The youth pastor’s wife looked into my eyes and said, “I’ve been practicing yoga for years. I love it!” She is not alone. The practice of yoga and Eastern meditation is on the rise. According to one online commentator, more people engage in New Age and Eastern occult practices than attend all the houses of worship of all faiths combined in all denominations!1 People seek peace and tranquility from the anxiety-driven pressures of modern life and think they can find solace in yoga.
“Yoga is great exercise!” “It’s only stretching.” “It makes me feel calm and peaceful.” Christian churches and colleges have adopted some yoga techniques to become “more in tune with God.” They have cloaked the Eastern beliefs in a garb of Christianity and fail to see anything wrong with merging the two. “Christian yoga,” “Holy Yoga,” and other yoga practices attempt to make it more palatable to Christians. But what are yoga’s roots? Is it in harmony with Christianity? Can a Christian comfortably practice yoga and not be in spiritual conflict?
the root of yoga: Hinduism
According to Dictionary.com, yoga is “a school of Hindu philosophy advocating and prescribing a course of physical and mental disciplines for attaining liberation from the material world and union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle.”2 Hmm. We just read that yoga is a Hindu philosophy. So, to understand yoga, we should inquire about Hinduism and what it teaches.
Hinduism has no single founder. It is more like an ancient way of life that originated between 2500 and 1500 bc. In Hinduism, there are 3.3 million gods. Each can serve as a bridge to the cosmic consciousness, or “Supreme Reality.” The Hindu scriptures mention and praise numerous gods and goddesses. They consider the deities to be pluralistic manifestations of the same concept of their god. Their supreme god is Brahman (meaning the “Absolute” or the “Divine”), but Brahman is an it (more like a god force) and not a personal being. Hindus believe Brahman pervades the entire universe, and its essential nature is present in all living beings. “Brahman is understood as the cause of creation, as well as its preservation, and dissolution, and transformation, all done in a constant, repeating cycle.”3
The concept of the immortal soul is a foundational Hindu concept. In Hinduism, the soul (atman) is considered to be in a constant cycle of reincarnation (samsara) from one creature to another. This process of reincarnation is a never-ending cycle in which the soul is reborn repeatedly according to the law of action and reaction (karma). At death, many Hindus believe a subtle body carries the soul into a new physical body—a human, an animal, or a divine being. For example, according to their belief, your soul may come back in a cow’s or cat’s body when you die. This is one reason why Hindus worship animals. They think that their loved ones or gods may have returned to them in those forms.
In Christianity, salvation comes through the atoning power of Jesus Christ alone. Acts 4:12 declares, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
Christians trust in the merits of Christ and His sacrifice for our sins. In Hinduism, salvation comes from the seemingly never-ending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. To Hindus, salvation is attained through knowledge, devotion, and works.
Any type of yoga that teaches physical postures is considered hatha yoga. This encompasses nearly every kind of yoga class taught in the West. In hatha yoga classes, the practitioner is introduced to basic yoga postures (asanas). These classes are the gateway to deeper Hindu thought and practice. They are the beginning of the evolution of new philosophies and practices that are not in harmony with Christianity. For example, when the practitioner enters the class, the instructor and students bow and greet one another with the term namaste. This means “the divine in me honors the divine in you.” This is an affirmation of pantheism—the concept that all is God and that we are all gods. These classes end with a relaxation pose, including a mantra or chant. The mantras are often the names of Hindu gods or goddesses. Many Christians participating in these classes don’t realize that they call on false gods and break the first commandment.
Hatha yoga seems harmless but is often the doorway to Hinduism. While the postures themselves may seem untethered to underlying beliefs, by entering into these practices, one becomes a part of the yoga world and enters into community with other practitioners. This is where the journey to more profound spiritual encounters and experiences begins. It is the stairway to yoga’s definition and purpose: yoking, or union. With what? With Brahman, the ultimate Hindu deity.
When we practice yoga, we cooperate with a system designed to lead us into yoking with a false god. When we engage in practices that have definitive, established spiritual purposes in Hindu or Eastern religions, we embrace the concepts behind these practices. Consider what the Bible says about our practices in Proverbs 16:3: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” This statement applies to anything or anyone to whom we commit our practices (works). Practices lead to values and beliefs. If we commit our works to Satan, our thoughts will be established toward him. Scientific research substantiates this.
