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Can Catholics do Yoga?

March 25th, 2011 · 244 Comments · Mary and Martha Moments

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Is it possible to practice yoga as a faithful Catholic?

Every time I mention yoga here at Kitchen Stewardship, like I did in Monday’s “Get Moving” challenge, I receive negative feedback challenging me to look into the issue and find that Catholic Church teaching explicitly forbids yoga. (photo source)

As I have this week, I’ve discovered  a few things.

First, there is certainly controversy on this issue. Part of the reason I took time to research the subject of Catholicism and yoga is simply because I felt obstinate about it, and I remembered a quote from Christopher West that struck my whole moms’ Bible study with truth: that whatever Church teaching people feel strongly about arguing against is probably simply because they want to disobey and sin.

Was that me? I thought. Is yoga just a stumbling block to my faith? I’m not about to let Satan get a foothold by tricking me into complacency, the greatest trick in his toolbox, if there really is something spiritually dangerous here.

I struck out to find the Catholic Church’s official teaching on yoga, and found some information from the Vatican, some views from Christianity, and a lot of folks’ opinions along the way. Bear with me to the end of this one; it’ll be worth it.

Is Yoga a Pagan Hindu Religious Practice or Just Exercise?

If one is to discuss this subject with any degree of intelligence, one must first determine if the physical motions of yoga can be separated from the spirituality that often comes with it, and which may be the foundation of the practice in Eastern religions.

It is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that any dabbling in New Age or Hindu religious practice, any opening up of oneself to “Gaia” or Mother Nature or centering one’s soul with the collective consciousness or connecting with the earth, is counter to the Christian faith. Any practice that worships a pagan god, a god of “nature” or a god within oneself is intrinsically evil and against Christianity, where there is one God and one God only.

The fundamental question when a person of Christian faith asks, “Can I do yoga?” is whether this tree pose necessarily worships a foreign god in the sun, sky or otherwise, regardless of the heart of the person, or whether it is just an exercise in balance and control, one that my 5-year-old son just identified as, “Is that ice skating, or what?”

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(photo source)

Arguments Against Yoga from a Catholic Perspective

Here are some of the resources and thoughts I was sent to and found myself:

  • You simply cannot separate the movements from the meditation; any pagan practice opens yourself to demonic influence.
  • An analogy from this site: if an atheist took Eucharist, the true Body of Christ, and simply said “I don’t believe it,” it’s still real and he still blasphemes the Body. We can’t just say “I don’t believe it” or “I’m thinking of God” and practice yoga “safely.” “Yoga is by its very nature a Hindu religious practice. Yoga is not primarily about limbering up the body; it is about using physical means to achieve a spiritual end. So the question of separating the physical from the spiritual in Yoga is really a contradiction in terms.
  • This short article is by Fr. John Hardon, of whom I’ve known for years and do greatly respect, but he really only addresses the spiritual form of yoga. “Although the psychic element is far more important in yoga than the body, the latter is more characteristic of this method of Hindu liberation. Its purpose is to secure the best disposition of body for the purpose of meditation. The practice begins with a simple device for deep and slow breathing.” Fr. Hardon goes on to describe yoga practices of meditation, but I don’t see a clear argument against doing a posture without entering into the mindset.
  • Finally this Catholic TV show with a priest as a guest puts forth many points, including:
    • Yoga cannot fit with Christianity – we live in a world of relativism where people think they can make true whatever they believe. If you say “I can do the exercises of yoga and not believe that it’s leading to me “god” and then it’s not true or not harmful,” then the world tell you it’s all good. However, that would be like an atheist taking Eucharist and saying “I don’t believe it’s the body of Christ so it’s not,” and that’s not true. (Katie here: I can’t get behind this analogy. The Eucharist is an entity, a physical thing changed miraculously into the Body of Christ. If an atheist eats a bowl of unconsecrated hosts for breakfast, it may be weird, but not sacrilegious. It is the transubstantiation, which cannot be done on accident, that makes the Eucharist holy. If a consecrated host falls on the ground by accident, we make reparation for the disrespect to Christ. Our bodies, however, are created for many purposes, both good and ill. More on that below…
    • Practitioners and teachers of yoga especially are often afflicted with demonic spirits, etc. Not everyone, but it’s like playing Russian roulette, and we’re not called to do that with our faith.
    • Sometimes demons come in b/c we’ve opened the door, even if we don’t think we’ve invited them in. Fr. Gabriel, the exorcist in Rome, speaks unabashedly that Catholics cannot do yoga, that it’s dangerous stuff.
    • Stretching exercises are a dime a dozen and they all work; you don’t need something that opens yourself to potential temptation.
Arguments for Yoga

