Does Freedom in Christ Extend Far Enough to Practice Yoga?
I began practicing yoga about seven years ago when my youngest daughter was two. Her dance school offered a yoga class in one of the empty rooms for the moms who waited in the lobby. I jumped at the chance to have an hour to tend to myself, regardless of what we were doing. I was familiar with yoga, my mom had been a yoga instructor for years and had encouraged me to try it, but it was never my thing. My idea of exercise was jumping on a treadmill or lifting weights, not stretching.
It didn’t take long until I was hooked. I couldn’t believe how challenging the class was physically, and the mental break it gave me was just what I needed as a mom of two young girls. Not long after I began practicing, I saw a poster for an event in Dallas called “Jesus at the Core”. It was a two-day fitness event co-hosted by an organization called Holy Yoga. I was intrigued. I never thought about incorporating my faith into my yoga practice. So I signed up, attended, fell in love, and the rest is history as they say. I Seven years later, I am a yoga instructor myself, trained through Holy Yoga, and now the owner of a Christ-centered yoga studio in Frisco, TX called Dwell Yoga.
For me personally, I never considered yoga to be controversial or contradictory to my faith. Perhaps the secular classes that I attended didn’t venture into a deep spiritual side, but for me, I never felt as though I were doing something unnatural or participating in something that Jesus would not want me to do. I was simply moving my body in a way that both strengthened and stretched it while also learning about the power of my breath to calm and focus my thoughts. If anything, it made me appreciate the mystery and complexity of God’s creation – the human body.
It wasn’t until I began my training with Holy Yoga that I learned that yoga is in fact controversial to many Christians. For some, there is fear that practicing yoga is practicing another form of religion, while others believe yoga is synonymous with idol worship. Yoga to me is not owned by any culture or religion, just like the act of prayer is not exclusive to Christianity.
While I am not one to argue (any other Enneagram Type 9's out there?), this is a topic that is dear to my heart and one for which I feel called to share my opinion. It’s not my intention in writing a blog to change someone’s opinion, we are each entitled to our own, but I simply desire to share another side from someone who loves yoga and who also loves Jesus.
I recently lost a client at the studio because her pastor told her she shouldn’t practice yoga because it was evil. My heart was broken to hear this. I wanted to say, does your pastor know that we begin and end each class in prayer to Jesus Christ? Does your pastor know that yoga means to yoke, and in our classes we are yoking our body and our breath and we are yoking our thoughts to Christ? Does your pastor know that we play worship music and we lift our eyes, hearts and hands to the Lord? Does your pastor know that we intentionally posture our bodies as a form of worship - humbly bowing our bodies (humble warrior); lifting our gaze to heaven (mountain); offering our hearts to God (camel); coming to our knees in prayer (child's pose)? What other forms of exercise do this? We serve a God who has the power to take a practice that some deem as evil and instead use it for good, redeeming it for His glory and for those who love Him, don’t we? Don’t we have freedom from rules and regulations through the blood of Christ to love and worship Him in a way that is personal and communicative?
But instead of asking all those questions, I simply shared these thoughts with her and would like to share here if you too wonder if it’s ok to practice yoga.
“Yoga in its simplest form is a way to move the body mindfully with awareness of the breath. Yoga done in a Christ-centered way does this while setting an intention on connecting with the triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is also a way to worship God with our strength, our minds, our spirits and our bodies, as we are called to do in the gospels (Matt 22:37 and Luke 10:27) This however is lacking in the lives of many believers, as they live disconnected from their physical bodies, the very bodies given to us by God to serve as His hands and feet while on this earth. Worship is not limited to an emotional or intellectual experience -it can also be physical. Our being was created to work in totality – body, mind and spirit. It is impossible for one aspect of our being to not affect another. How can we live and walk in wholeness when we are disconnected from the body, the very temple of the Holy Spirit?
For those who believe yoga is a form of idol worship or that it opens the body to dark forces, I would say that our God is bigger and more powerful and able to overcome anything intended to cause us harm. Gen 50:20 reminds us "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." As believers we should also not forget we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, securing our salvation, authenticating ourselves and identifying us as belonging to God. When we approach our practice in a way that invites the Holy Spirit to move in and through us, how can we not believe that God will honor this and overcome any spiritual warfare that may be happening?
Lastly, for some, moving their bodies in a way that gets the heart and lungs pumping is how they communicate with God. For some that is going on a walk or a run, but for others it may be on a yoga mat. Who are we to say that the way someone communicates with God is wrong? Perhaps our desire to move our body, to sweat and to breathe deeply is rooted in a desire to be closer to the God who created it? Our mortal bodies, our flesh and bones, were created by God to desire Him, to respond to Him, to commune with Him. This is worship. It can happen any time, any place, even on a yoga mat.”
Yoga will look different to everyone. I’m not here to say this is how your yoga has to look. But this is how it looks to me, and when I have the pleasure of leading someone through a practice, this is how I teach. If you have been afraid of yoga, may I encourage you to not be afraid. We are called to have courage, not fear. Set your mind on Him. Ask Him to move in and through you as you strengthen, lengthen and breathe space into your body. Ask Him to reveal His truth to you and follow His promptings in this matter, not mine. If you believe His Holy Spirit is directing you away from it, then honor that. But either way, we can all rest in His promise, that as we draw near to Him then He will draw near to us – any time, any place, even on a yoga mat.