I am a 21st-century, overstimulated, and exhausted mom. All I want is to take one measly hour to go outside in the quiet of nature and stretch with an adorable baby goat on my back. What could possibly be so wrong with that?

Okay, goat yoga is hilarious. And it’s kind of adorable. But seriously, so many of us crave a healthy way to care for our minds and bodies. With the promises of peace, stress reduction, physical fitness, and the ability to quiet your mind, it is no wonder that yoga has become so popular in the West. But is yoga an appropriate practice for Christians? How do we discuss this with our kids without being dismissive or judgmental? 

In A Crash Course in Yoga, we discussed yoga’s spiritual roots and some of the symbolism found in the different aspects of the practice. The poses, the movements, the breathwork, and the meditation are all designed for attaining “enlightenment.” Enlightenment derives from Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. In yoga, enlightenment occurs as you gradually disconnect from your individual sense of self and “realize” that you and everyone else (and everything else) are one. But things get a bit tricky as yoga is appropriated into Western culture. Depending on the yoga instructor, your session could emphasize the spiritual aspects of yoga, but there’s also a good chance your class is just focused on health and fitness while using yoga poses for stretching and strengthening. Is it all evil? If not, is any of it evil? Is this just an area of Christian freedom and personal conscience? Can yoga be “taken back” for God? Can the exercise of Yoga poses be divorced from its spiritual roots? If my kid copies someone on TV doing “Warrior Pose” will she be attacked by demons?! Let’s ROAR. 

Recognize the Message – What are the messages coming from pro-yoga Christians?

1. All that matters is your intent

We know that yoga is a spiritual discipline much like fasting, meditation, and prayer that cannot be owned by one specific religion.” – Holy Yoga1https://holyyoga.net/what-we-believe/

Since yoga has been adapted as a practice by multiple Eastern worldviews, many people view it as something that can be adapted by any worldview. The idea is that yoga practice can be integrated with anyone’s personal beliefs about reality. Don’t intend to worship Hindu deities? Just think about YOUR God! Or don’t! Yoga is what you make of it. 

2. This is an area of Christian freedom

“Where the Bible is silent (and, if you were wondering, it doesn’t say anything about our modern-day yoga practices), I use my freedom and wisdom from Christ to determine what is consistent with my faith — just like I’m gonna use Extended-Side-Angle to strengthen my core.” – Alli Patterson2 https://www.crossroads.net/media/articles/can-christians-do-yoga

Since the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn yoga, the idea is that each Christian should come to his/her own conclusion. If–as a Christian–you are able to separate yoga from its spiritual roots in your own mind, then you should feel free to participate. 

3. Christians have special spiritual protection

“Consequently, believers in the Bible have no reason to fear yoga. According to the Scriptures, God encircles, encompasses, covers, and shields those who make Him their refuge. His presence, the anointing, is a kind of force field of protection making you inaccessible to the enemy no matter what the circumstances.” – Tonyah Dee3https://yahlight.com/what-is-yoga-phobia/

No need to worry about yoga’s Hindu origins. Remember the first message “All that matters is your intent”? Well, if that’s true, and if you don’t even know that yoga is designed to worship ancient Hindu deities, then it would follow that you are safe from accidentally participating in idolatry. If your kid came home from school and showed you that she learned a “Lord of the Dance” move in gym class, are you going to panic that your child is now an idol worshiper? Plus, you have the Holy Spirit in you! He’ll make sure you’re always protected. 

Offer Discernment – What truths can we affirm in yoga, and what lies do we need to expose?

TRUTH #1: Our mind, body, and spirit are connected.

There is no question that our mind and our body are connected. Just taking “the placebo effect” into account demonstrates this. According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, “How placebos work is still not quite understood, but it involves a complex neurobiological reaction that includes everything from increases in feel-good neurotransmitters (like endorphins and dopamine) to greater activity in certain brain regions linked to moods, emotional reactions, and self-awareness. All of it can have therapeutic benefit.”4 https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/the-power-of-the-placebo-effect Therefore, what we believe can actually have a physical effect on our bodies. 

Biblically, we know that our spirit is affected by both our mind and our body. Sin affects the spirit, since “the wages of sin is death.” When original sin came into the world, we were born spiritually dead–a spiritual separation from God. When we sin, we further disconnect ourselves from God. We know that we can sin with both our bodies (through actions) and our minds (through thoughts and unrighteous emotions [Matthew 5:21-30]). Further, our words and actions come out of our spiritual condition. Our mind, body, and spirit are indeed connected.

TRUTH #2: Stretching and breathing are good.

As believers, our bodies are a temple for Christ. We each only get one body on this side of heaven (at least I think so but since we’re basically living in a sci-fi movie these days, who knows?). Exercising, stretching, and breathing deeply are good for the body. 

