I’ve got a bad neck and a troublesome lower-back injury, so I’ve tried to prioritise regular stretching and exercise.
This time last year, I tried both yoga and pilates in an attempt to help me get into a regular habit of proper, real stretching. My troublesome back calmed down a lot in those few months.
But I found that the mention of yoga raised some brows in the Christian circle.
I had to find out: When it comes to yoga, can we reap the physical benefit without the spiritual entanglements?
Can I do yoga if I am mindful to worship my God instead of other gods?
Yoga is an spiritual discipline rooted in other ancient religions – more here. It’s alive and well today, especially in mainstream
Western culture. You can’t walk 5 minutes without seeing a yoga studio in Singapore.
It’s friendly and hip … but it’s still yoga. More than a physical exercise programme, the goal of yoga, which means to “join” in Sanskrit, is enlightenment and unity with the universe.
When it comes to yoga, can we reap the physical benefit without the spiritual entanglements?
In classes, the yoga practice begins with surya namaskara – sun salutations.
The pose originated as a way for yoga practitioners to worship the sun god, Surya. So, all the poses were originally intended to do more than merely give relief for your aches.
When I first started my classes, my focus was entirely on trying to copy the instructor’s poses. But as I got more familiar with the poses, I realised that something was … off.
As my spiritual senses “came back to me”, I realised what I was subjecting myself to: The worship of another god.
I realised my question on whether Christians can do yoga was a self-seeking question one – and it wasn’t the right question. We can do anything we want. But should we?
Walking out of class that day, this verse popped into my mind: “Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices.” (Exodus 23:24a)
I kept thinking about it, and asked myself the questions: Would I bow down at a physical altar that hosted other gods? If I do so, would “praying on the inside” and “meditating upon His word” make it any more acceptable?
No one worships God by placing an offering (in this case, our body) on the altar of another god. If our intention is to worship our God, the One true God, then we cannot do it through the worship of other gods – which is what yoga is, no matter how it’s advertised as a fitness routine.
“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise.” (Ephesians 5:15)
I learnt that if I desire to honour God, I must cease to worship anything else – even if I long for its other benefits, like yoga’s promise of relief for our aching bodies.
I have since stopped practicing yoga altogether. But to be honest, I have thought of going back. The temptation is real, especially with the lure of the beautiful, airy spaces a lot of hipster yoga studios use.
Would I bow down at a physical altar that hosted other gods? Would “praying on the inside” and “meditating upon His word” make it any more acceptable?
What helped was telling those around me about my decision to stop going for yoga classes. I had friends around me who knew that being friends mean helping to hold me to a higher standard.
There are realms – some more innocuous than others on the outside – that we have to navigate as believers. We cannot be successful if we try to do it without the Holy Spirit as our guide (John 14:26) and His Word as our weapon.
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)