Is Yoga For Christians?

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!

How’s that for the gentle and tame Jesus we are allowed to talk about in public? Or what about…

Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.

These are from today’s Gospel reading.

To be a follower of Jesus is to have strife and struggles in this world. It is not going to be an easy, go with the flow kind of life. Sometimes your choices will make people upset or uncomfortable. Sometimes you will have to let go of the seemingly good thing in order to gain the best thing. But as St. Paul says, also in today’s readings,

I consider all things so much rubbish
that I may gain Christ and be found in him.

We have to choose Christ over all other competitors for our affection and loyalty.

[C]hoose this day whom you will serve,…
but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Joshua 24:15

When we first are called to Christ and become Christians, this is just the beginning of our journey–there is a whole lot of growing and conversion still to take place in our lives. What is unknown or unclear to begin with over time may come into focus, with the grace of God.

As a young person, I was always fascinated with world religions, spirituality, and philosophy–I was searching for the Truth. I also was a physically active person, having done gymnastics and cheerleading as a young girl. Naturally, I loved yoga when I was introduced to it. It was, to me, the best combination of all the things I loved–the absolute best physical exercise for health, with spirituality and a social component thrown in. I excelled at it and went on to study and teach it. I did this in my early days of conversion to Catholicism–I didn’t feel there was really a conflict there. I believed, as do many Christians who practice yoga, that one could tailor it to meet one’s needs–block out the Hindu and New Age-ey elements and just participate in the parts you are okay with.

Nowadays, when I get the opportunity to go to the classes, I sometimes feel that perhaps this is not the best place for me to be. The studio I go to (which is really high quality) offers a kind of psychic fair once a year for various energy healers and new-age practitioners to participate and sell their services. It is also sharing a space with some other angel-guide-spiritual-healer lady… Of course, I don’t have to involve myself in this aspect–I can just show up for the excellent physical practice and tune out the occasional chanting the teacher will start or end the class with and also try not to start humming along with the catchy mantras playing on the CD player… My point is that, though I am sensitive to the religious aspects of yoga and try to avoid them, it is really a whole package.

Yoga is a part of the Hindu religion, which is an umbrella religion–everything goes, we are all going up the same mountain, maybe on different sides…it is all ok, enlightenment can come from many places. But my Catholic faith does not teach that. My faith, as I showed above in some passages from our Holy Book, teaches that there is One Way to God, and that is through Jesus, his Son. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. What interaction does the Light have with the Darkness? If I have a mansion, why would I choose to go sleep in the shed out back?

I do not mean to disparage any other faiths. We are all accountable for what we have received. I have received, by the grace of God, the Catholic faith. This is the Truth. If I really believe this, I need to live accordingly. I need to be a Light in this dark world. I need to be salt to flavor this bland and tasteless world. I don’t think I do this best by giving a mixed message and watering down my own faith, making compromises and exposing myself to temptation.

I do love yoga and feel wonderful after attending classes. I think that we are responsible to God for what we have been given. Some Christian folks attend yoga classes and do not feel convicted about going–maybe the classes are more secular and not obviously connected to Hindu/New-age spirituality, maybe God hasn’t shown them yet that it is not where he wants them, maybe they kind of think they maybe shouldn’t do it but have so far been able to ignore that little Voice and justify why they continue to go… That last one would be me.

Thankfully, I am limited in both time and money (Blessed are you poor… :)) I have 4 little children that need me, and I have to prioritize the things I want to spend my time on. It is hard to justify going to yoga 3 or 4 times a week when I already have the membership at the YMCA and we have commitments there like homeschool P.E. Similarly, our funds are sufficient (thanks be to God) but not unlimited–I have to choose how to spend our money in the best way. I have a hard time spending $85 a month to go to these classes when there are so many other needs we have and things we want. All these practical concerns combined with my spiritual qualms has led me to think that practicing yoga is not the best choice for me. Thanks be to God that this choice God wants me to make doesn’t only rely on my sacrifice of something I enjoy and could easily justify, but also on my circumstances–God knows me and what I am capable of.

I share this with you because I know there are some out there that have similar concerns and I thought my perspective might help in someone else’s discernment. I feel that the lines are being drawn dividing the Kingdom of God from the kingdom of the world and it is time for Christians to be the salt and light that the world needs. Neither we nor the world are served by us watering down the message and weakening the resolve of the messengers. May God show us the way forward, and may we live in a way pleasing to him.

Your $0.02