Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning “yoking” or “union.” Hindus believe there is a “universal soul,” and no one can be truly happy until he/she becomes one (or achieves union) with this entity. The true Yogi is seeking this state of oneness through self-control as expressed in the physical exercises and positions of the system called Yoga.
The answer to your question depends on what you mean by “practice yoga.” If you simply mean to do the physical exercises associated with Yoga, I see that as acceptable under certain circumstances. But if you mean to join the underlying philosophy of Hinduism to your exercises, then it is not OK. I will say more on this later.
The Lord has given us a way to assess things that come into our lives from pagan sources. In your case I am assuming that you find some benefit in doing the exercises taught in yoga classes. The primary biblical premise by which we are to live is that no material thing is evil in and of itself. Food is good. The human body is good. Nature is good, etc. By extension, using material things in the ways that God intended they be used is acceptable to Him and part of worshipping him. Thus, careful eating is good, and reasonable bodily exercise is good. The Apostle Paul warned Timothy about “men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3).
It seems reasonable to assert that various forms of exercise that have no adverse moral consequences can be “gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.” We should take good care of our bodies, for they are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19–20). And when it comes to physical exercise, we view that as part of our responsibility to maintain our bodies for the glory the Lord, as well as part of our freedom in Christ. Paul also said (speaking of certain foods), “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself” (Rom. 14:14).
Here, I believe, is your basic guidance with respect to yoga-related exercises. Yoga positions and movements are forms of exercise or at least methods of relaxation. Insofar as you view these exercises as helpful to your body and mind and that which enables you to be a better servant of Christ, you are free to use the exercises privately or with a like-minded group, even though non-Christians employ yoga exercises in their idolatry.
But make no mistake, Yoga was originally developed as a religious discipline and is thoroughly Hindu. The yoga positions are thought to be an offering to the innumerable gods of Hinduism. Taken in all its various components Yoga is an instrument of self-salvation, designed to make one become better and better in all aspects of moral life. It is reckoned as something that will help bring one to the Hindu equivalent of heaven (the universal soul). As an alternative to God’s truth, Yoga is wicked and an abomination to the one true God, who says salvation is possible only through faith in Jesus Christ.
Hindu thought and belief are normally part of Yoga sessions, and if you and others are taught to use yoga exercises to pursue the Hindu worldview and ideals (even though these things may be couched in non-religious language), then you need to separate from this activity. “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). Paul never countenanced the participation of Christians in idolatrous ceremonies just because Christians are free to eat any food or exercise in any fashion. “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:16). I suspect there are very few places where Yoga is taught/practiced as merely good exercise without idolatrous overtones, and you do not want to be identified with idols. No person is able to control himself or herself without the power of the Holy Spirit. No person will get to the real heaven except by the grace of God in Christ.
In closing, allow me to point you to something called “Praise Moves,” that was started some years ago as a Christian alternative to Yoga. I don’t really know much about it, so this is not a recommendation, but it might be worth your checking into. You can do an internet search to find their website.
May God give you wisdom as you use your Christian liberty.
Written by Don Buchanan
November 19, 2022
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