In fact, there is good scientific evidence to suggest that daily deep breathing exercises can reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone), anxiety, and blood pressure.5https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9877284/ Stretching also has a number of benefits, including reducing your risk of injuries, improving your range of motion in your joints, and just overall better performance in daily activity.6 https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/stretching/art-20047931

TRUTH #3: We can do all things to the glory of Christ.

Whether we are doing ministry, changing diapers, or doing our self-care routine, we can (and should be) glorifying the Lord. As we perform our daily tasks with the joy of the Spirit, in humility, kindness, and love, we represent Christ to the world. Even as we take care of our mental health and our bodies, we model for others how we are stewarding God’s creation well. If you want to meditate on Scripture or pray while you stretch or exercise, you can certainly do this as a way to honor Christ. All of this glorifies God.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).  

LIE #1: The words and the poses don’t mean anything if you don’t want them to. 

When performing yoga postures or stretches, you are putting your body into positions that were specifically designed to worship or pay homage to false gods.7See “A Crash Course in Yoga,” https://mamabearapologetics.com/a-crash-course-in-yoga/ You might not have any intention of worshiping these gods, but you are participating in the ritual nonetheless. Check out the YouTube thumbnail shown below and understand that this woman is supposedly committing her day to the Lord while doing a worship pose to the Hindu god Vīrabhadra. 

When “holy yoga” uses the same flows and poses, whether or not you use the same names for them, your body is sending out a message. Just like words in a particular order mean something, poses in a particular order mean something. 

LIE #2: I can be surrounded with an unbiblical worldview and not have it affect me.

We’re not saying that every person who goes to a yoga class is going to become entrenched in the New Age or devote their life to yoga and Hindu spiritualism, although, some will.8Read Ruth Burgess’s story: https://www.thetruelight.net/wp/ruth-burgess-story1/ But each of us needs to have a humble view of ourselves and realize that we are vulnerable to the influence of false ideas whether we like it or not. Remember how intentions don’t always matter? Just because you don’t intend to be influenced by an opposing worldview doesn’t mean you won’t be. 

Further, if Christians have divine protection from deception or from demonic oppression, why does the Bible repeatedly warn us against being deceived? (See Timothy 4:1, Colossians 2:8, 2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Lie #3: Yoga is a black and white issue. 

Let’s face it, it’s way easier to have a black-and-white answer. As worn-out Christian parents, we’re often tempted to just slap a “safe” or “dangerous” label on things and call it a day! Some people say “All yoga is safe if you refocus on God,” and others say “All yoga is dangerous no matter how it’s done!” But what we need to do is be wise without being legalistic. I think it’s safe to say that yoga in its purest form is not for the believer because it entails participation in the worship of self and of other gods. But neither does Satan own sitting on your knees and stretching your arms out (in yoga called “child’s pose”). Again, it’s not necessarily the poses and breathing; it’s the order in which they are done that conveys meaning.

Argue for a healthier approach

(this section written by Hillary Morgan Ferrer)

As a general rule, I’m going to say that it is unwise to participate in something if you don’t know what you are participating in. If I had someone randomly give me a German phrase to go up and say to a police officer, I wouldn’t do it until I knew what I was saying. Likewise, don’t get a cool-looking Japanese tattoo if you don’t know what it means. You can end up with weird things permanently on your body. Furthermore, I have a friend who speaks fluent French. Upon going over to a girlfriend’s house, she saw a throw pillow that read “chair de grandpère.” The friend thought it meant “Grandpa’s chair.” It actually meant “Grandpa’s flesh,” which is not something I’d want on my throw pillow.

So, if we are going to participate in something that has meaning, we must make sure we understand the meaning of it first. If you as a Christian feel like you need some yoga for exercise and wellbeing, here’s a few thoughts on how to achieve the same goals in a healthier way: 

Stop using the terminology

As Christians, we need to remember that Jesus is, Himself, God’s Word. Words mean things. So if we aren’t trying to become yoked with the Brahman, stop using phrases that basically mean “A Christian yoking with the Brahman.” (Aka: Christian Yoga. It’s like Christian Satanism. No literally, it is like that.) Suggestion? Someone out there pleassssse create something called BÄS or something, which could stand for Breathing and Stretching. Pronounce it like “boss.” I’d totally go to a BÄS session! Even a hot BÄS session! And when doing poses, stop using the words that venerate Hindu warrior gods like Vīrabhadra (warrior pose). Don’t pay homage to Sita by doing tree pose. In BÄS, it can be stretching hurdler or flamingo pose. They are great for balance and inner thighs. No accidental worship required!

As we’ve said before, the devil doesn’t own words, but it is unwise to say certain words in certain orders because they mean something. If you don’t understand what the words or the poses mean, don’t use them. I’m not going to chant “Salue le grand serpant qui se déguise en ange de lumière le plus puissant! Viens en moi et donne-moi le pouvoir de tes démons pour accompli tes œuvres” and justify it with “I don’t speak French, but this sounds pretty.” Because what I’m literally saying here is “Hail the great serpent who disguises himself as the most powerful angel of light! Come into me and give me the power of your demons to do your works.” I’m not intending anything nefarious, but I probably shouldn’t say that no matter what language it’s in. And that doesn’t mean that I can’t use the words light, angel, come, or power, but saying those words in that order means something, whether I intend them to or not.

