Last week a number of articles on the problems with “Holy Yoga” showed up in various blogs I read. I found the resurgence of the topic interesting because it hadn’t been discussed online in quite some time. I figure that people have made New Year’s resolutions regarding physical fitness and they assume yoga will be a good form of exercise.
The secular culture certainly pushes the idea that yoga merely stretches the body. I have little problem with non-Christians buying into that sort of deception, since they’re deceived anyway, but it disturbs me that people who claim to be Bible-believing Christians practice yoga. It disturbs me because yoga, regardless of what its western defenders invariably tell us, is essentially a Hindu practice. But Christians have a responsibility to question that way of thinking (1 John 4:1).
In opposition to those who try to separate the physical aspect of yoga from its Hindu foundation, the Hindu Wisdom website states otherwise:
Yoga is an integral part of the Hindu religion. There is a saying: “There is no Yoga without Hinduism and no Hinduism without Yoga.” The country of origin of Yoga is undoubtedly India, where for many hundreds of years it has been a part of man’s activities directed towards higher spiritual achievements. The Yoga Philosophy is peculiar to the Hindus, and no trace of it is found in any other nation, ancient or modern. It was the fruit of the highest intellectual and spiritual development. The history of Yoga is long and ancient. The earliest Vedic texts, the Brahmanas, bear witness to the existence of ascetic practices (tapas) and the vedic Samhitas contain some references, to ascetics, namely the Munis or Kesins and the Vratyas.
Well, you argue, perhaps this website, being Hindu, operates from a bias of wanting to claim yoga as its own. Before you draw that conclusion, however, please consider the points made by Ramesh Rrao in his article It Is Wrong To Deny Yoga’s Hindu Roots in The Guardian:
Hindus are an accepting lot, and they believe that each should be able to follow whatever spiritual path they chose, according to one’s “ishta” (desire) and “adhikara” (qualifications). And as one scholar elegantly put it, Hinduism itself was “a rolling conference of conceptual spaces, all of them facing all, and all of them requiring all”, enabling it to accommodate everyone in this grand cosmic munificence, label or no label.
Alas, we love to categorise, and lay claim to God, goodness and “truth”, and when those making monopolistic claims to these began to dominate the world and spread the idea of “religion” – branding, marketing and enlarging market share of souls harvested and converted – we found the people of India (the new name for the old Bharatavarsha) began to be labelled “Hindus” (an umbrella term to identify all those who adhered to Indian spiritual/religious traditions, not including Buddhism, Jainism, or Sikhism) and their vast “rolling conference of conceptual spaces” got neatly pigeon-holed as a religion – a religion, very soon marked and demonised as “heathen”, “pagan”, “kafr” and so on.
Thus, when a neophyte yoga student, hanging on to Jesus, anxiously queried: “Is yoga part of Hinduism?”, the savvy marketer claimed that the origins of yoga were lost in myth and mystery and that there “was no indication that it was ever part of an organised religion”, accomplishing two things simultaneously – reifying Hinduism as a “religion” in the sense of “Abrahamic religions”, and denying it as the fount and foundation of yoga.
If Rao is correct, those who practiced yoga prior to the codification of Hinduism contributed to the foundations of Hindu philosophy. With that as the case, we can’t, with any intellectual integrity, escape yoga’s intrinsic relationship to Hinduism. And that intellectual integrity confronts practitioners of “Holy Yoga” with their sin of mingling Christian and pagan worship.
Scripture insists, however, on purity in all areas of life…particularly in how we worship the Lord Jesus Christ. “Holy Yoga” uses the poses that represent various Hindu deities (as Marcia Montenegro notes in her article, Christian Yoga: An Oxymoron), therefore bringing false gods into their worship. The apostle Paul, however, clearly prohibited this sort of incorporation of idolatry into Christianity.
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? ~~1 Corinthians 10:14-22 (ESV)
Make your New Year’s resolution to exercise more, if that’s what you need to do. But if you claim to be a Christian, please don’t contaminate yourself with “Holy Yoga.” The Lord deserves worship that recognizes His purity.