Ethics of yoga.

Am I crazy?  Not only did I just sign up to write thousands of words of a novel every day (I’m currently stuck on word 644, by the way), but I just purchased a 20x pass to a Bikram yoga studio for use in the next 60 days.  Yes, Bikram is the type of yoga you do in 105 degree heat. On top of that, I have my first writing group meeting tonight with the lovely Sara, and Eric and I hope to start attending a mid-week church service in the near future.  (As a side note, Sara holds the distinguished position of being the very best “group project” partner I ever worked with in my undergraduate career.  Boy, did we wrangle The Awakening into submission…)

Life slowed for Eric and me, pleasantly, a few months ago, when my summer job from hell ended and at the same time God opened the door for us to visit and grow to love a new body of believers.  Jobless and ministry-less for the time being, I am now part of what I suspect is a tiny minority of people who literally have no regular commitments whatsoever.  Except church on Sunday.   All that is about to change.

The decision to do Yoga is quite timely, as an online debate has been heating up (haha get it? Bikram?…) about whether or not Christians should practice Yoga.  Mark Driscoll’s July 2010 commentary, found here, sparked quite the conversation.  Keep in mind if you watch this or have seen it that Driscoll loves controversy.  If you stop the video ten seconds in you will write him off as a crazy man.  I almost did.  If you watch the whole thing you realize that all he’s saying is that Christians should be careful.  And yes, he could have said it in a much less contentious way.  The Village Church’s Geoff Ashley address the topic in this article in what I think is a much more responsible way.  He is careful to address concerns of parties on both sides of the debate while calming the discussion. Here are my observations, along with some reasons I am fine with doing Yoga myself.

First, my frame of reference, or the basis of my thinking: Many “no-nos” of Christianity today are completely cultural, not Biblical.  This is not to say that Biblical wisdom is not relevant or cannot be applied to situations and ideas not specifically present within its pages; however, it’s worth considering each and every issue both as a unique problem and in light of similar problems. For example, take the different ways smoking and obesity are demonized in Christian culture.  I would argue that smoking by far is popularly considered the “greater sin,” and yet both are perfectly legal methods of neglecting care of the body, Christ’s temple.  Somewhere in our little Christian heads is the idea that “Christians don’t smoke,” and yet how many people would ever say “Joe couldn’t be a Christian; he’s fat”?  In the same way, do we rail against popular topics like Yoga and ignore other avenues of Eastern/pagan/pantheistic influence, from feng shui to Christian mysticism to vegetarianism?

Spiritual maturity, stumbling blocks, and even each person’s yoga experience are all unique, subjective factors in this discussion.  Every yoga studio and every class leader is different; the yoga I have experienced has been very Americanized (and thus de-Hinduized) and very tame in its inclusion of spiritual elements.  Usually there’s been some mention of releasing negative energy and breathing in positive energy, but that’s about it.  I’ve never heard a yoga instructor tell me anything blatantly pagan or pantheistic.  I take the hippie babble with a grain of salt and meditate on my own ideas of “positivity” — such a mild word for the joy that I know is mine through Christ.

Bible.org has a few words on this topic also:

All Eastern forms of meditation stress the need to become detached from the world. There is an emphasis upon losing personhood and individuality and merging with the Cosmic Mind… Detachment is the final goal of Eastern religion. It is an escaping from the miserable wheel of existence… It is merely a method of controlling the brain waves in order to improve your psychological and emotional well-being.

Biblical meditation involves becoming detached from the controlling and hindering influences of the world and attached to the living God through Christ that we might, through faith and transformed values, experience the sufficiency of the Savior and reach out to a hurting world in need of the living Christ.

I hesitate to say definitively that Yoga is not at a all dangerous.  Rather, I would like to say that the vast majority of yoga studios and classes most Americans have access to are so Westernized that they do not pose a major threat to discerning minds. Like Driscoll and Ashley both mentioned (and I agree), there is nothing wrong with assuming mental awareness and a meditative posture toward Christ’s truths and getting some exercise while I’m at it.

Thoughts?

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7 Responses to “Ethics of yoga.”

  1. I think that you can take whatever you want from Yoga. Whether it be a good way to tone up, a way to reflect, or a way to release negative energy. Or all the above! I also believe that a lot of the whole focus on positive and negative energy can be very Christ like in a way that it is really just allowing us to focus on good vs. evil and how we can change our lives and become better people. With that being said, everything in moderation is great motto to live by. Yoga in moderation is a wonderful thing! As well as a little chocolate, a little butter, and vegetables and exercise to fill in all the gaps. The. End.

  2. Funny you posted this, because just a few weeks ago I stumbled on Piper’s sermon that lightly touches on the subject http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/the-gospel-is-not-yoga not sure my own opinion, as Kung Fu would easily fall under the same category as Yoga and if Yoga is condemned Kung fu would be too….it is noteworthy that two pastors I admire and think speak hard truths by the Spirit (Driscoll and Piper) have both spoken against it. Perhaps a 1 Corinthians 8:4-13 issue? But maybe not.

    • Ooh, very interesting Lyds – I hadn’t seen that one, nor the article it responds to. Definitely not a new issue. I wonder why so much controversy right now?

  3. Hey Boo. I’ve been doing Yoga weekly for a couple months. It feels great. I think if you are going into it with a Christian worldview and humble spirit before the Lord it can be a great fitness exercise. There are many positions that require concentration and focus during which I have been reciting scripture to myself either to praise the Lord or simply to pass the incredibly difficult moment in an edifying manner. Physical balance postures require a spiritually and mentally balanced posture.
    Have fun! Auntie

  4. Great post, and I tend to agree with you. One of my fave bloggers wrote about this recently too; she’s becoming a Christian yoga instructor: http://mandysuzannereid.blogspot.com/p/christian-yoga.html.

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