What impact does Yoga have on a Christian’s journey? Does it hinder, help or not matter? Is Yoga dangerous to the spiritual health of someone who engages in it? These are all questions many Christians ponder. I have been wondering about Yoga myself as people I know and care about practice it to varying degrees. Is ‘Namaste’ a bad word?
Yet, questions always yield answers that stand on the prejudices of other unanswered and even unasked questions. What is the Christian journey? What really does hinder or help a Christian’s sanctification or journey to holiness? Finally, what is holiness? What does it look like? These are questions that need to be answered before assessing the effect of Yoga upon a person.
It is also crucial to keep central the fact that we are talking about people coming to God not religion, ritual, doctrine or any other worldly practice. It is a central tenant of Christianity that God justifies and sanctifies. Jesus tells us this Himself; “. . . as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:2,3) And; “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.” (John 17:17-19)
So to start this reflection, I want to share a young man’s profound testimony of rebirth and new life. His journey illustrates how God lays hold of a man. He wasn’t into Yoga or church. He was a dope dealing predatory thug.
This young man had a hard life with an abusive father who died young. His childhood was one of constant moves to different places and schools. He learned to deal with his fear of getting hurt by his father by becoming a bully. In his teenager years he fell into the wrong crowd and picked up the drug trade. He was in and out of jail- youth detention – where he was tutored in criminality by the ‘best’ of the ‘worst’. After years of this soul deforming life he found himself in ‘solitary confinement’ slowly going crazy. In desperation he called out to a guard for something to do. The guard handed him a book by Ernie Hollands. The book gave the testimony of hardened criminals who came to God in prison. It piqued the young man’s interest – not in God but he was always ready to listen to a hardened criminal. Yet at some point he started to wonder about God. The young man said that ‘a seed was planted in me’ and ‘I remember that day getting a strange feeling in my guts, something or someone touched me – could there be something to this?’ The point the young man stressed was that it wasn’t anyone special or even any contact with people that planted the seed. He was in solitary confinement reading a book about criminals by a man he never knew. The experience didn’t change his behavior or thinking. But he remembered the strange feeling deep inside him.
A few more years of trouble and mayhem went by and the young lad found himself leading a gang that controlled the drug trade in a very ‘bad’ section of town. He describes his feelings of isolation and loneliness even surrounded by his gang who all swore they ‘had his back’. Overwhelmed by a deep weariness of life even at the top of his game – top dog in the drug trade, he withdrew into an empty room while his buddies were partying. He noticed a worn Bible laying on a bed, a Gideon’s Bible. One of his friends must have ‘stolen’ it from a motel room. He remembered Ernie Hollands book of testimonies by criminals. He picked up the Bible and started reading and reading and reading. A man who is sick and tired will do just about anything to distract himself from his life weariness. At one point the young man was overtaken by a profound feeling that someone else was with him. He was overwhelmed and found himself on his knees calling out to God. That day, buy himself in an empty bedroom with his dope dealing gang partying in the next room, he accepted the Truth of what God’s Word declared. He no longer felt alone and he had joy!
He was still top dog in a gang of dope dealing thugs but inside he was a new man. The young lad declared; “I had so much joy even though I had three hundred dollars worth of crack in my pockets to sell. For the next three days I sold the crack with JOY in my heart. But then I started feeling that this was wrong. I couldn’t deal in drugs anymore with this joy in me. I quit selling. I quit the gang!” There was so much more to this young man’s testimony but I have shortened it for brevity, stressing the aspects of it that are pertinent to our discussion. Notice the absence of church, doctrine and even Christian fellowship in this young man’s testimony. Notice the absence of clergy, Christian education and discipleship around this young man when he had his life changing encounters. There was nothing holy in his outward life. He was in no danger of being led astray by anything because he was as lost as a person could be. Yet now this young man is a Pastor, church planter and friend of sinners. How did that happen? Would Yoga have impeded the process?
Desperation draws us to Jesus, be it brought about by loneliness, sickness, despair, great danger or some other trouble. We come alone with no one else, with no rituals or practices – pagan or otherwise. No doctrine but the doctrine of desperation – ‘Help me Jesus!’. The Psalmist wrote; “In my distress I called upon the LORD, And cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.” (Psalm 18:6) Desperation draws God near to us when we are broken; “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) This young man’s testimony illustrates this. He was broken and living in an empty desolation surrounded by his gang. He realized his destitution and cried out.