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(photo source)

The yoga I have done personally has been in two places: one at a studio that was certainly New Age and often made me think, “Well, this is frou frou junk, mother earth and all that. Better pray to the real God instead.” I imagined myself teaching Christian yoga instead of the transcendental nonsense my ears were filled with. Would I go back there? No.

The yoga I’ve done most recently was via P90X videos with Tony Horton, the buff guy making men in the armed forces kill their abs in the photo above. He says yoga is essential for flexibility and overall fitness and highly recommends it, but he’s much more likely to talk about not eating butter in your mashed potatoes or “standing on your tippy toes” than he is a heart center or a collective consciousness. He’s no Hindu shaman, believe me.

That’s my background, and here are my thoughts on Catholicism and yoga:

  • Many practices have been shifted from or shared with pagan religions and made holy: the Rosary (using strings of beads to count prayers was Hindu and Buddhist long before the 13th century when Mary taught us to use it), fasting, meditation, ritual sacrifice (for Old Testament Jews), holidays and traditions like a Christmas tree and countless others that we’ve commandeered and made holy. Just because a pagan does it does not automatically make a practice or movement intrinsically evil; why can’t a Christian simply focus on God while doing yoga?
  • Any motion can be done without intent – my kids can genuflect and it means nothing, if I haven’t taught them correctly. How many people enter a church and just go through the motions? Are they more holy because they did the motions or less holy b/c they were at church and not focused on God?
  • I used to think that if I prayed with my hands folded instead of palms flat together, that I was praying to Satan because my fingers were pointing down, and only to God if the fingers were pointing to Heaven. This is me at about 6 or 7 years old. Someone had told me that was how it worked, and I believed. However, how one holds one’s hands in prayers has absolutely no effect on the intent of their prayer unless followed up with an act of the will and a turning of the spirit. Although our bodily posture certainly can affect our prayer, can deepen its impact within ourselves, can demonstrate honor and respect, posture is not necessary for prayer. I pray in my car. I pray while walking. I pray while kneeling. I pray while lying in bed. No form of prayer is necessarily deeper, more powerful, or more effective than another based solely on posture, but it is the focus of my mind, my soul’s communion with God, how intensely I am praying, and how open I am to God’s work in me that makes the difference.
  • In Catholicism, other people’s opinions don’t really mean diddly-squat. But since I can’t nail down truly official Church teaching, I do like to talk to other people, then take what they say with a grain of salt. Here’s what friends said:
    • from @Donielle via Twitter: “Ok. So I’m not catholic, but the issue with it’s background is what stopped me from doing it for years!Now I’ve come to realize (personally and for myself) that having a Godly teacher is the most important thing. The physical aspect of yoga (exercise) is not reliant on any Eastern religion. It’s abt becoming in tune w/ your body….”
    • from @ekwetzel: “I agree; God can redeem yoga! ;o) A God-centered teacher can use yoga to help & heal bodies. “New age” meditation needs to have nothing to do with it. It’s a form of exercise and balancing through movement and for me in many ways has strengthened my belief on the amazing intricacies that the Lord created within bodies.
    • from @milehimama: “The Church doesn’t have an “official” teaching on it yet, but many prominent Catholics speak against it. Seek the advice of a holy priest who knows you.  The whole philosophy of yoga/new age is a form of theosophy/pantheism and is of course forbidden by the first commandment. I don’t think the posture is evil, assuming that you mean only the exercise, like watching a DVD and stretching. But if done with the intent of “opening the mind” or chakra or whatever, if done to find peace, happiness, etc. instead of just to stretch your back… Many many holy priests have warned against it so it’s worth taking their counsel into consideration.”
    • I did ask my priest if he knew anything about the Catholic Church’s stance on yoga, and he said no, not really. He sort of scoffed and said if we brush off yoga as pagan, we might as well get rid of all exercise for the same reason.
    • From @heathersolos: “Non-technical opinion here, what if you meditated on appropriate topics while doing the same movements?”
    • Me: “That’s 1 perspective, other is that the movements are the religious practice themselves and opening yourself to paganism.”

