Today we will discuss Christian yoga, and whether it is an oxymoron or a way to worship.
This topic is often covered from either the perspective of yogis who are certain yoga is OK for Christians, or Christians who say otherwise.
Today, I am attempting to write this from a neutral stance that doesn’t lean onto either side. I have just as many deep and positive experiences from Christianity as I do from yoga.
When I am with Christians, many of them speak against yoga, and when I’m with yogis they don’t understand that Christian mindset. Both sides often misinterpret and don’t truly strive to understand each other.
I will cover the topic from both perspectives.
I will not give you a conclusion – only information so you can get to your own answer. I believe that is the best way to go about it because God knows what is in your heart and I think it is important that you stay true to yourself.
In this article, we’ll talk about:
With an open heart and a curious mind, let’s dive right into it.
What is Christian Yoga?
Christian yoga is a term first coined by a French monk called Jean-Marie Déchanet, who wrote a book called Christian Yoga in the 1950s.
Today, there are options for Christians who want to enjoy the benefits of yoga while still staying true to their faith.
The first quick search online shows several main schools.
The main one and the most written about is Holy Yoga.
The school describes itself as a Christ-centered community, where you are taught two things – practicing yoga and teaching others the gospel.The school is focused just as much on physical practice as it is on spiritual formation.
This is what they say about their practice:
If God is inviting you into Holy Yoga, He is inviting you to cultivate a deeper relationship with Him. (…) If He’s led you here then He has something more for you. Healing. Hope. Rest. Community. A fresh encounter. A new beginning. Whatever it is, say yes. You may not know what is next, just be present for what is now. Join us and let Him do a new thing in you.
They say their yoga is both for those who are new to the practice and those who already have a practice but want to incorporate it into their Christian lifestyle.
They offer online programs as well as in-class sessions. You can find instructors through their “find an instructor” page.
Another similar school that I found is Yoga Faith which offers a program akin to Yin Yoga. They are a Christ-centered school and primarily focus on teacher trainings.
Other than that, I only found individual yoga teachers who have a Christian yoga approach. The most popular are Caroline Williams Yoga and Kelly McLellan from Getting Still. Sarah from Adoration Yoga also has a YouTube channel.
Is Yoga a Religion?
The plain and short answer is no, yoga is not a religion or an organized belief system. You are not required to have any specific faith in order to practice yoga.
I personally met many Christians who practice yoga, and in my own experience, no one ever asked me about my faith in a yoga class.
Yoga doesn’t have an initiation or religious rituals, such as the Baptism or First Communion in Christianity.
However, yoga does have a spiritual aspect. Exercise is the most secular part of it and you can always only practice that part and leave out the philosophy.
However, if you want to explore the system in its depth with all 8 limbs, you will encounter spiritual ideas.
This is where some ideas from Hinduism can come in, such as sattva, rajas, and tamas, the qualities of nature. Yoga also has principles called yamas and niyamas, which aren’t opposing the Law in the Bible, but are perhaps written in a different way.
The Hindu roots are the reason many think yoga is a religion, but you don’t have to adapt your beliefs to exercise. You can use yoga to strengthen your faith, by connecting your mind to body and reaching a state of inner peace, which can elevate your prayer life.
You will also hear yogic salutations like Namaste and the mantra Om, but you do not have to repeat them.
Perhaps the main thing where division arises is in the last limb of yoga, which is enlightenment, or the idea of connecting our consciousness to God.
This principle is called Samadhi, and perhaps it would be a good idea to read more about it to see whether it goes against your beliefs.
Why do Christians Avoid Yoga?
In the previous chapter, I mainly talked about yoga not being a religion, and therefore is not essentially problematic for Christians, particularly if you are doing only the exercises.
Now I will talk about why some Christians are still against it, and why you also might not want to practice yoga – if you resonate with these ideas. I think it’s fair to try and understand both sides to find your own way.
Some Christians think the idea of Christian yoga is an oxymoron because the two paths are impossible to reconcile.
The main reasons, as you could perhaps conclude from the previous chapter are that yoga does have a spiritual aspect and that its roots are in Hinduism.
Some believe even yoga poses are a liturgy in movement, made as an offering to Hindu gods or spirits. In a sense, they believe you are offering your body to these spirits while practicing.
Is that true? Well, some positions are originally named after or inspired by Hindu stories.
Yoga poses are simply moves you can do with your body and which you will encounter in many Western exercises.
Still, the specific yogic names and alignment cues are sometimes related to certain spiritual ideas, such as the Warrior Pose or the Sage Marichi poses.
You will encounter some of the similar shapes in Christian yoga and Christian alternatives to yoga, but the names are different and the shapes will often be adapted.
Still, some Christians believe that is not enough, and that you are basically doing the same thing just calling it differently.
The idea of enlightenment or the union with God, which is hidden in the name yoga – the word means union, is what really bothers many Christians the most. That is understandable, as it seems to oppose the Christian idea of the afterlife.
To add to this, something I personally heard in Christian groups is that in yoga, you are doing things yourself, trying to save yourself, while in Christianity, you are already saved through Jesus Christ.
They are also bothered by the terms mentioned in yoga, like namaste, om, or salutations to the sun.
All of these can be seen as a hommage to Hindu gods. Some Christians believe it is impossible to separate yoga and Hinduism, even in a classic physical class that has no noticeable mention of them.
This is also something you obviously wouldn’t do in a Christian yoga class, which instead promotes the gospel through the classes.
But some still oppose the idea. For example, a pastor and author of the book Confronting the New Age Doug Groothuis says:
“‘Christian yoga’ is an oxymoron. Yoga is rooted in Hinduism and cannot be separated from it,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with stretching and calming down one’s breathing. But yoga isn’t really about that; it’s aimed at transforming human consciousness to experience the Hindu god, which is a false god.”Doug Groothuis
Some Christians believe Christians who oppose any affiliation to yoga are judgmental, and others disagree. It all comes down to how you feel and what you deduct from your own research.
Christian Alternative To Yoga
Laurette who founded Praise Moves is an ex yogi who began directly opposing yoga after she was saved through Christ.
She was brought up in a New Age culture, but once she found herself in Christianity, she wanted to take a different path. She opposes the term Christian yoga and rather developed the Christian alternative to yoga.
If you also feel confused or repelled by yoga, her school may be a good option for you.
It is an exercise system that uses bodyweight moves and gives you similar physical benefits to yoga – improving both your strength and flexibility.
Otherwise, you could also go to Pilates or a dance class. Gyms have many group fitness programs you could try.
Or you could find a combination of bodyweight and stretching workouts on YouTube to both get both stronger and more flexible which is one of the main physical benefits of yoga.
Some things you can try are primal movement exercises, gymnastic stretching routines, and calisthenics. I recommend a combination of strength and flexibility classes to give your body all it needs.
In The End – It’s All Up To You
With all this in mind, I’d say you should think, pray, and decide for yourself. That’s what I did, and it worked for me.
Regardless of faith, a lot comes down to how you feel. If you feel good while practicing yoga while being a Christian, do it. You don’t have to tell everyone about it or go into discussions.
Find a class that doesn’t involve Hindu images or salutations, there are many such classes. Or go to a Christian yoga class.
Otherwise, if you don’t feel comfortable, don’t do it. The fitness world has really evolved today and you can easily find bodyweight classes that have no connotation of spirituality.
For those who do want to try yoga, here are a couple of body-centered styles: