In the pursuit of health and fitness, some Christians have begun to explore the practice of yoga, not understanding the spiritual ramifications involved. Let’s look at the origins of this Eastern custom and its real objective.
The 1970s was a decade that saw enormous changes throughout the Western world. Massive political upheaval, the sexual revolution, developments in art, literature and music that are still influencing us today. At the same time there were seismic shifts in the religious landscape also. Many people were disillusioned with the establishment, including the established church; they rejected Christianity completely (though this was also a period that saw the charismatic revival sweep across the West). Whilst some of those leaving the church abandoned religion altogether, others looked for alternatives – and many alternatives could be found in the East. This was partly fuelled by famous personalities (such as the Beatles) experimenting with Eastern philosophies and religions and partly by a realisation that sex, drugs and rock n roll could not provide fulfilment.
Whilst there is no singular New Age teaching, in general the movement teaches that we are on the verge of a ‘New Age’ of love, peace and enlightenment (The so-called Age of Aquarius). This will be the next stage of human development, but in order to achieve this goal we must rid society of those who would oppose it (i.e. the Christians). We can see then that the New Age movement is not just unchristian but anti-Christian.
Yoga finds its roots in Northern India, reputedly over 5000 years ago. The word itself was first mentioned in the ancient Hindu sacred texts known as The Vedas. These texts contained songs, rituals and mantras to be used by the Brahmans (the Vedic priests). The idea of ritual sacrifice was taken and adapted and internalised, with a teaching developing of the sacrifice of ego through self-knowledge, action (karma yoga) and wisdom (jnana yoga).
Initially yoga consisted of many different ideas and techniques until they were systematised into what is often known as classical yoga which contained the steps to enlightenment – this system from the second century still influences most styles of modern yoga.
A few centuries later, yoga masters added practices designed to rejuvenate the body – in many ways this was a rejection of ancient yoga as it embraced the physical body as a means to achieve enlightenment (rather than a hindrance). Tantra yoga was developed to cleanse the body and mind ‘to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence’. This physical-spiritual connection, with its body centred practices led to the creation of the yoga most people in the West recognise – Hatha yoga.
- The poses. Whilst there is much debate about some of the poses used in modern yoga and where they originate, there is little doubt that originally yoga was a practice of postures dedicated to Hindu gods, in an attempt to gain a spiritual connection with those gods.
- Whilst the bible speaks of the benefits of meditation, two things should be noted. One is that biblical meditation is not an emptying of the mind but of focussing on something, such as the Word of God – Psalm 1 etc. (the Hebrew word for meditation gives the sense of chewing on something until there is no flavour left). Two, if one is going to focus ones thinking, in a form of meditation it should be on something Godly (Philippians 4:8 etc.). The meditation of yoga is certainly not that.
- We are not called to use mantras as Christians. Whilst some would try to tell you that yoga mantras are meaningless sounds this is simply no true:
- Aum (or Om): speaks of creation, preservation and liberation. It is inextricably linked with the Hindu idea of pantheism (God is everything and everything is God).
- Other mantras speak of the divine power of the sun, the god Ganesh, long dead sages, or some vague concept of a cosmic consciousness. These mantras are used to channel energies, connect with the universe, obtain breakthrough etc.
Of course there are medical benefits to regular stretching exercises, to relaxing and doing breathing exercises and to taking time out to meditate. All of these things can be done without involving oneself in a practice such as yoga. As Christians we should look after our bodies and exercise, we should find time for rest and relaxation (indeed God commanded it when he instituted a Sabbath). We should also spend time meditating – perhaps a quiet time each morning would have psychological, physical and emotional benefits as well as spiritual benefits.
For those still tempted to engage in yoga, with the thought that it can’t do any harm, remember that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Also we should heed the words of Paul:
“Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (1 Corinthians 10:14-22 ESV)
One JoshGenner recalls being at an evening Sunday meeting where anyone needing healing was invited to come to the front:
To those who have been involved in yoga (or any New Age or occultic practice) I would urge you to repent and renounce it. It may well be wise to ask for prayer as there are some who by partaking in such practices have opened up a doorway in their lives to demonic influence and may be in need of deliverance. This is not something that should scare us as we have been given authority in Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4) to demolish strongholds in our lives, but it is something we should consider soberly.