I suspect at least a portion of you already have your minds made up about yoga, but you clicked on this link because you wanted to see what we had to say about it, to know if Mama Bear supports it or not. Am I right or am I right? This is one of those topics that can be divisive. Those who are against Christians practicing yoga accuse them of synchronizing with the culture and other world religions. Those who see it as an area of Christian freedom, practice yoga themselves, or who couldn’t care less if other Christians practiced it, are exasperated by what they see as legalism surrounding this topic. Then, there are the mamas who are genuinely unsure where they should land on this issue or how to guide their kids through it. As yoga is increasingly being taught in public schools,1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4831047/ Mama Bears should be equipped to think through this ancient practice with wisdom. So let’s talk.

This is going to be a two-parter. In Part 1, we’ll begin with some information about yoga that you might not be aware of, like its symbolism, philosophy, and spiritual ramifications. We’ll especially focus on what yoga is, and where the conflict lies in our list of things you need to know. In Part 2, we will use the Mama Bear Apologetics ROAR method to practice discernment as we think through the information covered in Part 1.

What exactly is yoga?

Yoga originated in India and is steeped in Hinduism but the practice has been adapted by several other Eastern worldviews, including Buddhism and Sikhism.2Sikhism is an Indian panentheistic religion in which salvation entails becoming one with god when we detach from from any earthly desire or attachment. All that to say, yoga has evolved, and there are various types and subtypes of yoga practice. While researching, I noticed multiple ways in which people seem to interpret the purpose of yoga. For example, some people believe they can attain supernatural powers such as levitation or clairvoyance,3 https://www.wisdomlib.org/definition/laghima while others reject that idea in favor of a less fantastical view in which one achieves “enlightenment.”4 https://fractalenlightenment.com/41321/yoga/uncovering-meaning-siddhis-can-yoga-give-superpowers So, it’s pretty safe to say that we as Christians can reject these overt aspects of yoga. Duh. No brainer. However, how is it being presented to us in Western culture?

Hatha Yoga is the type of yoga we modern Westerners typically think of. It’s the kind of yoga where you put your body into poses and breathe deeply. So while you may associate this kind of yoga with breathing through downward dog, we need to recognize that it is much more than that. Remember: yoga is a philosophy about reality, not just physical exercise. In fact the physical poses are intended to more deeply entrench you into the philosophy. Regardless of how a person practices yoga, we cannot ignore that the underlying philosophy is present, and that matters. We must acquaint ourselves with the worldview yoga is promoting.

The Worldview Behind Yoga

Yoga is intended to “yoke” you… but to what?

If you want a clear-cut explanation of the intention of yoga, just look at the name. The word yoga literally means yoke or union. By and large, the purpose of yoga is to unite yourself (or fully realize your union) with the “Divine Consciousness,” the supposed eternal power that permeates everything in reality and which encompasses all knowledge (of like, everything!). The worldview behind yoga assumes that your inner self is divine, that everything that exists emanates from one impersonal force (Brahman), and that therefore your divine self and this force are connected. Your perception of who you think you are is merely your “ego” and the goal is to gradually detach from it so that you can know your “higher self,” realize your connection to all things, tap into the omniscience of the “Divine Consciousness,” and reduce suffering.

It’s all about Chakras (pronounced shock-rahs)

Have you ever heard someone say they need to “balance their chakras”? It’s easy. Just shake your hips because they don’t lie. Oh wait, that’s Shakira… Chakras, on the other hand, are referred to as “energy centers” in the body. They are supposed points in your body in which a mystical (and mythical) divine energy, called Kundalini energy, moves through. Kundalini is often portrayed as a snake and is believed to be “coiled” at the base of the spine, and moves up the spine when activated. (That doesn’t sound nefarious at all? What could possibly go wrong with balancing a snake energy in your spine?)

The aim in yoga is to activate and balance your chakras because you want your sweet little Kundalini snake to be balanced in each area. This is one of the goals of the yoga postures and movements – to direct this energy throughout your body. As your chakras become activated, the Kundalini moves up your spine through each “center.” Many who teach the chakras warn that Kundalini can be dangerous, but not for the reasons that you think. They say that if you get too much “energy” in a particular chakra, it will become unbalanced and negative (and sometimes dangerous) effects can manifest, such as headaches, depression, rage, and hallucinations.5https://chakrapractice.com/what-is-kundalini-syndrome/#What_Are_the_Dangers_of_Developing_Kundalini_Syndrome

If your kid watches the television series Avatar: The Last Airbender, you should be aware of an episode in which a guru teaches the main character how to open his seven chakras. You can watch the scene here.

The postures are intended to facilitate worship

It is often stated that the yoga poses (called asanas) were designed to worship Hindu gods. The truth is that some of the poses are, and some aren’t. According to Marcia Montenegro of Christian Answers for the New Age, “The poses themselves are often depictions of Hindu deities, and the hand positions mimic the hand positions seen on the statues of Hindu gods.”6 https://www.christiananswersnewage.com/article/christian-yoga-an-oxymoron Other postures are simply inspired by things found in nature. Let’s look at a few common poses:

Sun Salutations

You may recognize sun salutations as a series of poses which are often used as a warm-up exercise at the beginning of a yoga session. What you might not be aware of is that these poses were designed to worship the Hindu god Surya, which is a personification of the sun (*cough* pantheism). This asana is also called “Surya Namaskar.” “Namaskar” is a formal word for “namaste,” and similarly means “I bow to you.” Therefore when you perform Surya Namaskar, or sun salutations, you are doing poses designed to bow to the sun.

Warrior Pose

This pose represents the Hindu mythological god Virabhadra. Get ready for this one… In Hindu mythology, Virabhadra is a creation specifically for the manifestation of the god Shiva’s wrath. Shiva (one of the primary gods of Hinduism) made Virabhadra out of a lock of his own hair and commanded him to take vengeance on his dead wife’s father by cutting off his head and destroying everyone else with him.7 https://beyogi.com/virabhadra-rise-warrior/

Tree Pose

Here is a pose which is supposedly meant to symbolize becoming “rooted,” balanced, and grounded. But it’s also meant as an act of worship to the Hindu god Vishnu. Further, from my research I understand that trees are considered sacred in Hinduism and are often associated with specific deities. Basically, tree worship is a thing.8 https://www.hinduscriptures.com/vedic-culture/nature-worship/siginificance-tree-worship/7592/

Breath control is about alignment more than oxygen

In yoga, breath is important. Remember, yoga is designed to bring your consciousness into oneness with the “Supreme Reality” or Brahman. Pranayama, or the practice of breath control either during still meditation or while performing asanas (yoga poses), is therefore designed to prepare your mind to enter into a meditative state in order to accomplish that goal of oneness with the divine.9 https://www.christiananswersnewage.com/article/yoga-training-not-just-exercise

Can we ignore the spiritual aspects of yoga?

So far, we’ve gone over some of the very basics of what yoga was designed for. Of course, more questions remain. Are the philosophy and spiritual ideas so deeply ingrained in yoga that they cannot be separated from the practice? A pro-yoga Christian blogger writes, “I personally don’t believe simply putting my body into a triangle shape means I subscribe to an entire belief system. I just think it stretches my inner thighs really well.”10 https://www.crossroads.net/media/articles/can-christians-do-yoga She makes a point! But, Mama Bears, let’s not stop there. Because of yoga’s spiritual roots, we would be wise not to be so dismissive in our evaluation of whether or not to partake. If we are to grow in spiritual maturity, we are told to have our “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

Join us for the fun part in “ROAR’ing Through Yoga” where we will engage our critical thinking and work to discern truth from error, good from evil.

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