For those of you who don't know, I have been a trained yoga instructor for over 10 years and a follower of Jesus my whole life. I have taught numerous modalities of fitness and have felt led to teach as well as start a business/ministry in this field. This has been a very vulnerable and God led journey for me. When I started teaching 'Christian Yoga' I was nervous the Yoga community would scoff at me, but to my surprise, it was the Christian community that pushed back. At the time, I was mortified and felt the Christian perspective of yoga was extremely close-minded. I realize now that there are legitimate reasons behind a believers hesitation about yoga.
Yoga has become a major part of our western world. It is almost everywhere you look and is commonly accepted as an approach to health and healing. Doctors are recommending it to their clients; chiropractors, nursing homes and hospitals are hiring yoga practitioners for their staff, and many, or dare I say most people do not fully understand what they are doing or why.
A little over a year ago I felt led to further my yoga training for my yoga-based business and enrolled in a 200 hour Yoga Training. I made it two days, with a LOT of prayer, as it was so obvious how different what I practice is from the traditional yoga beliefs and practices. We studied a lot of Yoga history and foundations I hadn't learned in my previous studies. I knew God had opened the door and led me into the training, but I felt a complete absence of God in that space, it was unexpected and pretty scary.
Don't get me wrong, the leaders and students were very kind, warm, loving souls with the best of intentions, but I felt an overwhelming, extremely apparent separation from my God in that space and in the practices. After 2 days of attending the 200-hour training, I dropped from the program. I believe God led me into that experience to teach me. My innocence to the dangers of yoga was made obvious and I felt, and continue to feel, God is asking me to step out of my comfort zone to educate others as well. NOT in a condemning or authoritative way, but only as a form of awareness for Christians who may be conflicted or confused. I want to help educate people on what the practices often used in yoga classes are, what the meanings are behind them and what pieces of 'yoga' I believe to be truly redeemable and from God, and what are not.
This experience also completely changed my perspective around the practice of yoga inside Faith Fueled Fitness. I believe the timing of this was impeccable and God led. It helped reshape the vision of Faith Fueled Fitness to be more about the freedom in fitness centered around Christ and less about using Yoga as a mission field opportunity. Partnering with Sarah who offers personalized strength training and nutrition coaching allows us to offer a well rounded physical approach, with Christ at the center, and I believe can truly change lives. The key pieces of yoga- stretching/breathing/meditation I still offer and believe to be truly good for our bodies and souls, I just have a majorly different spiritual focus.
Ok, down to the nitty gritty. I believe it is imperative that Christians truly understand what Yoga is and isn't. That they take the time to educate themselves and be aware of what they are practicing or not practicing, for their own spiritual safety. I am speaking to Christians, followers of Christ and the bible. Here are my findings.
Yoga is a practice mostly of mindfulness derived over 2,000 years ago. It has been adopted by, used and dissected into many religious practices around the world. No one knows the exact origin of yoga. We do know that what we call yoga today has evolved over thousands of years and has been introduced and developed independently in many different cultures around the world.
The Vedas are the original collection of books that yoga came from.
**The Om originates from the Vedas and was originally practiced for the purpose of uniting the breath and mind through meditation. The single syllable is repeated to unite the practitioner’s consciousness aka: true self with “Brahman” or “universal consciousness.”
The more commonly known ‘Yoga Sutras’ were also developed from the Vedas, intending to streamline them into an easier path to follow and teach. These were developed 200 B.C. as yoga practices and philosophies. They revolve around the study of ‘the royal road,’ in which physical and mental energy is converted into spiritual energy by using mental and physical control to still the mind. The asanas, or postures, found in Hatha Yoga that most commonly come to mind in the west are part of this study.
The postures are in fact only a small part of the overall study of yoga. Yogis would enter into their yoga meditation and the physical breath and postures would naturally follow. They were not originally taught as the main focus of yoga as they are in the western world today.
Hatha yoga was brought to the west around the early 1900’s. It was blended with British military calisthenics, gymnastics and bodybuilding to be developed into a form of body training. There are now hundreds of styles of Hatha Yoga being practiced and over 37,000 practitioners in the U.S. alone.
Even though yoga is used and referenced throughout the Hindu belief system, yoga is said to have developed independently from Hinduism because of its threat to religious norms. The beliefs originally practiced in yoga were that being part of a culture or religion could negatively affect your intuitive connection to inner wisdom and that if you were not your OWN source of counsel and guidance you would be at the mercy of whoever is in power and control.
**Chakras- Yoga teaches there are seven major energy centers, like spinning energy ‘wheels’ in the body. These energy centers represent or house different psychological and spiritual issues that are intended, through the practice of yoga, to be in balance. They are all said to hold certain emotions and manifest certain characteristics when in balance. These centers start at the base of the spine and go all the way up to the crown of the head. It is believed that there is Kundalini knowledge or energy that resides at the base of the spine. When aligning and balancing the chakras, an intention is to awaken Kundalini. This is a practice also used in Hinduism where the objective is a union of personal consciousness and cosmic and divine consciousness. Kundalini rises up (coils) through the sushumna channel as raw energy up to the crown chakra.
