Not Such a Thing as Christian Yoga


INTRODUCTION

The term, ‘Yoga’ has become a favored merch in the health and wellness marketplace. In recent years, many metropolises in the United States of America saw the grand opening of Yoga studies as the number of Americans joining Yoga classes surged in numbers as well. Every downtown and strip mall house Yoga centers. We notice the allies in those metropolises decorated with commercial sign boards of Yoga promising sound health, good body figure, and mindfulness. They have lured individuals by assuring them of inward and outward transformation, and finding their true selves through Yoga. Not even churches are exceptions in subscribing to Yoga without understanding its deeper meaning, purpose, and ramifications. Thence, Christians have adopted Yoga as a trendy idea of physical exertion that has surreptitiously invaded the Christian conscience with its counterfeit spirituality. We cannot take Yoga as a mere form of ‘working out’ without the aspects of spirituality founded in Eastern Vedic theology and Yoga philosophy.

People understand Yoga in terms of a practical discipline that keeps our physical motors running in good condition through the techniques Yoga prescribes to its practitioner. In the west, people viewed it as a physical and mental exercise. And the Christian communities welcomed it in pursuit of physical well-being. The common notion of Yoga among Christian believers is that a form of workout which includes stretching limbs and controlling respiration through different body postures.

SCOPE OF THE STUDY

Before assessing whether Yoga can serve Christians without forging its core objectives, we should discuss its fundamental principles. The meaning and origin of Yoga, its potential adverse influence on our lives, and its adaptation and adoption throughout the ages in Hindu Philosophy are the critical areas of study that we need to pay attention afore we embrace the Yoga system.

YOGA IN ITS ORIGIN AND MEANING

Hindus acknowledge that the god Shankara or Mahādeva is the originator. As Hindu mythology claims, Shankara expounded on the knowledge of Yoga and imparted this knowledge to Dattátraya, a great sage.[1] Another version of the story mentions Shankara revealing the yogic knowledge—the greatest of all science—to his goddess wife, Pārwati, for the holistic purpose of easing human pain and suffering.[2] Later, the Upanishads—the Vedic texts—also widely recognize Yoga in their teachings. The word Upanishad, as Mikel Burley states, means ‘secret teaching’ or ‘esoteric doctrine’ that seeks to explain the spiritual philosophy of Vedas.[3] We should not overlook the admittance of Yoga in the Vedic texts while studying Yoga. When we investigate the Vedas, they classify Yoga explicitly in the Upanishads and gave higher respect.

Yoga originated from the Sanskrit root Yuj, which in its literal sense means ‘joins’ or ‘unites’.[4] The word ‘Yoga’ now means union or joining with matter or substance. In general, Yoga is the union between the human soul and the Purusha, the Supreme Soul.[5] The V.S. Apte’s The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary offers various meanings of Yoga as ‘joining, union, contact, fitness, an endeavor, fixing, devotion,’ etc., etc. According to Tookaram Tatya, Yoga is synonymous with “junction, meeting, conjunction, connection, etc.” that engages to unite the human soul with the Supreme Spirit, or the Para Brahma.[6] He is ‘the Absolute’ with whom we are to unite ourselves after waking from the deep spiritual slumber through Yoga.

In contrast to the popular definition of Yoga, Patañjali, the founder of the Yoga system also authored the basic text, the Yoga Sūtra, treats yoga as “Concentration.” It is “the hindering of modification of the thinking principle.” With this thinking principle,” it suppresses one’s way of understanding the universe or human nature. For Patañjali, “Yoga is a methodical effort to meet perfection, through the control of the different elements of human nature, physical and psychical.” A Yogi awakens their psychic awareness through gaining full control of thinking principle conscientiously or methodically. The perfection toward Yoga requires the practitioners to be single-minded by controlling the disintegrated and disorganized thoughts and images through mental processes. The end goal of “stretching” or “getting in shape” has to do with seeking perfection through the aid a system. There is more to Yoga than meets the eyes. The biblical way of seeking perfection lies outside what Yoga prescribes to its adherents.
We have a conflict between the Christian teaching of ‘original sin’ and the need for a Savior. Yoga assumes humans are capable of perfection on their own. They have an innate ability to liberate themselves from the worldliness by reigning their thoughts and actions. The very outset of Yoga starts by denouncing the fallen human nature. It removes the need of God in pursuit of perfection through a methodological approach. Finally, it believes humankind’s efforts can measure up to the Supreme Being’s requirements for the union. In other words, the above statements dispel the fall in the world. A human person is a perfect creature. They can make things work in the world by controlling and reining their own nature.

