Is Yoga/yoga incompatible with Christianity?

Dr. Mohler posted on his blog today his thoughts on Stefanie Syman’s book The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America. When I posted on facebook that I disagreed with both Dr. Mohler and the author of the book, many responded. I have been wanting to write a post on yoga and Christianity and this gives me perfect opportunity. I want to respond in grace to Dr. Mohler’s views as he is gracious to those who disagree with him, but I also want to share what I think on this issue, in my study and practice of it, and what the Bible has to say about it. As a friend said, we need to be vigilant on ideas that might fight against Christianity and the Spirit within us – but at the same time fight against legalism as well. This hopefully is a balance of the two.
The quotes in this post will be from this post found on Dr. Mohler’s blog today. First, to set everyone on the same terms, I pulled up our trusty friends at Merriem-Webster to find out the definition. This is what it said:
1. Yoga: a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation.
2. yoga: a system of exercises for attaining bodily or mental control and well-being.

State first off: I completely agree with the first definition of big Y Yoga and do not practice little y yoga for the purpose of big Y Yoga.

Here are some quotes:
1. “When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga. The contradictions are not few, nor are they peripheral.” I agree with this last statement. I don’t agree with the rest. I think Christians can practice the exercises of yoga with the mind-emptying, Hindu-implicating religious aspects. You can separate the two. Of course Scripture tells us to fill our minds with things of the Spirit, Col 3.1-3 and Phil 4.8 and all through Psalm 119. This is what I like to do when practicing these exercises, or I listen to praise music, or I focus on what I am doing so I don’t fall over.
2. “Syman describes yoga as a varied practice, but she makes clear that yoga cannot be fully extricated from its spiritual roots in Hinduism and Buddhism.” I think you can. How can putting your foot on the inside of the opposite thigh (tree pose) be an evil or cult or false-religion thing? How can stretching out your hips by laying forward in a pigeon pose be evil or anti-God? I think the movements, exercises, or little y yoga is actually good for us because it is allowing our bodies, or my body, to be healthier, to move better.
3. “Yoga beings and ends with an understanding of the body that is, to say the very least, at odds with the Christian understanding. Christians are not called to empty the mind or to see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine. Believers are called to meditate upon the Word of God – an external Word that comes to us by divine revelation – not to meditate by means of incomprehensible syllables.” I agree with Mohler on this point, which I have already stated. I don’t say “ohm” when I am practicing yoga. Most of the time I just think about what I am doing and think about my day or use that time to ponder things that otherwise I may never be still enough to ponder.
4. “The physical is the spiritual in yoga, and the exercises and disciplines of yoga are meant to connect with the divine.” Ok – if I even want to agree with this – God created our bodies. He created them to move. When I practice yoga, and move my body in the ways that God has intended my bodies to be: healthy, mobile, active – then yes, I am using my body as God created me to – to bring Him glory. I can thank Him and praise Him for making my body to move, to be active, to be healthy, so I can do things that will bring glory to the only God of the universe, the great Creator. Why must an unbelieving false religion have hold and rites on this exercises and poses?
5. “While most adherents of yoga avoid the more exotic forms of ritualized sex that is associated with tantric yoga, virtually all forms of yoga involves an emphasis on channeling sexual energy throughout the body as a means of spiritual enlightenment.” Do I need to say that I don’t practice this form of yoga, nor do I believe this is in line with the Word of God because the act of sex is for a married couple, man and woman, and is not meant mostly for self-joy – it is for the joy of the other (1 Cor 7). But, again, this is not the type of yoga I practice. So just because this is wrong, does that mean all yoga is wrong?
6. “Americans have turned yoga into an exercise ritual, a means of focusing attention, and an avenue to longer life and greater health”. Is it wrong to be healthy? No. It is wrong to turn ANYTHING into an idol – yes.
7. “The bare fact is that yoga is a spiritual discipline by which the adherent is trained to use the body as a vehicle for achieving consciousness of the divine. Christians are called to look to Christ for all that we need and to obey Christ through obeying His Word. We are not called to escape the consciousness of this world by achieving an elevated state of consciousness, but to follow Christ in the way of faithfulness.” I completely agree with Mohler. But I don’t practice yoga poses to make me more acceptable to Christ. His blood bought my salvation and redeemed my life. I can freely choose to do yoga because of the freedom Christ has given me. There is nothing evil in the poses themselves. What we do with our minds and hearts while practicing these poses (or running, doing aerobics, walking, swimming, biking, hiking, surfing, etc) is important.
8. “There is nothing wrong with physical exercise, and yoga positions in themselves are not the main issue. But these positions are teaching postures with a spiritual purpose. Consider this – if you have to meditate intensely in order to achieve or to maintain a physical posture, it is no longer merely a physical posture.” Agree then disagree then disagree again. So, if a person concentrates on running, or on swimming in a lane in an olympic-sized pool, or focuses to not fall of a 4 inch balance beam – these aren’t merely physical? Yes, they are. So are yoga poses – even if I have to concentrate on them to stick them for a minute.
9. “The embrace of yoga is a symptom of our postmodern spiritual confusion.” I completely agree with this – especially in light of some of the more famous people who practice Yoga and believe the religious implications with it. Can’t we have a voice in this otherwise secular and false-religion practice?

