Christians and yoga: Is it a stretch?

Posted by Sam Hailes  ·  1 visitor comment

The ancient far eastern practise of yoga has been praised for its physical benefits, but should its spiritual origin put Christians off?

Yoga

Creative Commons Jasmine Synergy

“Practising yoga is Satanic”, Father Gabriele Amorth announced in front of a film festival in November last year, “it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter.”

His comments sparked controversy in the media with Christians both commending and condemning the exorcist’s remarks.

But whether or not you agree with him, the outspoken priest was publically verbalizing what many Christians believe.

The practice of yoga originates from Hindu philosophy but is reguarly practised by people of all faiths and none in the UK. Often praised for the health benefits the stretches can lead to, it's an exercise program many find helpful.

Laurette Willis was involved in yoga for 22 years before becoming a Christian. She has since developed the DVD PraiseMoves, which she describes as a “spiritual alternative to yoga”.

The author of Basic Steps To Godly Fitness says the postures of yoga are “offered to the 330 million Hindu gods…If you do these postures and you do this breathing technique and this meditation, then you will be accepted by a god…That’s the real danger,” she says.

From Hinduism to Christianity

Dr Christine Mangala Frost was born a Hindu, a Brahmin, the highest and priestly caste in India. She practiced yoga from an early age as part of her faith. After gaining a scholarship to Cambridge university, Dr Frost studied the problem of evil and discovered more about the Christian faith.

“I was converted to Christ and was an Anglican for many years then became Orthodox in 1997.”

It wasn’t until more recent years that the issue of yoga came to the fore as an Archbishop in London approached Dr Frost to write an article on the subject. 

Dr Frost describes her article as a “balanced assessment of how Christians can relate to yoga”

“I spell out the implications of the Hindu ethos and Hindu spiritual goals which are not compatible with the Christian faith for many reasons; one of them being there is too much concentration on the self.”

“For an Orthodox Christian the focus is on new life that Christ gives in baptism, the sacraments and church life that refocuses you on a new person in Christ.”

“Effort is not ruled out but effort has to be in submission to Christ and the Holy Spirit just as Christ submits himself to God the Father. It’s not exactly the same as using your intellect and controlling your body and doing the things that yoga expects.”

Yoga without theology

But rather than condemning yoga in its entirety, Dr Frost believes the spiritual aspect to yoga is missing in many UK classes. “A lot of the theology is stripped in the ordinary yoga classes. You get what one would call an exercise pattern for keeping the body fit.”

“If you’re going to a yoga class where they teach you breathing, stretching and keeping the nervous system in order then fine.”

“If we are aware of the dangers and the spiritual trajectories and where they lead, I can’t see the harm in doing yoga postures for keeping fit. My main warning to people would be do be aware of any talk of meditation and other things that take you into that other part where it is not compatible with Christianity.”

“If a yoga teacher just teaches posture than fine but the moment spiritual ideas behind it are introduced, they should be aware what they are in for.”

Dr Frost is particularly concerned about yoga which involves meditation and encourages Christians to be careful if spiritual ideas are introduced to yoga classes .

“If a yoga teacher just teaches posture than fine but the moment spiritual ideas behind it are introduced, they should be aware what they are in for.”

Some Christians have been dissuaded from engaging with yoga on any level. But Dr Frost says such an attitude is often formed from a place of “prejudice and ignorance.”

“The church fathers took over Greek philosophy and learnt the rhetoric and the logic but they didn’t become pagans as a result, they used it for their own purposes.”

“We shouldn’t be frightened of things we don’t understand. If you’re well orientated in your own faith, you don’t have to be frightened on other things.”

Christian Yoga?

Some have developed “Christian Yoga”, which tends to include yoga moves with Christian prayer, but Laurette believes such a practice is an “oxymoron”.

“It is like saying someone is a Christian Buddhist or a Christian Hindu. What some people are doing is that they are trying to make yoga Christian. Even Hindus are saying that you cannot do that.”  

Rev Nancy Roth was trained in ballet and went to a yoga class in order to become more flexible.

“We had this time to relax and focus on breathing and I found that was very conducive to prayer and I didn’t want to get up. In the meantime I had become very interested in Christian prayer and spirituality.”

“It was at a time when a lot of people were leaving traditional churches and going to eastern traditions to find that depth of spirituality. I was very eager to bring that holistic approach to prayer to the church.”

Rev Roth began to teach yoga and found it to be an invaluable tool for relaxing and relieving tension. She’s since written a book titled An Introduction To Christian Yoga. Is she concerned about yoga’s spiritual links?

“I’ve had people write to me about that a lot. My answer is there’s one God and many ways to come to God. It’s alright to borrow some good disciplines from other cultures because we don’t need to be afraid we’ll encounter something foreign. There’s nothing foreign in God.”

“I encountered in yoga the same God I knew in church,” she says.

15th May

May 15th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes

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Andy Russell

Andy Russell

Posts: 1

fascinating article... I'm a committed Christian practicing karate, this has made me think and would welcome other views on the martial arts and Christianity

Tuesday, 3rd July 2012 at 10:55PM

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