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the yoga debate

In teaching Romans 14, and how we address questionable or disputed matters, I raised the question of yoga.  Is it okay for a Christian to participate in a yoga class?  Now, I need to keep in mind that not all yoga classes are the same, not all have the same emphasis on all the elements of traditional yoga.  This is an important point.   

But I do think the Apostle Paul's teaching on meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8-10) is an example of discerning how to respond to practices that have pagan elements.  

In 1 Corinthians chapters 8 through 10, the Apostle Paul deals at length with the topic of meat sacrificed to idols.  Often the meat and wine sold in Roman markets had been previously offered to a pagan deity at a local temple.  The question came up, can a Christian in good conscience eat such meat?  Here's my summary of Paul's answer, mainly in three principles from chapter 10:

1)  The meat itself remains unchanged by its being offered to an idol or false god.  Such food can still be eaten, because God gives them food for their nourishment and idols have no real existence.  Christians can buy meat at the market and don't have to live in superstitious fear.  (10:25-26)

2)  If however they learn that the meat was sacrificed to a god -- or they're having dinner with neighbors and it is announced that the food before them had been presented to a god -- then for conscience sake (mainly the consciences of those watching) they were to abstain from that meal due to their identification with Christ.  Christians are to live sensitively in regard to the conscience, both of ourselves and of others.  (10:27-29)

3)  They were definitely not to go the local temples and share in idolatrous sacrificial meals at the shrines, for this was to publicly declare that they were eating (i.e., having fellowship) at that god's table and so may actually be coming into demonic contact.   Christians are not to be foolish and live like pagans.  (10:19-22)

So, the question before us regarding the practice of yoga is, under which of the three principles above does yoga fit?

As to 1)... Stretching is an exercise, and exercise is good for the body.  I think everyone would agree with this.  

As to 3)... Yoga practiced as true yoga is a discipline intended to bring the mind and body into a spiritual awareness of oneness with the impersonal ground of being (i.e., that I am God).  If a class is truly a "yoga" class, it is inseparable from the religious worldview and practice of Hinduism.  The mantras used are often names of Hindu gods.  Christians should not partake in such practice.  

As to 2)... Is there a "yoga" possible that is comprised of exercise or stretching only, and that is not associated in some way with the Hindu worldview?  Is it possible to remove these elements?  If a yoga posture is to the body what a mantra is to the mind, then is it possible separate the two? Are the names, positions, and greetings -- even the pursuit of "mindfulness" -- possible without religious or spiritual connotation?   This seems to be the biggest point in the debate between Christians on this topic.   

Here are a few links that might be helpful.  These two articles -- here and here -- would say no, Christians should not be involved with any kind of yoga.

Two that would say it's okay when the Hindu elements are not involved are here and here.   

And finally, I find this interesting: here is an in-house debate on yoga's roots and whether they are religious or not, between Aseem Shukla and Deepak Chopra.

It's up to each of us to study, and be fully convinced in our own mind!  We should know not only what we believe, but why we believe it.    

Here are three resources that offer a great starting place to study Christian ethics:  Baker's Dictionary of Christian Ethics, John Frame's The Doctrine of the Christian Life, and Christian Personal Ethics by Carl F. H. Henry.


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