Monier Williams construes Patañjali’s ‘methodical effort to meet perfection’ act as the fixation or concentration of the mind in abstract meditation to prevent the modifications of the thinking principle.[7] It is, so, a mode of constraining the mind from modifying by overpowering desires through spiritual exercise. But for Christians, the ethical issue of whether Christians can practice lies in the deep surface of its definition. Is it possible for a Christian who adheres to Yoga to achieve an empirical mind that is perfect and not tainted by sin apart from a deeper relationship with Christ?

Speaking of Yoga, the two principal parts—Hatha and Raja Yoga – are noteworthy to mention. These two are the most influential forms of Yoga that are saturating the churches. The former Yoga is the epitome of all other forms of Yoga, and also the most widespread and most accepted in every culture. Most people consider only Hatha Yoga more than other existing forms of Yoga when they conceive Yoga. Having said about Hatha Yoga, Svātmārāma standardized it for Yogis[8] to obtain salvation, just as Patañjali systematized the six schools of Yoga. Hatha means “to stick fast, to be devoted, and to hold closely or firmly.”[9] Though Hatha Yoga is a part of soteriology in Hindu philosophy, they usually relate it to physical postures and techniques that apply to physical and mental relaxation. Burley argues that Hatha Yoga offers far more than just physical fitness and mental stress management.[10] Since it has the soteriological aspect, attributing only physical and mental relaxation to Hatha Yoga is far from a perversion of its objectives; hence, unjust to treat it in such a way. Herbert Stroup suggests “Hatha Yoga as salvation through physical culture or exercise,” where Ha refers to the sun and Tha refers to the moon. “The sun and the moon symbolize the two principles that are clear in every human being.”[11] Thence, Hatha Yoga is a dualistic system. It endeavors to cultivate qualities like determination, single-mindedness, and perseverance, not only to support physical well-being but also to channel the human mind to achieve the soteriological principal objectives.

YOGA- COUNTERFEIT SPIRITUALITY IN WELLNESS

As we look at Yoga as a whole, we can now find the root, practices, motivation, and objectives of Yoga. The very object of the Yoga system is salvaging the human soul—freeing the soul from the miseries of rebirth—and enabling man to reach the highest spiritual development.[12] The dualistic conception of Yoga tries to harmonize the soul with the spirit. This state is the pure form of Yoga and has the potential to own a vast array of knowledge and spiritual power. The careful study of Patañjali’s Yoga Sutra can be an eye-opening event for serious Christian believers who are into Yoga. Patañjali lays the basic requirement for a Yogi to attain Yoga through the Ishwara Pranidhāna, or worship of God.[13] Later, the Yogi is to cultivate Sraddhā, or faith in Yoga. The compulsion of Sraddhā generates Vairāgya or undesirableness[14]—cessation of the mind—which is the preliminary preparation for a man to practice Yoga. Yogi must go through purificatory routines as well to begin Yoga. Thence, the admission processes of becoming a Yogi gradually moves toward first removing God of the Bible from the scene.

Our soul is competent to achieve ‘discriminative knowledge’[15] a perfect wisdom. This somewhat higher form of knowledge leads to liberation. The soul has “qualities of omniscience and omnipotence, and the object of Yoga is to develop them fully.”[16] The author is saying that the human soul has unlimited power and infinite knowledge. A man can return to this state of ‘Self-realization’ through the virtues of Yoga which liberates a man. Now we need to answer this very question of whether the Bible stands on this line. We need to ask sincerely whether humans have omnipotent and omniscient “Gunas” or qualities that are parallel to the divine nature of God. When we believe ourselves to be omnipotent and omniscient, we no longer need God. Now, we are God.

