Yoga: a biblical response (Part 4 of 4)

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.

Yoga: a biblical response (Part 1 of 4)

Al Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a man whose biblical wisdom I respect. So it attracted my attention today when he wrote an analysis of yoga with this conclusion:

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. […] Christians who practice yoga are embracing, or at minimum flirting with, a spiritual practice that threatens to transform their own spiritual lives into a “post-Christian, spiritually polyglot” reality.

Now, the reason that Mohler’s article caught my attention is because I’m about a month into the popular P90X workout program. Of the twelve workout DVDs, one of them is titled “Yoga X”, which trainer Tony Horton advocates because “it gives you strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance, plus calmness of mind.” If Mohler’s conclusions are sound, I could not continue to do this workout. I’m okay with that; in fact, I was suspicious of it when I started P90X because of yoga’s origins in Eastern religions that would lead me away from Jesus Christ and a Christian worldview.

But even though I share Mohler’s concern about yoga, I can’t agree with his conclusions. The main weakness in Mohler’s approach to yoga is that he doesn’t turn to the Bible to see how God says we should respond to practices that may be “borrowed” from other religions. Like Zach Nielsen and others whom I see responding to Mohler’s article, I believe that a Christian should approach yoga with more nuance than “don’t do it.”

So here’s the (tentative!) plan: tomorrow we’ll take a look at 1 Corinthians 8–10, in which Paul talks the church in Corinth through a similar controversy. The next day, we’ll see how the principles we learned from Paul’s letter are significant to a Christian’s approach to yoga. Finally, I’ll end with an example—how I plan to respond to this teaching in my own life situation.

I’d love to read your comments on this series if you have insights into the Eastern and Western approaches to yoga or if you have thoughts on how the Bible addresses this important issue. And if you want to insult me for my yoga/yogurt pun, that’s fair too.