SHOULD CHRISTIANS ENGAGE IN YOGA EXERCISES?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“Can believers willingly participate in yoga (exercise) and gain ONLY the physical benefits, and remain ‘neutral’ from the general tie-in to Eastern mysticism?” What an interesting question! Thank you for asking. Let us first define “yoga” and then we can see if the Scriptures have any advice on the subject.
Firstly, according to Dictionary.com, the term “yoga” has three senses:
- a school of Hindu philosophy advocating and prescribing a course of physical and mental disciplines for attaining liberation from the material world and union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.
- any of the methods or disciplines prescribed, especially a series of postures and breathing exercises practiced to achieve control of the body and mind, tranquillity, etc.
- union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.
I assume your question is about definition number 2? 🙂 For those unfamiliar with this topic, note that it has a pagan (or, non-Christian) origin. Specifically, yoga is used in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism (Eastern religions) as means of physical and spiritual “exercise.” Not many Westerners who practice yoga know it, but it was originally a method to gain physical and spiritual health. If we participate in yoga, we must guard against its “spiritual” aspect. Let us explain this a bit further.
The Oxford American Dictionary says of “yoga:” “A Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation. The yoga widely known in the West is based on hatha yoga, which forms one aspect of the ancient Hindu system of religious and ascetic observance and meditation, the highest form of which is raja yoga and the ultimate aim of which is spiritual purification and self-understanding leading to samadhi or union with the divine.”
Before coming here to the Western Hemisphere, yoga was used to gain some “higher consciousness,” contact with “the Divine,” an “enlightenment.” Yoga is a form of “mysticism” whereby you contemplate enough and self-surrender enough, enabling you to leave this material world and unite with some “higher power” to obtain “higher knowledge.” All the religious jargon aside, yoga was and still is an attempt to replace the Holy Bible and Jesus Christ. The experience, not the Bible, becomes the authority. The experience, not the Bible, is seen as the way to connecting with a “higher power.” The experience, not the Bible, is the manner whereby wisdom and intellect are gained. The experience, not Jesus Christ, is believed to be the way to “spiritual purification.” The experience, not Jesus Christ, is believed to be the path to God. The experience, not Jesus Christ, controls the minds of those who use yoga for spiritual purposes. Unfortunately, once we get in contact with the “spiritual world,” it is not necessarily a connection with the God of Creation, the God of the Bible—Satan works in the spirit world too and we dare not associate with him!
If you as a Christian are interested in merely the physical benefits of yoga, there is nothing sinful about it. Still, and this is most important of all, in light of the information presented above, just remember that your participation in yoga may cause other Christians to stumble. They may consider it “sin” and you would then have to go about it in a different manner. If you do choose to engage in yoga exercises, you also need to “exercise” charity, putting the wellbeing of others ahead of your own.
For example, a fellow Christian may approach you about yoga, saying, “Hey, is not yoga something sinful, something of heathen origin? Why do you do it? Christians should not get involved with that!” At that point, you would need to address his or her concern, lest the Adversary get the advantage. In your mind, you are not sinning. You are not repeating the prayers and chants and engaging in its other pagan practices; you are exercising simply for health reasons. If ever in such a situation, explain it to them clearly and firmly, but gently and lovingly: “I do not agree with the spiritual aspect of yoga, its false theology, and I do not utter the pagan chants or prayers while doing it. I am merely interested in the physical benefits of yoga.”
A Christian who does not yet fully understand that Father God has given us liberty in Christ, may still have problems reconciling your actions in his or her mind, so then it would then be best not to do yoga in public (or at least, not in his or her presence). Maybe consider doing yoga exercises in the privacy of your home (like with DVDs or CDs), whereby no Christians would stumble? That may be the best alternative to running the risk of causing others to stumble, or tainting your testimony. You should choose how to go about doing it, in light of the following information.
Any weaker Christians should definitely not engage in yoga at all (until they resolve in their minds that they can keep themselves spiritually pure, they will damage their spiritual health). A general rule of thumb for all life decisions, not just yoga, is the following: If there is doubt about doing it, then do not do it. “For whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b). If you think you can keep yourself spiritually pure while exercising in yoga, it is not a sin. Just walk in charity, keeping others in mind. If you regard yoga as something to be avoided entirely, then it is your prerogative to avoid it.