The motif of Yoga is to encourage Yogis to identify the Supreme Being by using their own sense organs. By focusing on their own sense organs, they progress from their internal sense perception to external visible material objects. “He should so completely associate them with the Being they show that he, at last, finds himself mentally in the presence of that Being.”[17] As Pranayāma, one stage of perfecting Yoga, suggests Yogi mutter the names and attributes of the Deity. Here, many Christians defend they do not mutter any names and attributes of any deity when practicing Yoga. How can a Christian concentrate on his own sense organ and identify himself with the Supreme Being or the Lord God? Some claim that they, instead of concentrating on their sense organs, concentrate on the Word of God or the Holy Spirit. Has the Bible referred to focusing on something in and out of the self and identifying the self with God? If someone concentrates on the Word of God, then the question is if Yoga is a necessary medium to reach out to God for an interpersonal relationship with him!

Other aspects of the Yoga Sutra, which describes the dualistic processes of uniting Yogi’s soul to the Brahma, violates the First and the Second Commandments of the Law. Patañjali writes a Yogi can detach themselves from the world and be free. Also, a Yogi becomes a master of himself or the universe by completing the grand cycle of psychic evolution through Yoga. “Thenceforth neither matter, time, nor space can obstruct his quest after the highest knowledge. He knows Brahma—he is Brahma.”[18] When he or she knows Brahma, they are identifying themselves with the divine. To put it bluntly, they claim to be divine. Now, I wonder how a Christian practices Yoga by divorcing the principles and objectives which make Yoga, the Yoga! When the matter of physical exercise turns into the act of worshiping a god of our imagination, worshiping a false god, or worshiping the True God falsely, negative spiritual consequences ought not to be miscalculated. If we investigate the highest state of Yoga as Patañjali has discussed in his Sutra, Christians should turn away from this state to prevent syncretized mystical elements in Christianity. One ought to know where he or she is being led by Yoga while practicing it. We have a clear view thanks to the following statement:

The state of emancipation before the soul is actually re-absorbed into the Supreme Being is the highest state of yoga. The body still exists, and of course, the soul exists within it. Its connection, however, with the body is supposed to be entirely broken. And the soul can consequently quit and re-enter the body, and ramble about where and as it likes. In this condition, it is supposed to attain the remaining eight transcendental powers.[19]

Where do we draw a distinctive line to prevent the elements of the Yoga Sutra from synching into Christianity? Perhaps, one may argue that we can still involve in Yoga so long that we avoid these elements, such as muttering the names and attributes of Deity or focusing on the sun, moon, or something else. They may even go further to vindicate their practice, asserting that their pure motivation is to apply Yoga as means of exercise. Or they may claim they do not move towards “the union of their soul” with the Supreme Spirit. A person with such apologia (defense) must answer how they can deny themselves from becoming Brahma while they allegedly fix their thoughts or concentrate or meditate on God, the Word of God, or the Holy Spirit.

The Yoga practitioner (subject) identifies with the object—the thing he or she considers being the point of his or her reference to focus on the Yoga system. This makes the practitioners identify with Yahweh if their focal point is Yahweh. What blasphemy! In the same way, they could be a rock, elephant, ant, etc., if these are the focus points in their Yoga. This violates a person as an image-bearer of God. All the processes and practices do not seem damaging to us just from the outward look. We assessed Yoga as the human health-oriented glitter that promises to help us maintain our physical and mental health. But every element has a deep spiritual root in the Hindu philosophy. There is a risk for anyone from different faiths other than Hindu and Buddhist to slip into this counterfeit spirituality.

