Can a Christian Practice Yoga?

Can a Christian Practice Yoga?

Can a Christian Practice Yoga?

Written by John Tomick

May I thank you for voicing your concern and offering me the opportunity to respond to your question regarding how I, as a follower of Jesus Christ, can reconcile practicing yoga with my faith. Because, I know your concern is born out of your love for God, and His Word, and your love for me.

Yoga is first and foremost a spiritual discipline. Or, maybe it is better understood as a collection of spiritual disciplines. You are familiar with spiritual disciplines of engagement such as bible study, scripture memorization, prayer and meditation. The purpose of such practices is to consciously engage our spirits with the Spirit of Christ—that is, with God. When we pray, we offer our concerns, our hopes and our desires to God. When we meditate, we surrender ourselves (our egos) to hear from God. For the Christian, the purpose of practicing these disciplines is threefold: (1) to know God intimately (Psalm 46:10; Psalm 63; and John 17:3), (2) to be renewed, transformed and conformed to His image reflecting His glory (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 4:23-24; and Colossians 3:10), and (3) to be equipped for every good work He has prepared in advance for us to do (2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; and Hebrews 13:20-21). In addition to spiritual disciplines of engagement, as Christians, the bible encourages us to practice disciplines of self-denial such as fasting and abstinence to transcend our physical needs and appetites that we might better focus on engaging with Christ (Colossians 3:5-10; and 1 Corinthians 7:5). You will find parallels to all of these disciplines in the philosophy and practices of the many branches of yoga.

While yoga developed outside a Christian worldview, it began as a meditative pathway for those seeking answers to the fundamental questions that all religions and philosophies attempt to answer: (1) Who is God, or what is the nature of the Divine? (2) Who is Man, or what is the nature of Self? And (3) How do I find liberation or salvation? For the Christian, we find the answers to these questions in God’s Word—the Bible—but knowledge alone does not lead to life and salvation. Life and salvation are found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which can be cultivated in the contemplative practices of yoga. I have found that my yoga practice enhances my ability to quiet both my body and my mind so that I might hear God’s still voice and commune with Him.

In addition to yoga being a meditative practice, it combines physical postures (asanas) and breathing practices (pranayama) as part of a whole-person experience that engages my body as well as my spirit and soul. The Christian faith is an embodied faith. God took on flesh and became a man as the greatest revelation of Himself. Our bodies do not define who we are, but we cannot separate our physical bodies from our being. Our faith is expressed through our actions. It is with our lips and voice that we praise God, we lift our faces, our eyes, and our hands to worship God, and with our hands and feet we serve others in the name of Jesus. God created us with a body and breathed life into it (Genesis 2:7; and Psalm 139:13-14). Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), and it is our Christian responsibility to honor our bodies and to care for them (Ephesians 5:29). The physical postures and breathing practices are not unique to yoga, and there are multiple studies demonstrating the health benefits of a regular yoga practice.

Now, I agree that a Christian must be discerning with regards to the worldview or spiritual teachings associated with a yoga studio or instructor, but the same is true with every activity we may choose to participate in. That includes the local church body we chose to associate with as well as the Christian leaders and teachers we choose to follow. Paul taught us that we have freedom in Christ— that the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking or special observances, and I would add yoga along with a whole host of other activities to Paul’s list which he did not mean to be comprehensive. The principle that “everything is permissible” for the believer still stands. While we have this freedom, we are not to use it to indulge every passion, but to seek what is beneficial, holy and honorable (1 Corinthians 6:12-20 & 10:23-26; Colossians 2:16- 23; and 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). The practice of yoga as with many activities, is not inherently evil, but can be used to honor God, or to seek something outside of God’s Will. It all depends on one’s intention. So, if I set my intention on drawing near to God through my yoga practice (Hebrews 10:22; and James 4:8), if I find physical, spiritual and emotional benefits from practicing yoga, and if I give thanks to God for my yoga practice (Colossians 3:17; and 1 Corinthians 10:30), I am convinced that my yoga practice is not only compatible with my Christian faith, but that God uses it to grow my faith, my mind, and my body that I may enjoy the abundant life Jesus came to give us (John 10:10b). 

Copyright © John Tomick. All rights reserved.

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