In 2016, a group of psychologists conducted a nationwide research project in the US, in part to determine whether there is a correlation between long-term yoga practice and heightened spirituality.4 Crystal Park and her team discovered that “62 percent of [the study’s] yoga students . . . and 85 percent of teachers . . . changed their primary reason for practice. Their primary motive typically transitioned from ‘exercise and stress relief’ to ‘spirituality.’ Of students reporting a change, spirituality became the primary motive for 24 percent and an additional motive for 48 percent; 50 percent of teachers attested that spirituality became their primary motive, and the remaining 50 percent came to identify spirituality as an additional motive.”5 From this study and many others, we can see that yoga is as much of a spiritual experience as a physical one and that one’s spiritual values change with long-term practice. Beliefs are intentionally or unintentionally transformed through practices.
Can we “Christianize” heathen practices by linguistic substitution? That is the goal of Holy Yoga. Therefore, the “sun salutation” is now labeled the “Son salutation.” The “pranayama, controlled breathing . . . , is reimagined as ‘breathing in the Holy Spirit.’ Namaste is retranslated: ‘The image of God in me honors the image of God in you.’ The mantra Om may be replaced by Shalom.”6
Praise moves, “Christoga,” and Christ-centered yoga are all Christian yoga programs that have substituted Christ and Christian terms for Sanskrit. Does that make it acceptable to God?
Again, to answer that, we must examine the foundation of the practice. A closer look shows that its roots are in Hinduism. So, no matter how much you try to dress it up or relabel it, it is still a heathen practice of pagan origin. Remember, the stated spiritual purpose is union with Brahman, the Hindu god. I like what Corinna Craft, a Pentecostal Christian and former yoga instructor, said about Christians adopting and adapting Hindu practices. She says, “ ‘Practice attracts and engages spirits’ who ‘co-authored’ yoga.”7 She adds that “ ‘authorship implies ownership,’ and ‘ownership implies right of possession and control.’ ”8
The Word of God is specific about the dangers of following pagan styles of worship of other deities. Deuteronomy 12:30, 31 says: “Take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods” (ESV).
Rajiv Malhotra, a Hindu researcher, author, speaker, and contributor to a HuffPost blog, wrote: “While yoga is not a ‘religion’ in the sense that the Abrahamic religions are, it is a well-established spiritual path. Its physical postures are only the tip of an iceberg, beneath which is a distinct metaphysics with profound depth and breadth. Its spiritual benefits are undoubtedly available to anyone regardless of religion. However, the assumptions and consequences of yoga run counter to much of Christianity as understood today. This is why, as a Hindu yoga practitioner and scholar, I agree with the Southern Baptist Seminary President, Albert Mohler, when he speaks of the incompatibility between Christianity and yoga, arguing that ‘the idea that the body is a vehicle for reaching consciousness with the divine’ is fundamentally at odds with Christian teaching.”9
No matter how the Hindu roots of yoga are disguised, its underlying philosophy contradicts fundamental Christian beliefs. Yoga has an established focus and purpose: Union with Brahman, a false god. That alone makes the idea of holy yoga or Christoga an insurmountable contradiction.
We cannot serve two gods. The apostle Paul reminded first-century believers that the Lord’s table was incompatible with the worship of demons. It seems that the essence of his counsel is also true for yoga. “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:21).
Yvonne Shelton is the cofounder and corporate consultant for 3ABN’s Dare to Dream Network. She writes from Illinois.
1. “Bob Larsen vs. Yoga Demons,” Spiritual Freedom Church, streamed live on June 2, 2021, YouTube video, 1:05:47, https://youtu.be/gZjq6iZXYUU.
2. Dictionary.com, s.v. “yoga,” accessed August 29, 2022, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/yoga.
3. Mat McDermott, “12 Things You Need to Know About Hinduism,” Hindu American Foundation, November 30, 2016, https://hinduamerican.org/blog/12-things-you-need-to-know-about-hinduism/.
4. Candy Gunther Brown, “Christian Yoga: Something New Under the Sun/Son?” Church History, November 8, 2018, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/church-history/article/christian-yoga-something-new-under-the-sunson/78FE706E80E4639116CD85D443F89C59.
9. Rajiv Malhotra, “A Hindu View of ‘Christian Yoga,’ ” HuffPost(blog), updated May 25, 2011, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/hindu-view-of0christian-yoga_b_778501.