Yoga is a Hindu science that claims to teach people how to unite their soul with the "Supreme Soul", and merge their will with the "Cosmic Will".
The practice of yoga has three main components:
- The physical exercise component,
- The mental meditation component, and
- The verbal chanting component. These three are combined to make yoga what it is.
Let us think of each of these three separately.
1) Physical Exercise:If someone stretches his leg in a certain way, that is neither holy nor evil. No physical exercise can hurt us spiritually just because it has some association with another religion. So we can freely stretch our muscles and body parts even if it was a Hindu (or a Muslim or a Buddhist) who first taught it or popularized it.
When I was playing cricket many years ago, somebody showed me an exercise to stretch my back muscles. It was a very useful exercise, and it helped me play cricket without hurting my back. Several years later, someone told me that that exercise was a yoga exercise. This new information did not force me to stop using that physical exercise.
But if anyone ever feels uneasy about doing physical exercises that are connected with yoga, then even that should be avoided. This could be true especially for those were involved in yoga before coming to a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ, and who might have experienced the spiritual impact of Hindu yogic practices. So while some might see those exercises as just harmless physical stretches, a person's past exposure to the Hinduism within yoga could make it better to avoid yoga altogether and not be led into temptation of their past life.
People not exposed to the Hinduism in yoga may wonder why some Christians are opposed to the practice of yoga. A typical introductory yoga lesson in Western countries may not initially emphasize the spiritual connection. But the deeper you get into yoga, the more you move towards the ultimate purpose behind these exercises. So while even breathing exercises may appear to be innocent initially, these are initial stepping stones within yoga which has the overall aim of "merging the individual will with the Cosmic Will."
2) Meditation: Meditation prescribed within yoga is very different from the meditation that is taught of in the Bible . Yoga teaches people to empty their minds of all thoughts (good and bad) as they meditate. That is not the way a Christian must meditate. The Bible instructs us to meditate on God's Word at all times. So as a Christian, I should not seek to empty my mind. Rather, I must actively seek to FILL my mind with God's Word. Rather than emptying myself of good and bad thoughts, I should fill my mind with the promises of God and especially how much the altogether good God loves me (e.g. Psalm 139:17-18, Isaiah 49:15-16, Jeremiah 31:3-4, Romans 5:8, Romans 8:31-39 , etc.).And as I immerse myself in God's goodness, I then meditate on how I can better obey Him and change my bad habits and thought patternsto properly respond to His great love.
Yoga prescribes a peace that comes from the vacuum of a fully-emptied mind. Jesus Christ offers a very different peace, which comes from the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and filling us with His love ( John 14:26-27, Romans 5:5, Romans 14:17). It is the peace of God that the Christian seeks, not any humanly-attainable peace and rest.
3) Chanting:The verbal chanting within yoga has no place in the devoted Christian. The basic chant within yoga is the word " Om" - which is supposed to be the highest manifestation of God-consciousness in Hinduism. The invoking of Om to relax is NOT a meaningless chant of some random syllable. It is calling upon a god that is not real. Other religions like Hinduism and Buddhism and Jainism prescribe a rest and relaxation through chanting.
Not so for the Christian. We don't even chant the Name of Jesus, because even the Name of Jesus Christ is not a 'mantra'. And we don't find forgiveness or freedom from sin from simply repeating the Lord's Prayer 10 times. In fact, Jesus clearly forbade us from using meaningless repetitions in prayer (Matthew 6:7-8). And why? Because we live with a God who is our Heavenly Father, and it is unimaginable that we communicate with our Father in heaven through repetitive chants. We are freed from all fear and we live with the security of living with God as a loving Heavenly Father, even being able to call Almighty God as our personal Dad ( Romans 8:15-16).
What do I think about group/public yoga classes?
I avoid group/publicyoga classesfor a couple of reasons:
1) These classes are most often led by yoga instructors who have gone deeper with yoga, and subscribe to the underlying yogic philosophy - of seeking to unite their entire being to the cosmic will. So submitting to their instructions will lead me down a path contrary to the mind of Christ.
2) I am aware of the testimony I must maintain as a Christian. There are many Christians who have no knowledge of the connection between yoga and Hinduism, and who may stumble because they see me participating in yoga classes. So I want to be an example to them. 1 Corinthians 8:9 says: "Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak" .
`That said, I don't live under fear. As I said, I am not condemned if a physical stretching exercise has a connection with yoga. I feel free to use them for my own private benefit, without any fear of negative spiritual impact or spiritual oppression.
Finally, I see a spiritual principle in 1 Corinthians 8 that is applicable here, where Paul was dealing with two groups of people: One who felt that it was absolutely sinful to eat meat that had been offered to idols, while others had no problem with it. I can fully understand how absolutely abhorrent and sinful it must have been for those who had been used to offering meat to idols, to now feel that they could eat such meat. And yet we know that Paul himself didn't seem to have a problem eating food offered to idols (Romans 14:14).To me, the freedom to hold different and even opposing points of view is my guide to how I have attempted to express my thoughts on yoga and the Christian.
Let me then end with this: We know the mind of the Spirit in all matters by peace in our hearts (Romans 8:6).So let the peace of Christ be the ultimate rule by which you live ( Colossians 3:15).