Finally, we investigate the hidden agenda of Yoga. It has prevailed in corrupting Christian minds by portraying itself as exercise with body postures. But the truth is far from what it tells us. The first chapter of the Pātāñjali’s Yoga Aphorisms reveals its substantive application:

Abhyāsa, the application of the mental acquirements of Sraddhā, etc., and Vairāgya, the consequent cessation of the mind from objects of distraction, lead to the extinction of all our mental states and of final release. When a man is well developed, he may rest contented with his mental actions alone, in his Abhyāsa and Vairāgya, in his Dhāranā (concentration), Dhyāna (meditation), and Samādhi (trance), which may be called the Jyānāyoga.[20]

The message is clear that salvation is available apart from faith in Jesus Christ. To sum up, there is no such being as a personal God other than the Supreme Being. We are gods in slumbers that need to be awakened. Yoga is one way that embodies the truth that we are identical to Purusha. Through Yoga, we can enjoy union with Purusā. The way of salvation is through higher knowledge. Based on what Yoga is, we can conclude there is no such a thing as Christian Yoga. A Christian practicing Yoga does not make it “Christian Yoga.” It also does not change the fact that Yoga remains Yoga regardless of who practices it. In the same manner, we do not ascribe someone consuming the elements used in Eucharist as the Holy Communion. Yoga essentially remains Yoga regardless of whatever prefixes or adjectives one adds to it.

When Yoga begins with creating one’s own god through imagination and worshiping it in one or another mode as it is a prerequisite for admission to the Yoga school, then I doubt if “Christian Yogi” has put his or her undivided faith in the Lord. Yoga requires unswerving devotion from a Yogi and it demands self-restraining from the world or ceasing thinking about the phenomena of the world. It asks the Yogi to focus only on the inner self for perfection. If this is the case, there is no win-win scenario for a “Christian Yogi.” Either God has to vanish from the picture else Christian will not be a Yogi anymore.

SYNOPSIS

Yoga, for me, is incompatible with the Christian faith. When we embrace Yoga, entire elements attached to Yoga also come along with it in a package. Some of them have a connection with sorcery and magic. So, how do we then discern where to draw the line, as they are much interconnected? It is a systemically developed theology and philosophy. Before joining Yoga or learning the Aāsanas or postures, one must ask, with no excuse, why they choose Yoga. What is the motivation for Yoga? We should be careful because what we do in the rhythm of life that we become. If Yoga is only for exercise, where do you divorce the boundary line between Christian ethics and Yoga? We ought not to trade praise and worship of our God with any other false gods.

Ironically, we are loath to meditate and concentrate upon the Word of God. We are haste to label someone as a legalist or a liberal when we see them incorporating bodily postures in praise and worship. Yet, we covet Yoga which is inseparably attached to religious philosophy. We do not ponder over trading off the glory we are to give our God for the certain benefits of Yoga. The counterargument will be that every knowledge is God’s knowledge. There are no qualms about it; however, the question pertaining to the issue will be if Yoga can be redeemed. One cannot separate Yoga from Hinduism and maintain its integrity by separating the two. Consequently, Yoga like an idol cannot be redeemed.

Next, the Bible summons us to fix our thoughts on Jesus. Do we have the same zeal that we have for Yoga to fix our thoughts on Jesus?[21] We become so ready to absorb the teachings of Yoga without giving them a second thought. However, we lack the same enthusiasm to meditate on God’s Word. Are we not deviating from our callings when we choose counterfeit spirituality to a true God? He calls us to keep our eyes on Him and give him undivided mind. Why do we not practice meditation or concentration on the Word of our living God? God is with us and in us (John 17:20-23; cf. Gal 1:15-16; 2:20; 4:19; Eph 3:17; Col 1:27; 2 Cor 13:5; 2 Thess 1:10). We do not have to seek the “real self” or unite ourselves with the Supreme Spirit. The Word should burn out hearts to fix our minds and soul upon him and rest in him because true salvation comes only from him. God himself has united us in Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.

My plea to Christians is to step up on the higher ground and achieve more from the Sovereign God than the world has to offer. This is the true spirituality that can counter any forms of spirituality the world has offered so far. It transcends all knowledge, spirituality, and understating of the world. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9). Jesus is the possessor of the ultimate truth. He is the Truth. He is the Noble. He is the ultimate just and pure and holy. His is the sacrificial love which is admirable. Do we need to find any other attributes elsewhere to meditate? The answer is: NO.