      Heather: “But with that line of thought, we never would have adopted rosaries. I’m pretty sure they were first used by Hindu and not adopted until the 1500s.”

    • And another dissenting view from @rhiamom “The physical part of yoga can’t be separated from the spiritual. The exercises are designed to induce meditative state/trance. Yoga is a pagan practice. Would you need to think twice about taking part in a Druidic tree worshipping ceremony?” (My thoughts: I wouldn’t participate, but would it be sinful to watch one on TV with the intent of understanding so as to better evangelize? There are rarely black and whites when it comes to living in the world.)
Catholic Church Teaching and Documents that Mention Yoga

Here is the important part of the post, where I find the only stuff that counts for beans when asking what God wants us to do. Clearly one cannot find yoga in the Scriptures, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church also came up empty on the subject itself. The closest I could find is this:

  • Mention of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” which of course disallows the religious practice of yoga, but I still can’t tell if we can do the exercise without the turning of the heart.
  • Superstition, idolatry, divination and magic are all forbidden (2111-2117). The Ouija board is clearly included in divination, because its sole purpose is to ask about the future and nothing else. I was trying to find a direct link between the occult practice of Ouija and yoga, and I just can’t make any analogies quite work.
  • “Many martyrs died for not adoring “the Beast” refusing even to simulate such worship.” If we do a sun salutation or a downward dog, are we adoring Satan in our posture?

The document most related to the practice of yoga and its effect on the Catholic faith is called “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life,” a Christian Reflection on the “New Age” from the Pontifical Council for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue, found here. Many use the fact that it mentions yoga in a footnote as one of the Eastern religions in question to prove that yoga is intrinsically evil and should not be dabbled in.

However, a thorough reading of the entire document demonstrates that the Church is concerned about Catholics being swayed by the New Age theory that “recognizes no spiritual authority higher than personal inner experience.” Again, I simply cannot pinpoint a section that prohibits the exercise of yoga as exercise. Some key points include:

  • “Some stages on the way to self-redemption are preparatory (meditation, body harmony, releasing self-healing energies). Psychology is used to explain mind expansion as “mystical” experiences. Yoga, zen, transcendental meditation and tantric exercises lead to an experience of self-fulfilment or enlightenment. Peak-experiences (reliving one’s birth, travelling to the gates of death, biofeedback, dance and even drugs – anything which can provoke an altered state of consciousness) are believed to lead to unity and enlightenment.” (I definitely didn’t participate in any of THAT nonsense when I did yoga!)
  • “It is difficult to separate the individual elements of New Age religiosity – innocent though they may appear – from the overarching framework which permeates the whole thought-world on the New Age movement. The gnostic nature of this movement calls us to judge it in its entirety. From the point of view of Christian faith, it is not possible to isolate some elements of New Age religiosity as acceptable to Christians, while rejecting others. Since the New Age movement makes much of a communication with nature, of cosmic knowledge of a universal good – thereby negating the revealed contents of Christian faith – it cannot be viewed as positive or innocuous.” (This is the closest I come to being convinced that we cannot separate the movements of yoga from its religiosity. But. Read on.)
  • Some practices are incorrectly labeled as New Age simply as a marketing strategy to make them sell better, but are not truly associated with its worldview. This only adds to the confusion. It is therefore necessary to accurately identify those elements which belong to the New Age movement, and which cannot be accepted by those who are faithful to Christ and his Church.” (Here we go. Is most secular yoga simply a New Age marketing gig and not at all related to the paganism found in true New Age practices?)
  • The following questions may be the easiest key to evaluating some of the central elements of New Age thought and practice from a Christian standpoint. “New Age” refers to the ideas which circulate about God, the human being and the world, the people with whom Christians may have conversations on religious matters, the publicity material for meditation groups, therapies and the like, explicit statements on religion and so on. Some of these questions applied to people and ideas not explicitly labeled New Age would reveal further unnamed or unacknowledged links with the whole New Age atmosphere.” (The key to asking the question: is the practice of yoga for exercise, without the Hindu or pantheistic viewpoints, really related to any of the points listed above? I certainly don’t think so. Yoga fits better into the following category:
  • There is no problem with learning how to meditate, but the object or content of the exercise clearly determines whether it relates to the God revealed by Jesus Christ, to some other revelation, or simply to the hidden depths of the self.” (It’s all about intent of heart!)
My Wonderings and Wanderings