Stop using the order of poses

Just as with words, the order matters with what your body does. Don’t do a Kundalini flow if you’re not trying to awaken your 10 sacred bodies. Don’t do the order of the sun salutation unless you are wanting to worship the sun. Stretch and breath and pose–but for the love of all that is holy, just stop doing them in the flows that represent Hindu worship! If you don’t mean it, don’t say it – with your body or otherwise. 

Meditation is about filling, not about emptying

Yes, interject God into your calming stretches. Use the time to breathe deeply and ponder on his love. Pray while you stretch your calves. It’s okay to quiet your mind without emptying it! 

This is not a chew-and-spit situation

The chew-and-spit method is for discerning the good and bad within media and ideas. However, we don’t go practicing other religions to see which parts of it overlap with Christianity. Want to study it to see what they are saying? Sure. Nothing wrong with studying other world religions. Practicing other world religions? No. Not the same. 

And as many practicing Hindus (especially those in the East) will tell you, yoga is not separable from Hinduism. Christian baptism is not synonymous with a bath. The Lord’s supper is not synonymous with “a snack.” Yoga isn’t synonymous with breathing and stretching, no matter what the western world is trying to say. Stop appropriating Hinduism. It’s straight-up rude to Hindus. 

In the end, Mama bears, this is a wisdom issue, not necessarily a sin issue. Please do not take this article and use it to beat every Christian you know over the head as if they are sinning unless they give up yoga like yesterday. Yoga is unwise, but it is also hyperfundamentalist to heap laws upon laws within Christianity. Use this information to put a pebble in the shoe. Use this information to help people make good, informed decisions and to be more intentional in their Christian lives. Use this information to inform your own practice, but allow the Holy Spirit to convict.

Reinforce Through Discussion, Discipleship, and Prayer

  1. Ask yourself these questions:
    • Do you think the enemy cares about your intentions? I recommend you watch our podcast episode where Amy Davison interviews Krista Bontrager, and they discuss ways in which we (or our kids) can unintentionally invite the enemy to oppress us.
    • Can we really just impose our own meaning onto an ancient Hindu ritual? If so, where does that stop? At what point does practicing a ritual that is intended for worshiping other gods cease to have meaning? For those who know what these rituals mean, what do they see when they see you – a Christian – doing this ritual? What do others see when they observe you doing yoga? Do they see you worshiping the one true God? Or is their perception that you are worshiping other gods or attempting to connect with your “higher self”? What do your kids see? More important than that, when we are performing a highly choreographed ritual, what do the beings in the spiritual realm see? 
    • What does God mean when He tells His people to be “set apart”? Is He only talking about what’s going on in your own private mind? In Leviticus, God tells His people not to follow the practices of the surrounding nations by saying, “Do not do as they do” (Leviticus 18:1-2). In 2 Corinthians we are told not to be yoked with unbelievers. Remember, the word yoga literally means “yoke,” and the purpose is to be “yoked” to the oneness, or the “Supreme Reality.” Scripture says, “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16). As our bodies are temples, should we be using them to form poses that at the very least pay homage to idols?
  2. Make “What you do with your body matters”9Hillary Ferrer and Amy Davison, Mama Bear Apologetics: Guide to Sexuality (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2021), 246. a household phrase and repeat it until your kids roll their eyes when they hear it. It’s a great mantra because it applies to many situations. 
  3. Take turns with your kids making hand gestures (like a high five, thumbs up/down, praying hands, arms folded, etc.) and make up a brand new meaning for them. After the laughter dies down, discuss how it would work out for you out in the world when you decide to assign your own meaning to widely recognized hand gestures.
  4. Model humility by praying with your kids that the Lord will open your eyes to anything that does not bring honor and glory to Him. We should all regularly ask the Holy Spirit to convict us of areas in our life where we are unaware of disobedience to Him. 
  5. Prepare your kids in case they are asked to participate in yoga in school (or elsewhere). Make a plan according to your family’s convictions. For example, whichever pose the class is doing, find a similar pose that will stretch the same muscle or focus on a similar balancing act. This is where “studying yoga” could actually be beneficial. Figure out which poses they are going to do and in what order, and come up with an alternate order with different stretches that stretch the same things. Also, this is a great time for Scripture memorization. When the yogi asks the kids to have an “intention” like in the breathing in and breathing out, pick a good verse and have your kids focus on that in the breaths.  
  6. Have a discussion with your kids about friends and family who might be participating in lifestyles or practices that are off-limits for your family. Another phrase you can repeat is, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” and explain that not everyone is aware of the spiritual aspects of what they are doing. Talk about how patient and gracious the Lord is with ALL of us, and that we will likely learn about our own blind spots over time. 

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