If I truly thought that practicing the exercises in yoga was hindering my walk with Christ, I would stop. But, I do yoga poses for the same reason I hike, bike, run or walk or lift weights: to make my body better. This is something the church seldom touches on, because we live with such obesity and gluttony and laziness. But, I don’t think there is a need to knock out these exercises.
Two words in closing:
1. If you are in a predominately Hindu culture, seeking to live out Christ, no, I would not recommend practicing yoga, even the poses, because of what it might convey to the folks you are trying to reach with the gospel.
2. This, just like many other issues in Scripture that aren’t blatant black or white, comes down to Christian liberty and the “weaker-brother” principle. So…here is my personal conclusion. I can practice this in my own home and not announce it on facebook. My roommate is not bothered by my practicing these yoga moves. I can practice it with one or two others who know my stance on the subject and don’t have a problem with it. Should I go to a studio and practice it, no…because I do not know who I might offend, or who I might lead to believe that I am practicing Big Y Yoga.
Here are some folks in AZ who have pointed us toward Christ while exercising and doing yoga poses.

About kimddavidson

I am bought with the blood of Christ and being graced every day to know Him more. I am a writer. Love to read, run, hang out, watch movies, cook, bake, work hard/play harder. God is so abundantly good to me.
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25 Responses to Is Yoga/yoga incompatible with Christianity?

  1. Erin says:

    Agree with everything you said 100% !

  2. Dennis Johnstone says:

    We do indeed have to be on guard for anything that is subversive to The Truth – and equally on guard for any creeping legalism.

    Yoga, for virtually everyone I know, Christian or not, is simply a great set of exercises.
    Most of them are remarkably similar to stretches I’ve done for martial arts, wrestling, track, football, etc.
    Give it an animal name and now I’m practicing a religion? Hardly.
    They simply do not get to claim all the cool moves.

    The history of the religious practice, however, is good to know. Got it. Check.
    We’re strictly focused on the physical part.

    As with most everything, Christianity is concerned with your knowledge, your heart, and your motivation/intent.
    We know who we are, whom we serve, and what we’re doing.
    If it prompts a curious question from a seeker, then bring it on.
    What a great lead in to share the Gospel.

    • kimddavidson says:

      Thank you for that. Also put in some of that in the edited copy today. Thanks for talking through some of this weeks ago and helping me continue to formulate thoughts. I will also look at the website you sent me.

  3. Great post Kim! I sometimes get frustrated with the criticism of how some of us choose to exercise, especially in light of the gluttony and obesity problems that you mentioned. But it’s great to have these discussions! 🙂

  4. Melissa Munger says:


    This is a very well thought through argument. I would have to agree with you on this. I have done yoga on the Wii and I’m definitely focusing ONLY on making sure I’m physically doing everything correctly and I’m not going to fall of the board. I honestly saw them only as stretching exercises and a lot of times they can improve core control. You’re right, why is yoga (when practiced merely for the physical) any different then any other physical discipline? Would they feel any less convicted if we called it “intense stretching” and not yoga?

    I do believe that people with good intentions can blindly fall into legalism on this issue.

  5. Purcell says:

    It has been an observation of mine to see how world religions have incorporated mind, body, and spirit into all aspects of life. In Japan religious belief will affect the building of structures to the arrangments in offices, yet in North America we have taught the separation of church and state to the point that we live dichotomous lives. We separate our beliefs from all aspects of life (faith vs. s0-called-reality). It is good to participate in a dialogue of how our beliefs can assist in a more fulfilled life in the spiritual, emotional, and physical realm.

  6. Loved the article — I agree with you — it’s a mindset thing.

    I just started doing yoga poses b/c I saw some in Women’s Health mag that I could do! (I have the flexibility of a steel rod.)

    I can’t focus on breathing right, so I hold each pose for as long as it takes me to say the “Our Father” prayer. It really takes focus. Sometimes I mentally scream FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES as I’m struggling to keep from giving up.

    I wouldn’t go to a studio — why pay to do something I can do for free in my living room?

    Maybe you should start a Christian yoga class!

  7. Davia says:

    Interesting timing, since I just finished the book “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. She goes from an encounter with the Lord during the ending of her marriage, to the practice of Yoga as her spiritual walk. Instead of focusing on the Lord, she goes with the more acceptable practice of Yoga. From what I can tell, it was more in line with her humanistic ideals. So sad.
    I understand, from just this one example, why you would be worried about letting others’ know about your practice of yoga. But, if you are worried about the response of others, and how it will effect your witness, should you be practicing? This is coming from a woman who did yoga during high school and then when I was pregnant with Joseph. I LOVE yoga, even the meditation which is a great time to focus on our walk with the Lord.
    Also, be careful about the talk of obesity and gluttony. Sometimes, when your husband is gone twelve hours a day, and you are a full-time mother, you don’t have the mental or physical reserves to get yourself back into shape. Trust me, I wish I did!!!

