In Part 1 of this series, I explained why I’d decided to write about the proper response a Christian should have to yoga. Then, in Part 2, we examined 1 Corinthians 8–10 to find three principles that govern how a Christian should respond to practices that have roots in false religions. These principles are (1) give up your rights, (2) flee from idolatry, and (3) embrace what is good. In Part 3, we considered how to apply this to yoga. I concluded that Western forms of “yoga” in which the goal is physical fitness may be okay, but that we should exercise great caution before participating in them. We should also consider the effect our actions may have on other Christians—we don’t want to encourage them to go against their consciences.
Tonight, I’ll be concluding the series by taking what we’ve learned and applying it to my own life situation. Not everything here will be appropriate for all believers, since we are all different people with different strengths and weaknesses whom God has placed in different communities and churches. I encourage you to use this not as a law to adhere to but as a model to emulate.
Here’s how I plan to apply this three principles in practical, concrete ways. I plan on continuing the P90X yoga program, but I’m not going to mindlessly embrace yoga, even in its Western form.
Principle #1: Give up your rights
I will be cautious about communicating to others that I practice “yoga.” This could be easy to misunderstand. Perhaps someone has in mind meditation and liberation from karma. Perhaps others may think that I approve of yoga in any form. Unless it’s the sort of conversation where I have time to briefly explain my concerns about yoga, it would be better not to bring it up at all.
If, while discussing the issue, I find that the other believer thinks that I am wrong to practice yoga, the first thing I will do is listen to his or her reasons. Perhaps I am in the wrong and need to be corrected. If I believe the other person’s arguments are unbiblical and unconvincing, I will explain why my conscience doesn’t bother me as I continue to participate in yoga exercises. I will also explain that I don’t want to force the other believer to go against his or her conscience in this matter.
Principle #2: Flee from idolatry
If I’m given the opportunity to follow another yoga video, I will be extremely cautious about proceeding. I will watch the video entirely first to make sure that it doesn’t ask me to do anything against my conscience (or whether I can skip those sections of the video if they do come up).
I would be even more careful about yoga classes because of the greater peer pressure; I could feel pressured into doing something that violates my conscience. If I were considering joining a class, I would first speak to the instructor to learn his or her perspective on yoga. If possible, I would observe a session first before signing up. I would communicate to the instructor my viewpoint on yoga and make sure that we come to an understanding before beginning.
If a brother or sister in Christ mentions that he or she is participating in a yoga video or class, I will ask a few questions (without badgering) to find out whether this video or class is appropriate or not. Many believers accept yoga uncritically, but it’s our responsibility to care for one another to ensure that we don’t fall into temptation.
Principle #3: Embrace what is good
As I said, I plan to continue following the P90X yoga video. I will make an effort to be more thankful to God for the opportunity this gives me to improve my strength and flexibility (including the fact that I can now touch my toes for the first time in…well, ever, I think!). If a fellow Christian believes that yoga in all forms are bad, I will attempt to convince him or her otherwise, since I believe that our consciences should be properly trained to rejoice in what is good as well as reject what is evil.
So how do you plan on putting these principles into practice in your life situation? How will you respond to opportunities to practice yoga? How will you respond if fellow Christians either seem too eager to accept it or too eager to condemn it? Where will you turn in God’s Word to develop your viewpoint? No matter what your conclusions are, I’d be excited to hear that you’re thinking through these issues so that you may glorify God to the utmost.
5 thoughts on “Yoga: a biblical response (Part 4 of 4)”
Very good, yea even excellent articles! I only read two of them so my comment may be “old news”. Of all the fitness things one can get into Yoga has a component to it that is quite dangerous. We are a triune being and so whatever is done in one aspect of our being affects the other two parts of our being. This is why we fast, we discipline our body and it strengthens our ability to discipline the soulish and spiritual dimensions of our being.