Are you still with me? Hopefully you’ve been able to read the Church documents without my commentary getting in the way of your own decision-making process. Here are some of my evaluations:

  • When mentioning yoga, it would seem important to counsel folks away from the very spiritual yoga teachers and at least mention its pagan foundations with a caution not to participate in the soul-opening sense of the practice, just the exercise.
  • Is it possible that, especially for those more shaky in their faith, that the practice of yoga could be a slippery slope into loss of faith? Could just doing it for exercise, particularly if the teacher is spouting all the “one with nature” and “soul-centering” and whatnot garbage, give Satan a foothold into one’s mind, even if they don’t think it will?
  • There is Christian mysticism and Eastern mysticism. How to tell the difference? Is it in a name? The Vatican’s reflection on the “New Age” even admits/warns that some practices are labeled “New Age” as a marketing technique and remain harmless.
  • Both Christians and other (Eastern) religion practice meditation, our monks chant, our prayers repeat. Again, is it the form of the prayer that matters or the heart’s intent, to find union with God vs. finding union with nature or emptying oneself to join the collective consciousness of the world?
Yoga: Sinful or Just Fearful?

A sin is an act of the will, and to sin requires full knowledge of sin as well as full intent. If one’s intent is to exercise, and nothing more, and one guards one’s heart against the sort of yoga that would draw a soul away from God and open it to paganism, can there be sin? Can there really be an opportunity to give the devil a foothold?

To be so against yoga embodies a spirit of fear. Must we be fearful of anything in the world that is not explicitly of God? Must we remove ourselves from the culture to guard our faith and practice it properly (and safely)? Pope John Paul II would say no. He often talked of the importance of being “in but not of the world” in his encouragement to the “new evangelization” of faith.

We cannot share our faith with people we never encounter, and we cannot connect with people outside the world of the Church if we cannot understand the culture in which we live. We are called to live in the culture, while at the same time remaining above the culture in our faith and morals.

We can’t be afraid of falling into sin on accident, especially if it causes us to remove ourselves from a world which so desperately needs our faith. A world which desperately needs to receive our faith shared, in love, from people who can see eye to eye with them.

In The Bearer of the Water of Life, the pontifical councils say, “The beginning of the Third Millennium offers a real kairos for evangelisation. People’s minds and hearts are already unusually open to reliable information on the Christian understanding of time and salvation history. Emphasising what is lacking in other approaches should not be the main priority. It is more a question of constantly revisiting the sources of our own faith, so that we can offer a good, sound presentation of the Christian message. We can be proud of what we have been given on trust, so we need to resist the pressures of the dominant culture to bury these gifts (cf. Mt 25.24-30).”

I am not afraid of yoga. It has no power over me. I choose to believe in the power of God’s grace, to root myself in prayer, to trust that God is so much bigger than an exercise and never allows Satan control over His people, unless they choose evil.

I believe that our bodies are created for good, to image God, to demonstrate His love. I also know that any creation can be used for good or for evil. A body can be used to embrace a loved one or strike someone in anger. A body can be used to toil to support a family or plunder time away at a casino. A body can be used to image the trinitarian love of God in the marriage embrace or in the exact same action, to stain two souls in an act of extramarital lust and spit in the face of God’s beautiful plan. (See the reflections on the Theology of the Body, here for Lent.)

A body can be used to worship God, and a body can be used to worship Satan, but the difference is in the intent, in the act of will. It is not the action that defines the intent, but the intent that defines the soul and guides the action.

Catholicism is a faith that requires total allegiance to the magisterium (the pope) on matters of faith and morals. If and when the Vatican says that yoga goes against our faith, I would stop doing it, renounce any of this post, and write a rousing argument against yoga being practiced anywhere outside a Hindu temple. But I’m just not seeing it right now.

There is not an official, faith and morals based, Catholic Church teaching on practicing yoga. Many holy priests and holy people can all weigh in, but the fact remains that yoga is a matter for an individual to discern how it affects them.

