Friday, 18 February 2011
Yoga is extremely popular in the fitness world, and many wonder if it has a place in Christian Fitness. Is there such a thing as "Christian yoga" or a "Christian alternative to yoga?" While many know that yoga originated in India, few realize it is part of the Hindu religion.
Those who think yoga is little more than a series of stress-relieving stretching exercises may be surprised to learn about true foundation of the multi-billion dollar yoga craze in North America.
According to Webster's New World Dictionary, yoga (coming from an east Indian Sanskrit word which means "union with god" or "to yoke") is "a mystic and ascetic Hindu discipline for achieving union with the supreme spirit through meditation, prescribed postures, controlled breathing, etc."
As a child growing up on Long Island, I became involved with yoga at the age of seven when my mother and I began watching a daily yoga exercise program on television (thinking it was "just exercise"). For the next 22 years I was heavily involved with yoga, metaphysics and the New Age movement until I became a follower of Jesus Christ in my late 20s.
George P. Alexander, Ph.D., who taught World Religions at Biola University, is a friend of our family. Born in Sri Lanka, George grew up in India, the birthplace of Hinduism and yoga. He told us that yoga postures are actually offerings to the 330 million Hindu gods.
"Many Westerners who practice yoga today are unaware that the physical positions assumed in yoga symbolize a spiritual act: worshiping one of the many Hindu gods," Dr. Alexander said. "To a Hindu, yoga is the outward physical expression of a deep spiritual belief. You cannot separate one from the other."
Since yoga is tied so strongly to Hinduism, can there be such a thing as "Christian yoga," or would that be an oxymoron (a contradiction in terms)? Many practicing Hindus as well as Christians agree that since yoga IS Hinduism, the two cannot be combined.
Are there other ways to bring flexibility training into a Christian's fitness program without doing yoga? Yes! There are plain vanilla stretching courses as well as Christian alternatives to yoga which incorporate stretching exercises with Scripture. Practitioners meditate upon Scripture or speak verses aloud which correspond with each stretching posture. For example, in PraiseMoves, the Christian alternative to yoga recommended by a number of Christian physicians, chiropractors, pastors and apologists, "The Angel" posture is accompanied by Psalm 91:11, "For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways."
As Dr. Alexander told us, "My question for Christians who practice yoga is, 'Why would you want to better your body by aligning with a religious philosophy that contradicts the Christian faith?'" Good question.
What are your thoughts on Christians and yoga? If you practice yoga as a Christian, what do you think about its origins? Do you practice a Christian alternative to yoga?