The self-realization of a soul that comes to God and that God draws near to is not the same as the self-realization described by SWAMI ADISWARANANDA :
The way of Yoga is a relentless quest for our true Self, which remains buried under the covers of our body and mind, our countless thoughts and memories, emotions and volitions, habits and tendencies. Direct perception of this Self alone can unravel the mysteries of life and decisively put an end to all the maladies of life. This direct perception is our true savior, and our own effort is our only tool to attain direct perception. . . . Those who are determined in their effort, steadfast in their practice of self-control and renunciation, well established in the virtues of yama and niyama – especially continence – undeterred by the obstacles and risks, and ready to follow the path, attain the goal of Self-realization in no time. This is the promise of the way of Yoga.
Yoga is one of many kinds of works righteousness through which a person by their own efforts and diligence strive to achieve salvation. As such there is no more danger to a person’s soul when practicing Yoga than there is when we practice our own culturally Christian forms of works righteousness. True Christians know; “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Yes there are things we practice to grow in wisdom – prayer, reading His Word, fellowship with one another and the Holy Spirit through worship – but none of those things save us. Yet we forget that or worse – just don’t believe it. At least with Yoga the practitioners are perfectly aligned with their goals if they pursue Yoga for salvation.Many Christians in name only are not! How many of us ‘Christians’, secretly think it is highly ‘unfair’ that our dope dealing thug should be extended the grace we have worked so hard for over so many years and still do not feel?
Some practice yoga (as opposed to Yoga) for health and fitness – to stretch tight muscles, build better mental focus and relieve tension and bodily aches. The website Holistic WebWorks claims;
Regardless of the person Yoga has a number of lasting benefits and will aid in a wide variety of different health issues. Regular practitioners of yoga will live an overall enhanced lifestyle, are more likely to have a strong memory and better stamina combined with a stronger sense of balance. Even late starters can use Yoga to combat a range of health disorders from Blood pressure to arthritis to breathing orders.
Stretching, bending, exercising and focusing our mind on our bodies isn’t necessarily a bad thing or a good thing. The apostle Paul explains; “. . . discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7,8) What is godliness? There are many definitions of godliness, you can look them up yourself. The godliness that counts is the godliness that makes us right with God. It is our work and our salvation. Jesus Himself defined this work; “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:29) God said; “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5) We can believe in Jesus and walk in obedience as we exercise.
Some argue that certain physical practices open a spiritual door for spiritual entities to enter in. They are correct; especially if the person is ’empty’ in a spiritual sense even while outwardly religious and living ‘right’ by their own efforts. Jesus cautioned us about this; “Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it.Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45) Is the person who practices yoga for health and stretching in any greater spiritual danger than the Christian who practices new age spiritual disciplines or indulges in the strange fire of charismatic excess?
We cannot even worship God properly on our own. When we substitute our own forms of religious ritual and self-based propitiation to a god of our own imaginings we are ruined no matter how fine our dress and splendid our rituals are. Jesus told us what God wants; “ But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23,24) The presence or absence of the Holy Spirit in a person determines the outcome of any practice. Our dope dealing thug after he gave his life to Jesus and submitted to the rule of the Holy Spirit quit his practiced livelihood of drug dealing very quickly. How many of us ‘godly’ Christians doubt the presence of the Holy Spirit in this young man because he sold dope for a few days after his conversion? How we judge the work of God in others! It is not the outward practices that define a person spiritual state or conforms a person to Jesus Rather it is the inward work of God’s Holy Spirit – a work unseen by worldly eyes. One writer rightly asks; “What is at the heart of your spirituality? Is it an unhealthy quest for an unmediated experience of God? Or is it driven by the Scriptures, which are the Sword of the Spirit? “
We are pressed in on every side by the world and its many gods. We are steeped in paganism and its practices. How do we get clean and stay clean? When we strip away all the vanity and religious claptrap, we find His way. We get clean and are kept clean in the same way our dope dealing thug got cleaned up and became a man of God. Yoga doesn’t get in the way of that, nor does dope dealing or speaking in tongues or singing in the choir. Nor do any of these practices promote the justification and holiness of a person. The bottom line is a Truth the world hates and few believe, even in the church; “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
Don’t waste your breath and effort warning people away from anything. The Holy Spirit is working on them already. They know what they are doing falls short and if they don’t how are they any different from self-righteous ‘saved by works’ cultural Christians. Point to Jesus. Lift Him high in your life and testimony by your love for God and neighbor in word and deed. Always reach out in Jesus’ name to help people stand on the solid rock of His Truth!
. . . till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:13-16)
Come, Lord Jesus!