    • kimddavidson says:

      Hey Dave.
      On the weaker brother point – I don’t have to announce to the world everything I do, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do – just not in front of the weaker brother. I think that is biblical.
      On the obesity/gluttony aspect – that is a huge area of sin in our churches (especially SBC) that is not dealt with for the most part. I wish it was. Perhaps our congregations would be different (note I didn’t say look different, though that would be a by-product).

      • Davia says:

        On the weaker brother-you and I are in such different places on this point. I am no longer in the ministry, and have a much smaller sphere of influence. You have been in continual ministry for the last ten+ years. I am not saying that I tell everyone everything that I do. Mostly because I just don’t want to deal with the argument that will follow. BUT, if I find myself unable to reveal something about my life, I do consider it cause for reflection. Which, obviously you HAVE reflected, and I am sure these last few blogs/posts have been part of your reflection process. Like I said, I love yoga…it’s great. But I so see their points. Especially today where eastern religions are being some much more acceptable, and are being embraced by so many more people.

        For the obesity-I agree. In both our denominations, eating is pretty much a central theme. My comment came from being a large woman, from a family of larrge women, who is struggling with weight. My diet has changed dramatically since my twenties. Fiber, whole grains, brown rice, lower sugar and processed food…you would actually be proud of MOST of my dieting choices….the one thing I need to change is my activity level. But, the question is priority.
        The flip side of obesity that needs to be addressed is the undereating of the youth today. When we were kids, a size six was SKINNY. Now, it’s fat. When did a can of diet coke and a plate of lettuce become a meal? You don’t live that way. Thank goodness…I’d have to go over there and kick your butt. But, this is a problem I hope you do address, and would love to hear you address it more on your blogs.

        sorry it’s so long. 🙂

      • kimddavidson says:

        You can be as long as you wanna be. Our discussions are always insightful, whether we always agree or not! 🙂

      • kimddavidson says:

        And I do agree with the the last part about a size 6! 🙂

  8. Kathy Lombardo says:

    Some very random thoughts that are probably not as well organized as yours were.

    When you initially posted on facebook about yoga we had a quick, interesting dialog. During this, I shared that I had previously practiced yoga but that it was during a time of my life when I was also practicing a religion that is contrary to Christ and heavily incorporates yoga and meditation. In the days, and weeks, since our conversation I’ve spent considerable time re-evaluating my perspective on yoga, meditation in general, and the Christian life. You can imagine my “shock”, then, when I read Dr. Mohler’s article yesterday.

    Over the past weeks I’ve come to the following conclusion about yoga and the Christian life: Yoga, like anything else, can become an idol or method of false worship. Whenever we devote part of our being (heart, mind, soul, body) to something for a gain other than the glorification of Christ it has become an idol. Unfortunately the word “yoga” has been attached to philosophies and religions that are contrary to Christ and has given a bad reputation to all those that practice yoga. It is no different than saying that all people who read the bible are Christians. Obviously we know that this is not the case.
    One of the quotes you included in your blog was one that I took great exception to, “if you have to meditate intensely in order to achieve or to maintain a physical posture, it is no longer merely a physical posture”…I wonder if he would then tell Tim Tebow (or any professional athlete) that the years he spent perfecting his passes was in disaccordance (is that even a word) to Christ? I think of the fact that the seminary I attend is (often) given the reptuation of being the “Harvard of seminaries.” Does this mean that when I spend hours exegeting a text for my New Testament class, it is no longer merely an intelletual pursuit?

    Anything can be an idol. Sports. Reading. Studying. Excercising. Food. Evangelism. Missions. The list goes on and on. The point is not what our focus and intent is when pursuing these things. There was a time in my life when the practice of yoga kept me from walking with Christ. But I am a new creation…and yoga is now something that draws me closer to Christ as I meditate on his creation.

    • kimddavidson says:

      Right on K. Thank you for your personal story/insight into this. And I definitely agree with the second half as well. 🙂 Can we go have lunch sometime at Cycler’s? 🙂 Just kidding, though I wish it was possible.

  9. Thanks for thinking this topic through, Kim. My doctor recently told me to pursue a workout routine of walking and yoga. I’ve been a bit concerned about the spiritual aspects of yoga and doing it, but have discussed doing the poses while praying or listening to worship music. It’s helpful to read your perspective on it all and to know that it can be done – yoga and worship simultaneously!

    • kimddavidson says:

      You have to really think through – everyone does it. It is one of those areas that may take some hard thinking for people. Hope you are doing well. Thanks for reading the blog!

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  11. lara says:

    Just read this post. Thanks for your insight, Kim. So much to grapple with in this culture of distortion in which we live. Keep on, sister-friend. You are a light.

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