Many of the eastern religions have physical aspects to them ie. martial arts are based in a “way” and will impact our psyche to some extent. ie. many people if they are not very careful become angry, or at least aggressive and often times proud and distainful. Yoga however trains the body to do many things which are not natural to it and the practice of it, consequently it produces a distorting influence upon the soul.
To understand this deeper, a reading of the anthropology in the writings of the Cappodocian fathers,(1) would be helpful. Also it is much easier to understand with a pre-Augustinian or Eastern Christian understanding of original sin. (that is original sin is an inherited distortion of the image of God within us that needs to be restored. Salvation in this paradigm begins with what Protestants call conversion, and is a lifelong process of restoration by entering into an ever deepening relationship with God . “I do not consider myself to have attained but strive on…” Now is the appointed hour ie. before we become immutable or incorruptible.
From this paradigm it is easier to see that unnatural physical practices are detrimental to our soul and spirit.
This is the same principle which makes faith without works, dead. Our faith must be expressed holistically in our whole being, body soul and spirit.
1. Gregory the great and Basil also Gregory Palamas for a more contemporary writing that embraces the consensus of the churches writings through the centuries see the series on Orthodox Psychotherapy by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos. there is a summary in the 4th book “The Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition” esp Ch. 2 “the illness of the soul”
these links are of some help http://www.orthodox.cn/catechesis/horujy/2_en.htm
Also Vladimir Lossky’s The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church esp. the chapters on “Created being” and “Image and likeness”
Hi Paul, thanks for your comment. Rather than choose Orthodox anthropology and the church fathers as my foundation, I’d prefer to ground myself on the inspired Word of God.
Do you believe that my exegesis of 1 Corinthians 8–10 in Part 2 was sound? If not, why not? If so, in what way did I apply it improperly to the issue of yoga in Part 3?
I have no problem with your exegesis. I thought it was an excellent article. I was just adding that there is (in addition to your points)an especially dangerous aspect to Yoga. As for basing it sola scriptura. The “Orthodox Anthropology” can be found in scripture and is just a clear articulation of the church’s understanding thereof.
This is a side issue to your point but, you probably assume that the Orthodox understanding of Holy Tradition is the same as the Roman church, which it is definitely not. fyi Our understanding of Holy Tradition ie. II Thess 2:15, 3:6, 1 Cor 11:2 (as opposed to the traditions of man) would be what is talked about in 1 Tim 3:15 ie. the church is the pillar and ground of truth(not the Scriptures) and would be for example the basis upon which the Canon* of Scripture was selected. It is not an authority, separate and apart from the Scriptures but the Scriptures are an integral part of that Tradition. It is what is promised in Jn. 16:13 …Spirit of Truth will guide you (pl)ie the church into all truth……. will tell you the things to come. If you want to get rid of the Church as the pillar of truth through which the Holy Spirit continuously reveals his truth through a relationship with the Holy Trinity then you have to get rid of major portions of scripture ie. the first council in Jerusalem.
Being canonical literally means being in line with the rule of faith held by the church. kanonikos
Paul, the Orthodox church makes a grave mistake when it supersedes the divine authority of scriptures with the human authority of the church—which is even more extreme than the sin the Pharisees were committing in Mark 7:1–13. Needless to say, the scriptures you quote are unconvincing because they are not saying what you think they are saying (I don’t have space to elaborate here, unfortunately). Your final sentence in the second paragraph is a straw-man argument; I do not wish to wipe away all authority and revelation through the church but to submit it to the teaching of scripture, as the NT authors and Jesus himself did.
The effect of much Orthodox theology is to nullify the teaching of scripture, as demonstrated in this very conversation. You agree that my exegesis is solid, but then you cite the abstruse anthropology of hand-picked church fathers to undermine what God is teaching you and me through his Word. The parallels with Mark 7 are significant.
Paul, I respect you, and I appreciate your comments. However, we are operating from two very different worldviews, and I am convinced that yours is distorting the truth.