[1] Tookaram Tatya, ed. The Yoga Philosophy: Being the Text of Patanjali, with Bhoja Raja’s Commentary; with Their Translations in English by DR. Ballantyne and Govind Shastri Deva, an Introduction by Col. Olcott and an Appendix. Trans. J. R. Ballantyne and Govinda Shastri Deva. 2nd ed. (Bombay: Subodh-Prakash, 1885), ii. Print. Hereafter The Yoga Philosophy.

[2] Svātmārāma. “Forword.” Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Trans. Hans Ulrich Rieker. (New York: Herder and Herder, 1992), 3.

[3] Mikel Burley. Haṭha-Yoga: Its Context, Theory, and Practice. (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000), 30.

[4] Joseph Padinjarekara, Christ in Ancient Vedas. (Ontario.: Welch Pub., 1991), 187.

[5] John Murdoch. Yoga Sastra: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Examined; with a Notice of Swami Vivekananda’s Yoga Philosophy, 1 ed., (London: Christian Literature Society for India, 1897), 4.

[6] Tatya, The Yoga Philosophy, II.

[7] Murdoch. Yoga Sastra, 4.

[8] Yogis are the adherents and practitioners of Yoga.

[9] Svātmārāma. “Forword.” Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Trans. Hans Ulrich Rieker. (New York: Herder and Herder, 1992), 3.

[10] Mikel Burley. Haṭha-Yoga: Its Context, Theory, and Practice. (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000), 1.

[11] Herbert Stroup, “Philosophy.” Like a Great River: An Introduction to Hinduism. 1st ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 71.

[12] Tatya, The Yoga Philosophy. I.

[13] Surendra Dasgupta, The Study of Patanjali, (Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1920), 166.

[14] Dasgupta, The Study of Patanjali, 131.

[15] Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorism, Book II defines it as the perfect knowledge that springs up in the soul which behooves us to understand it beyond limits.

[16] Tatya, The Yoga Philosophy, XII.

[17] Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorism, XXXIII.

[18] Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorism, VIII.

[19] Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorism, XXXV.

[20] The Study of Patanjali, 135. (Abhyāsa – practice or exercise; Sraddhā – faith; Vairāgya – undesirableness)

[21] Hebrews 3:1

11 thoughts on “Not Such a Thing as Christian Yoga”

  1. Thanks for this post. I especially agree with what you are saying. I have been talking about this subject a lot lately with my father so let’s hope this will get him to see my point of view. Fingers crossed!

    Like

  2. Good website! I reallydo love how it is easy on my eyes as well as the details are well written. I am wondering how I might be notified whenever a new post was been made. I have subscribed to your rss feed which really should do the trick! Have a nice day!

    Like

  3. There are some interesting closing dates on this article however I don’t know if I see all of them heart to heart. There may be some validity however I will take maintain opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we wish extra! Added to FeedBurner as well

    Like

  4. I was very happy to search out this net-site.I needed to thanks to your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely having fun with each little bit of it and I’ve you bookmarked to take a look at new stuff you blog post.

    Like

  5. Quite well written despite the complexity of the subject, you should post more often. Your writting manner is pleasing and the way you handled the subject with grace is worth taking notice.

    Like

    1. Thanks for your encouragement. Once school kicks off, it’s hard to keep up with new posts. However, I’ll keep trying to post something. Or, you may give a shot here. I’ll post it under your name.

      Like

  6. Can I simply say what a aid to seek out somebody who actually is aware of what theyre talking about on the internet. You positively know easy methods to carry a difficulty to mild and make it important. Extra people must learn this and perceive this facet of the story. I cant imagine youre no more widespread since you definitely have the gift.

    Like

  7. We all need to work on ourselves. There are good Christians and ones who are technically Christians but commit violence against women and children. Ids a good article but then it misses the fundamental point that yes we do need to work on ourselves to attain salvation.

    Like

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.