The ultimate purpose of yoga is to become one with the universe or the intelligent energy field that’s said to make up the universe. The intention is to awaken to the awareness of a connection with all other life forms, consciousness or Atman, and find our identity in that. The belief is that we are all innately longing for this connection to unity and it can only be found within ourselves.
Faith Fueled Fitness Beliefs-
**Faith Fueled Fitness now teaches what we refer to as a 'Christian Alternative to Yoga' as part of our overall program to physical, spiritual and emotional wellness.
As Christ-followers we know these yoga philosophies that have developed over thousands of years are not the truth. We know that our identity comes from God; our creator, God’s word, and from Christ dying on the cross to save us. We know we were created by an all-knowing, all-powerful God of the universe who gifted the holy spirit upon belief, who resides in us enabling the byproducts of love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23) and who gives us a spirit of power and love (2 Tim. 1:7), but these are gifts from the Lord, not something we can learn to create in our own power.
We believe that God has created us in a beautiful and magnificent way and that He enables us to be a part of creation, to care for and influence creation (Gen 1:28) but not to be equal with Him. We believe the enemy has twisted the truth taking submission and servitude to the Lord out of it, and instead filling our minds with the practice of SELF, searching inward for knowledge and truth, instead of looking to the Lord.
God is the creator and has created ALL THINGS. He has made our bodies and offered us many ways of healing, moving and being, and instructs us to Love the Lord our God with all our Heart, Soul, Strength and Mind (Mark 12:30). The movements along with the breath and meditation developed and used in Yoga we believe to be of God.
The postures are ones that many other organizations, (gymnastics, wrestling, bodybuilding, athletes, Pilates etc.) have studied and found to be scientifically proven to aid in flexibility, strength and balance. The movements were developed thousands of years after the meditation and foundation of the practice of Yoga had been formed. These postures developed as the relaxed body, who sat in a simple position for hours on end, needed to move. The body’s natural intuition moved itself into what we now call Yoga postures. Many of these postures are the very same positions and movements that are used in other modern fitness modalities. God made the body, made the intuition to move in a way that feels good and is good for us. Satan corrupted the movements by attaching them to the mindfulness practice of Yoga, searching inward for truth.
God’s first gift to mankind was His breath. In Faith Fueled Fitness Christian alternative to yoga classes, we focus on our God-given breath to calm, relax and release tension and stress from our bodies. It is scientifically proven that breathing techniques enable our bodies to more effectively handle stress by stimulating our Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems. If we aren’t breathing correctly, we can suffer many physical and mental issues. And by focusing our attention to our breath and releasing stress and tension in our bodies while stretching, we can ultimately help our bodies remain healthy.
Meditation on God is instructed by God and discussed as a necessary practice throughout the bible (Psalm 1:1-3, 77:12, 104:1, 119:15-16, Joshua 1:8, Phil. 4:8) Traditional Yoga focuses their meditation on the emptying of the mind, becoming one with the universe and connecting with every part of creation. With Faith Fueled Fitness alternative to yoga classes, we utilize mediation in the way God intended, with our focus solely on Him. We invite His presence into our time on our mat with worship music, His word into our hearts with scripture meditation as well as quieting our minds to hear the Holy Spirit speak to our hearts.
So to answer the question- Can Yoga be Christian?- I don't believe it can. Not in its original sense of the word. I believe there are MANY forms of fitness and stretching modalities being practiced and taught in the world today. Many of them are being categorized as yoga for the simple fact that people relate the word to what they know it as; the westernized form of stretching, breathing and working the muscles in fun, unique postures. If you are aware and educated in what you're doing, who's teaching the class and what they're beliefs are, I do believe you can safely participate in what may be called a Yoga class and not be compromising your faith.
Many people have told me over the years, "I just take the good and leave the bad." Or, "I spend my time praying instead of listening to the prompts from the teacher if I don't agree with them." If that is you and you are aware of exactly what your beliefs are and are not concerned with being led astray, you are probably ok. But please be aware and educated on what you're walking into or allowing your kids or loved ones to be influenced by.
On the other hand, I've also had A LOT of Christians completely unwilling to hear, listen to, spend the time learning about what the benefits of yoga are and what pieces can be redeemed from the original practice. If this is you I can completely understand your desire to stay far from any dangers compromising your faith. I would just highly recommend that you take the time to educate yourself before throwing out any form of hate or judgments on others. Christians, aka Christ-followers are taught to LOVE GOD AND LOVE OTHERS (Mark 12:30, Matt. 22:36) and not to judge someone else's walk (Matt. 7:1, Luke 6:37) or pretend to know what could make another believer stumble (1 Cor. 8). I believe we should do our best to follow these teachings of Christ and make our own educated decision on what is best for us individually.