Friday, September 6, 2013

Why Yoga and Christianity Are Compatible

 This post is based upon my upon and my experiences.  The Catholic Church has no official teaching about yoga and you can find Church authorities (priests, bishops, lay theologians, etc.) who fall on both sides of the issue.  

There is only one God.  
The main reason I hear stated as to why Christians should not engage in yoga is that it originated as worship to Hindu gods.  True as that may be, those gods do not exist.  There is only one god, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  How can I worship Gods that I do not believe exist?

Intention matters.
No yoga class I have attended mentioned religion or worship.  There were some very vague mentions of spirituality, but nothing that couldn't be used to refer to the Christian God or that was inconsistent with Christian worship.  I am sure that there are yoga classes and teachers that refer to Hinduism, Buddhism, or make questionable religious comments.  By all means, Christians should avoid those classes.  But if you remove Eastern religion from yoga, all you have left is an exercise.  I imagine that some forms of modern dance, ballet for example, may have particular moves that are similar to ones done in ancient pagan rituals.  And certain foods might have been eaten as part of various religious practices.  Stripped of their intent, these are bnot inherent evil. 

Your body is a temple.
God expects us to care of the bodies he gave us.  If we are in pain and there are specific movements or stretches that can help relieve that pain, I can't imagine He would be opposed as long as our intentions are pure.  After all, He created our bodies and the many ways in which they can move.  Some studies have found yoga more effective than painkillers in treating back pain.  I see movement, including the movements involved in yoga, as a natural way God gave us to take care of our bodies.

What's in a name?
Many yoga "postures" are not unique to yoga.  Throughout my life, in various P.E. and exercise classes, I've started and ended class doing stretches - stretching my hands to the sky, touching my toes, the "butterfly stretch", a sitting back twist, "hurdler's stretch".  These are some of the exact same movements done in yoga, developed separate from yoga and with a different name.  Why, when we use the Hindi names and put them within a "yoga" class, do these stretches suddenly become questionable?  If the names bother you, rename downward facing dog "tunnel" or tree" pose can become "one-legged balance" (although I hardly think there is anything harmful about the names as they are).

Throughout the centuries, Christians have taken elements of secular society and changed them to be a reflection of their faith.  They were never completely separated from the culture or the world; if they had been, how would they have been able to change it? When I do yoga, I pray.  Often during those difficult postures which I have to hold for what seems like an hour (but in reality is only 30 seconds), I pray the "Hail Mary" (often several times).  At the end of each yoga class as we lie on the floor and relax after our hard work, I always say an entire decade of the Rosary.  I've also had friends who spend their yoga practice repeating scripture passages that are particularly  important in their current spiritual life.  In fact, there are specific Christian yoga classes that incorporate scripture, contemplation, and Christian prayer with physical movement.  I've joked back and forth with a fellow Catholic yoga practicer about translating the postures into Latin, or doing a "Rosary" with a specific posture assigned to each prayer (which would be verbally prayed at the same time).  

What do you think?  Do you practice yoga?  Do you believe that Christianity and yoga are at odds?  Feel free to disagree with me, but please include your reasoning and, as always, be respectful!


  1. A few years ago, this weird thing called "PraiseMoves" popped up under an Amazon.Com recommendation for me. It was apparently a "Christian" alternative to the "paganism of yoga" and had positions that were re-labeled with Christian words. My response: I'll have some more paganism please.

  2. Totally agree. Had a lovely discussion myself about it. You should read this post about belly dancing. Same idea.

  3. I completely agree. And I love yoga :)

  4. I'm so glad to read this post today! I've been considering signing up for a class with one of my friends, but was hesitant because I've heard mixed reviews from Christians about whether or not it is "ok."

    I think I'll give it a shot. I'm the most inflexible person ever, and I've heard it can help fix that. :)

  5. Thank you--fascinating topic! I have been thinking about this a lot lately, since I used to do yoga a lot, but have found it a little less palatable since I became Catholic. I still do it--it's my favorite kind of exercise--but I find myself cringing at so many of the things the instructors say on my yoga DVDs, and in the meditation portions of classes I've attended.

    To me, the pitfall of yoga as it is now presented to the West is definitely not a danger of worshiping any strange gods except the god of the self. There seems to be a constant assumption (spoken or unspoken) that spiritual graces are something you can achieve by yourself if you can just really get in tune with your body. That you can get everything in your life to go right just by "sending the right kind of positive energy out," stuff like that. I don't know that I would be so worried about this leading people into sin, but it seems to feed into a certain kind of modern superstition. And the flip side of that can be a despairing place, like blaming yourself for not being able to achieve serenity with those imperfect tools.

    I think praying the Hail Mary as you do yoga is an AWESOME idea. I did that once when I felt particularly skeeved out by the direction the class meditation was going. And I got waaay too excited about your suggestions of Latinized yoga and Rosary yoga.... :-)

  6. While I think there is nothing wrong with doing the poses, I would be wary of classes, but only because it is really hard to separate the spiritualism with the act. Sharon Lee Giganti did a lot of talking about it, and she frequently referenced this writing available on the Vatican site. If you do a page search for "yoga" you'll see where they mention it specifically. Interesting read. This is not an encyclical I don't think, just a publication.

  7. I have written about this before. I love it! And I definitely agree. :)

  8. The anti-yoga arguments seem far more Evangelical Protestant than authentically Catholic. That's it's controversial in Catholic circles shows the incredible (and somewhat troubling) influence Evangelical Christianity has had in Catholic circles. The Catholic Church teaches that there are elements of truth in Hinduism, though not the full and complete truth that is contained in the Catholic faith.

    Yoga is an exercise. It has a spiritual side to it, but, as you pointed out, there is no reason why this spiritual side cannot be Catholic.

    Christmas trees, easter eggs, and all sort of other pagan symbols have been "baptized" and made part of Christian celebration. No reason why we can't do this for Yoga, too.

  9. uite a few times and have never come out feeling like it was a religious experience (more of a relaxing workout) or knowing any more about non-Christian religions than when I went in. I'm sure there are classes that focus on the religious aspect, which I'd avoid, but it seems to be really secularized in our culture and really doesn't bother me. Totally agree with James B- we've turned LOTS of pagan things into Christian things, secular things, acceptable things!

  10. I was also going to mention Sharon Lee Giganti. If you go to Catholic Answers Live and search the audio archives with her name, you will hear several shows where she discusses yoga at length. She deals with many of the points you and the comments are making. It is a very interesting series of shows. I would highly encourage you to check them out.

  11. I completely agree. I remember when yoga was first getting trendy years ago and reading articles in the paper in the faith section about being wary of it. I have never been in a class that was anything but exercise, meditation and general spirituality. Recently I have been attending "Christian yoga" at the local Presbyterian church on Saturday mornings. It's free and we just have a Christian vibe going on--a kind of prayerful exercise at the beginning. I feel like yoga can be Christian if you want it to be and that's where you heart is.

  12. I've been wondering about this, and you've offered a quite convincing argument in favor of it. Thanks!


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