Is Yoga okay for Christians?
We got an email from a reader:
... Yogananda had me considering that the ancient Hindu scriptures were describing an ageless spiritual Truth that ultimately is the same Truth Christian traditions are pointing to ...Bhakti Yoga reinforces my devotional attitude towards Christ / God – or Krishna (whatever label chosen). The asanas are good for keeping my lower back in place and the breathing / singular concentration good for deeper prayer or union with God ... So – I was wondering if you completely shed the “yogic mantel” ... and have solely dedicated yourself to the path of Christianity or do you see the truth expressed in both... I know from past experienced I can be deluded even when I feel sure about a thing.
Are Catholicism and Yoga mutually exclusive?
Western Catholicism can seem superficial and stiff compared to Yoga. The Church has had many failings, but underneath the surface is Christ in the Eucharist. The Church has a rich history of esoteric thought and mysticism from hermits and monks thoroughout the ages. Jesus knows every spiritual channel (prana) in the human body and how to put it in alignment with our true nature. One of our group followed Swami Satchidananda for 4 years and almost moved to their town called Yogaville to become a sannyasin. He says:
I felt that every path up the spiritual mountain led to the "summit." I did not realize that many paths lead into avalanches and insurmountable cliffs. I have since come to believe that every authentic search for Truth finds its source and summit in Christ.
It is inconsistent to have an authentic conversion experience to Christ, and persistently follow Yoga. The founders of Yoga were seeking truth many centuries before the birth of Christ. So naturally their search was authentic. However, Saint Thomas (the disciple of Jesus known as "doubting Thomas") travelled to Southern India in 50-72 A.D. and was martyred there in service to the Gospel, which is why there are many Indian Christians in the south. We think an individual's search for Truth in another religion is honoured by God if they don't know who Christ is, but the Catholic Church believes an authentic search for Truth always leads towards Christ and his Church.
What about just doing Yoga exercises and ignoring the philosophy?
The purpose of an Asana (position) is to open up emotionally and spiritually as the body relaxes into the posture. The exercises are like a giant funnel guiding the follower toward a spiritually flawed reality. In order for a Christian to maintain his or her identity, he/she would have to stiffen up and try to ignore or resist that pull, and that defeats the purpose of the "relaxation and strengthening" exercises. Every Asana (position) in Yoga has a name associated with its underlying philosophy, or deity. This is a subtle and seductive link into the spiritual side of Yoga, even for those just wanting to do the exercise. During the Pranayama (breathing) and meditation at the end of the class the student is drawn further into the spiritual side of Yoga.
What should we do if we want the benefits of Yoga, in a Christian way
The devil cannot do anything new, he just perverts that which God created. Jesus created a way for you to become incredibly healthy and joyful. Here's how to get the benefits without the risky spiritual journey of Yoga.
- Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed for an hour or two.
- No need for any music. Silence is best.
- Lie on a mat on the floor.
- Surrender totally to Jesus and invite him into your heart, use his name in this prayer.
- Breath deeply and expel the stress of your life, breath out your attachments to problems, work, family issues, etc..
- Let go completely and relax.
- Invite the Holy Spirit to move you however He likes.
- Allow yourself to move however Jesus wants you to move.
- It may take 20 minutes or so before anything begins to happen.
- Don't be concerned if you don't have immediate results. Letting go physically, emotionally and spiritually, and trusting Jesus completely is not something most come by naturallly.
- Within few sessions, you may find yourself moving in ways unfamiliar to you, don't have any preconceptions. Move your arms, legs, head, back etc. in any way you feel led. You may end up sitting or standing or bending or walking... but you may find yourself healing in miraculous ways, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
If the above seems a little esoteric for you, we recommend "core" exercises from the Mayo clinic, which is purely exercise, and not associated with deities, and is not taught in ashrams, and is not a gateway to a dangerous path the way Yoga is. Also, there is a Christian alternative to Yoga called Praise Moves.
Disclaimer: As always, don't do anything that you feel is uncomfortable. This is not medical advice. Consult a physician or psychiatrist for any specific physical or emotional ailment.