If you want to engage in yoga exercises merely for physical purposes, you are highly encouraged to read Romans 14:1-23, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, and 1 Corinthians 10:23-33—these passages are reminders of how we are to “exercise” our liberty in Christ without harming other Christians. A common conundrum among the Gentile believers of Paul’s day was, “Is it okay to eat meat (or, food in general) that was once sacrificed to pagan idols? Will that diet of heathen offerings give me a bad standing before God? Can that idol (false religious system) defile me by means of that food?”
The Bible says in Romans chapter 14: “ For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.  For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.  Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.  I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.  But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.  Let not then your good be evil spoken of:  For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.  For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.  Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.  For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.  It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.  Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.  And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
Notice that the Christians stronger in the faith (more mature in the Word of God)—such as the Apostle Paul—knew there was nothing wrong with that food that had been offered to idols. The idol was dead (unable to defile the food), the food was hence still good, and Paul had no problem eating it. He had a strong conscience about it. That was his liberty in Jesus Christ. Still, Paul would also walk “charitably,” seeking the good of those around him. If a weaker Christian (a Christian with a weak conscience, someone who was less mature in the Word of God) had a problem with Paul’s action, if the weaker Christian voiced concern that eating meat offered to idols was sinful, then Paul said he refrained from doing it for the brother or sister’s sake. The Apostle knew that it was better to do without something, than to have it and then use it to spiritually harm another believer. He did not want to do Satan’s work. He refused to be a stumblingblock to others when it came to this or any other action. Friends, grace living seeks the benefit of others; grace living is not selfish living but selfless living!
We read of this matter further in 1 Corinthians chapter 8: “ Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.  And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.  But if any man love God, the same is known of him.  As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.  For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)  But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.  Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.  But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.  But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.  For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;  And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?  But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.  Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”
The Apostle continued in 1 Corinthians chapter 10: “ All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.  Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.  Whatsoever is sold in the shambles [marketplace], that eat, asking no question for conscience sake:  For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.  If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.  But if any man say unto you, this is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof:  Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?  For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks?  Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.  Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:  Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”
In Greek culture such as in Corinth, animals were offered as sacrifices in pagan temples and then the meat was sold in the marketplace. Some Christians just refused to eat any meat, fearing they would pollute themselves with that which came from a heathen temple. Other Christians, the more mature ones, knew the idols were nothing and the idols did not harm the food, so these Christians considered the meat clean to eat. Regardless of which type of Christian they were, Paul urged all Christians: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” We should ultimately seek God’s praise and glory in all that we do, paying close attention that we build up other Christians with our actions instead of tearing them down.
You can follow the yoga exercise techniques without agreeing with the false theology behind it and without uttering the religious nonsense chanted—just be sure not to let Satan use yoga as a gateway to influence your thinking! (It would be for that reason that weaker Christians not engage in yoga at all.)
There is a lot of “religious mumbo-jumbo” associated with yoga, so you have to “exercise” great caution when getting into it. I do not see anything sinful about a Christian participating in yoga, so long as he or she strictly follows the exercise movements (and does not repeat the phrases, “mantras,” thinking the vain prayers, which may or may not be in English, and which may contain a variety of false religious ideologies, including praise and allegiance to Eastern deities). Instead of uttering chants about false religion, think about Bible verses and meditate on them. Pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ when exercising. This will keep your mind from wandering from sound Bible doctrine.
Using the above applications of grace living (excerpts from Romans and 1 Corinthians), we can better understand what we should do in regards to yoga. It is a personal decision. While eating meat offered to idols is not so much an issue today, the principles of charity remain the same. If we use our liberty in Christ and offend other Christians with our actions, it is best not to engage in those activities again in their presence. If you think it would be in your best interest and the best interest of others to engage in only the physical activities of yoga, then you are free to do so. Just keep in mind that some activities are not profitable to others or ourselves. Certain activities are not sins but weaker Christians may see them as sins, and we have to keep these precious people in mind.
Because of its origin in Eastern religions, some are completely opposed to yoga, fearing the promotion of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, et cetera. It would be those who hold this view, that we not cause to stumble. Saint, if you do not believe you should participate in yoga, do not do it. “For whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b). Saint, if you want to participate only in the physical activities of yoga, you are free to do so, just use your liberty in Christ with caution, “exercising” attentiveness to any Christians who may be offended, and “exercising” in grace accordingly! 🙂
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