Note: this is a small part of my questioning in my exploration of yoga. This is an ongoing interest for me which should take me well into the next year (or two) depending on how in depth I go (and how broad).

Many people have appropriated the health benefits of yoga while divorcing it from its religious context. Hindus and Christians on both sides of the issue say that this is actually not possible. The religious or worshipful intent is inherent in the forms, or asanas, themselves. Some believe that simply performing the movements as handed down in the yogic tradition evokes spiritual power (to Christians, if this premise is true, this power would be considered “demonic” or not of God). To me this is an occultic and superstitious view of reality. The premise being that there is some power inherent in the use of the body in a certain way. To those of the eastern traditions that view the idea of body “energy” in a religious context, they are invoking gods’ power and energy. It is believed that there are power centers in the body where these “spirits” reside (chakras). A westernized view of these eastern traditions would most likely focus on the more neutral concept of “energy” versus separate spiritual entities known as gods or spirits.

Christians are clearly prohibited from worshipping anyone or thing other than the Most High God of the bible. Additionally, we are instructed multiple times to not participate in any occultic activity (ref in endnotes). The occult and esoteric strains of various religions are basically found within the context of the “mystical” side of faith. The part of Christianity that I am in believes that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for today and that would include the more mystical side of things, such as prophetic gifts (although in practice, this is all but ignored in the Presbyterian context—a point of much frustration for many). Repeatedly we are told in the New Testament that the world we see is not all that exists. We are part of a greater spiritual reality and actually are cautioned to not forget about the spiritual dimension of life. The physical reality that we inhabit is but a fraction of the greater reality. In fact, the spiritual world is where the real “battle” is waged according to Paul (Eph 6). Therefore, Christians should not be naïve in assuming that they can do “anything” and remain unharmed spiritually. But, to subscribe too much power to activities is to enter the realm of superstition and occult belief which is not conducive to the truth that is Jesus. Since the focus of this exploration is the body, I will forgo the topic of words and their power or lack thereof. That can be another exploration later!

According to Subhas R. Tiwari, professor at the Hindu University of America and graduate of the famed Bihar Yoga Bharati University with a master’s degree in yoga philosophy,

My response is, “The simple, immutable fact is that yoga originated from the Vedic or Hindu culture. Its techniques were not adopted by Hinduism, but originated from it.” These facts need to be unequivocally stated in light of some of the things being written to the contrary by yoga teachers. The effort to separate yoga from Hinduism must be challenged because it runs counter to the fundamental principles upon which yoga itself is premised, the yamas (restraints) and niyamas (observances). These ethical tenets and religious practices are the first two limbs of the eight-limbed ashtanga yoga system which also includes asana (postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (contemplation/Self Realization). Efforts to separate yoga from its spiritual center reveal ignorance of the goal of yoga.[1]

I accept that the tradition of yoga, what we non-hindus call the physical asanas or positions, comes from the Vedic (hindu) tradition. If one accepts the premise that the roots of a tradition or practice can never be extricated from the act itself, then out of hand, yoga is to be rejected. I struggle with this premise. Instantly, I think of how Jesus said we are grafted into the “true” vine. If our sinful “roots” can be left behind and our “essence” is able to be joined to the Lord (and yoga is the Sanskrit word for “yoked” or “joined”), how can it not be that many of our practices from our human cultures cannot also be grafted and thus redeemed? I concur that not everything can be because the Lord does explicitly prohibit certain activities. (ie. If your religious tradition and culture includes human sacrifice that would have to be abandoned as a Christian!).

It also is common for humans to have developed various technologies and practices simultaneously and independently of each other on different sides of the globe (ref). So how can the Hindus claim a “patent” so to speak on our physical bodies and how they move? To me, that is like saying that since one religion promotes prostration as a prayer position, no other can do the same. Or since a non-Christian religion uses prostration as a prayer position then we Christians cannot because they “got to it first”.

The first century Christians dealt with this issue in depth, not specifically as in bodily position in worship, but as to how much and what in other cultures could be “baptized” into the Christian faith (used in Richard Rohr’s sense. See ref.). It appears that any valid point of contact in understanding was permissible to use and then transform. One of our greatest understandings of the Jesus as the Word of God comes from the NT Christians using the Greek philosophical and religious concept of LOGOS. Christians “stole” that idea, applied it to the Truth that is Jesus and transformed the concept. This is not a small principle to be ignored.

If one regards that in the beginning God created the world out of a chaotic void and that with the creation of humanity “it was good”, then much of what we do with our bodies and lives must have the potential to be used for God’s glory. I’m not convinced that all things should be rejected out of hand due to their origins. That would exclude much of what we consider to be modern life. We don’t reject invention or technology because the “origin” was the mind of an atheist, evil person, or of another faith. All that is good comes from God. For God is Good. So, consorting with demons is not considered “good” according to God and we are not to be involved in activities that will bring us into the demonic realm of influence. That is probably the key issue underlying all this. Does a practice bring you closer to God or does it align you in the direction of the enemy?

Hindus and others worship the sun. A main yoga asana is the Sun Salutation. By performing this movement is a person “worshipping the sun” if that is not their INTENT? We are not talking about salvation issues here. According to the bible, worshipping the sun or any other deity is wrong and forbidden for our God is a jealous God. But when I am doing yoga I am praying to the Lord and worshipping the greatness of our God the CREATOR of all things including the sun! To say that the act of reaching up and folding down, while breathing slowly, can invoke worship without one’s consent is non-sensical to me. But, if it is claimed that yoga positions have some kind of “magical” power in and of themselves then one is entering the realm of the occult/demonic. The whole premise behind that idea is that these energetic forces reside in our bodies and “waking” them up causes them to call out spiritual power.

This brings us to the issue of the body and its energy. Can a person develop psychic powers in and of themselves? In other words, is this a forbidden element of human potential or is it an illusion? By this I mean, it isn’t human potential at all, but rather the utilizing of spiritual forces outside human power in the unseen dimension of the spirit realm. OR is it a continuum. A slide down a slippery slope? Are the Hindus right in saying that we have these “chakras” in our body, but God just doesn’t want us messing with them? Or is that whole cosmology and any understanding that comes from it tainted by it’s rejection of Jesus as God?

[1] Tiwari, Subhas R. “Yoga Renamed Is Still Hindu” January/February/March, 2006