Would it surprise you to know that according to at least one study, 20.4 million Americans practice yoga?[i] Can Christians do yoga? Should Christians do yoga? When my wife approached me with an interest in considering practicing Holy Yoga (Christian yoga) I admit my default position was skepticism. For me, it smacked of the Oprah Winfrey-ization of contemporary American Christianity. I expected it to be seeped in self-help-ism and having the thinnest of Christian veneers.
Others have even stronger objectives: how can yoga, a practice developed first by Hindus, be able to be used by Christians? Isn’t that akin to Christians sacrificing on pagan altars? Stronger still: doesn’t yoga open Christians up to the presence of demonic presences?
Yoga means “to yoke.” In a Hindu context, it is understood that the goal of yoga is to free oneself from attachments to yoke together mind, spirit, and body with the Divine. For Hindus this is accomplished by emptying oneself to become part of the Supreme Consciousness.
Hindu yoga practice believes that the postures in yoga pay homage to open oneself up to spiritual energies (chakra theory). Some believe that Ishvara, who is mentioned in the Yoga Sutras, is a personal god (others argue Ishvara refers to a “special self” or “spiritual self”.[ii] Some argue that the often-repeated “Om” breath in traditional yoga refers to Ishvara.[iii] It is argued is not a “religiously neutral practice that Christianity can be plugged into.”
Some argue that yoga predates its relationship with Hinduism,[iv] but whether or not that is true, it is clear that Hinduism was the ground that yoga grew up in and was propagated. Furthermore, there is no doubt that yoga, as traditionally practiced, is not religiously neutral.