5 ""Lotus position” is one of the postures of Hatha yoga. Lotus is a deep symbol of Hinduism." Need I say more that Hatha yoga is a hindu discipline? (http://www.hindunet.com/faq/39.html)

6 http://www.tm.org/maharishi
[Question:] “What is Transcendental Meditation, exactly?

Maharishi: Transcendental Meditation is a simple, natural program for the mind, a spontaneous, effortless march of the mind to its own unbounded essence. Through Transcendental Meditation, the mind unfolds its potential for unlimited awareness, transcendental awareness, Unity Consciousness — a lively field of all potential, where every possibility is naturally available to the conscious mind. The conscious mind becomes aware of its own unbounded dignity, its unbounded essence, its infinite potential.

Transcendental Meditation provides a way for the conscious mind to fathom the whole range of its existence — active and silent, point and infinity. It is not a set of beliefs, a philosophy, a lifestyle, or a religion. It's an experience, a mental technique one practices every day for fifteen or twenty minutes.”

7 http://www.tm.org/blog/yoga/maharishi-on-yoga/


8 http://christianspracticingyoga.com/wp/yoga-our-perspective/yamas-niyamas-pranayama/




















7 comments:

clifford d said...

Thanks Brother, many christians join only for exercise so how they can draw a line between yoga and exercise

Raj Richard said...

Brother, as I have said in my essay, it's not mere exercises for yoga is a Hindu discipline. We are either Hindus or Christians, but we can't be a Christian and participate in Hindu practices. That's an offense to the God of the Bible.

Jeffrey Johnston.D said...

Thank you Pastor.
Seems many are deceived in practicing yoga as an exercise but most don't know the difference.
In the Old testament, Lord JEHOVAH forbids us from controlling our as the heathens do.
In today's faith most don't want to follow the OT, saying YESHUA banished all OT laws but that's not what the SON of GOD said, HE said Heaven and earth may pass away but every word written in the word of GOD will come to pass

Thank you for the enlightenment, this actually covered a wider perspective of our thinking

Raj Richard said...

You are welcome, Jeffrey. I agree with what you have said. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Remain blessed.

Abhilash Raj said...

Nicely handled. Excellent Post.

Anonymous said...

I have been in the world of exercise since the time of my education in India as a Therapist in a famous college. I have grown in a place where there is no trace of difference between Hindu or Christian.I am third generation christion. When I was 10 years old one of my uncle used to float in a lake from morning 7 to 8 and people thing that he is dead .But this is his natural ritual and he never said anybody that's a yoga posture or some kind of yoga.Another guy who is s a strct Christian and a song leader I a Lutheran church used to sit in a tub of water and using certain technique he can pull the water through his anus and clean his stomach.
I have seen in my eyes.What I strongly feel is anyone who practice an exercise which has name called "YOGA" must forget that word which if they feel associate with hiduism and continue doing for the medical, mental and spiritual benefit because everybody is inventing exercises in USA, naming it and selling it to the population.The main concern is lots of people are becoming sedentary and their body is withering and become inactive.They can not squat, or no interest in doing any exercise.In the name of so called YOGA and do breathing , and other stretching exercise it can help anybody to improve their stamina, endurance and all kind of benefit.So the name bothers people, just do the poses, stretching, breathing and get all the benefits o an exercise.Do not push or pull religion in exercise for body.

Raj Richard said...

Dear Anonymous,

I have established adequately in my article that yoga is a Hindu practice. Exercise is needed for anyone. I play badminton regularly. Similarly, Christians should exercise, but not yoga.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.