Yes, practicing yoga could be a sin. Yes, practicing yoga could be a pathway down which one could fall into pagan worship and away from God. However, doing a yoga pose is not an automatic pathway to Hell.

One must use Catholic teaching about the spirit to make certain that they’re using their body and mind for the purpose of seeking holiness and not seeking spiritual enlightenment, oneness with nature, or opening their heart to anything other than the Lord, who is God.

Be a person of prayer, remain in a state of grace, and let us focus our prayers on the salvation of souls and the good of the world. May we turn our minds to Eastern religions only to pray for the Light of Christ to shine in the East, particularly in Japan, where there are so many more dire physical and spiritual needs than in an American yoga studio.

Time to weigh in: do I even need to ask what you think of all this information? Can a Christian person practice yoga for exercise without putting their immortal soul at risk?

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244 Comments so far ↓

  • Dustin | Fit Marriage

    Bravo, Katie! As a devout Catholic who also enjoys using yoga poses in my exercise routines, I love this post and totally agree with your conclusions. As we discussed at length (at least as in-depth as you can get on Twitter), I share your belief that:

    “It is not the action that defines the intent, but the intent that defines the soul and guides the action.”

    I love Jesus and the God of the Bible. I don’t believe in any Eastern religion or pagan idols. That doesn’t mean I can’t stretch my hamstrings with an arched back and call it a downward dog pose. I very much believe the spiritual element of Yoga can be detached from the use of yoga postures for fitness.

    Thank you for sharing this post!

    Dustin from Engaged Marriage & Fit Marriage

    P. F. Hawkins Reply:

    Intention only defines the *culpability* of the soul, and whether or not the action is a mortal or venial sin. It does not define whether or not the action itself is sinful at all.

    The main arguments I’ve seen against yoga aren’t arguing that performing yoga exercises is inherently sinful. They argue that engaging in these exercises is spiritually dangerous, as the practitioner is very likely, *intentionally or no*, exposing himself to demonic influences.

    Is exercising a sin? Not in the least. Is engaging in actions that originate from an oriental practice spiritually dangerous and a possible gateway to letting demons into your life? You bet your life.

    Katie Reply:

    PF,
    I think I’m more with you than I thought I would be…I do agree that practicing yoga in a studio where the teacher is spouting Eastern religion viewpoints and instructions is dangerous as a possible route to falling away from the faith…but what about yoga postures at the Y? My husband pointed out that many yoga stretches are just stretches, anyway, like “runner’s pose” – so where does “yoga” stop and just “exercise” begin? Is a marathon runner who stretches his legs properly with runner’s pose opening himself up to demons? I think there’s a distinction, and one that Catholics should be warned of, yes?
    Thank you for your comments! :) Katie

    P. F. Hawkins Reply:

    A marathon runner doing a runner’s stretch is obviously not opening himself up to demons (unless he learned to stretch through yoga, of course).

    There is a distinction that Catholics should be warned of. That distinction is this: anything that calls itself yoga is possibly tainted. Do I know for sure that a particular practice originating in yoga isn’t tainted? No. Is drawing the line on where one might end and the other begin for particular yogic practices nigh on impossible? Judging by the amount of debate generated here, I’d say so. Am I going to go out of my way to possibly make my spiritual life any harder than it already is when there are known acceptable alternative exercise methods? Heck no. Are other acceptable exercise methods going to advocate some of the same physical poses? Of course! It’s mathematically impossible for it to be otherwise. But again, learning those poses from yoga, or something that aspires to be yoga, is a risk most certainly not worth taking.

    Jane Reply:

    The trouble is every teacher has a teacher, and somewhere down the line the spiritual element creeps in, its like being under a curse. What about pilates?

    Albert Reply:

    P.F.:
    What you are claiming, as I understand it, is that anything originating in the Orient is suspect, and a possible gateway for demonic influence. I don’t buy it.

    Melchior, Balthasar, and Caspar somehow found Christ by actions originating in the East.

    Robert de Nobili adopted certain customs from the East in order to proclaim Christ to the people there. These customs were not contrary to the gospel.

    To take your statements to a more ridiculous end, that show how perhaps you need some qualifiers in there, here are some other things originating in the East, and therefore to be considered, by your reasoning, suspect: Fireworks, Karaoke, the Historical Novel, medicinal Adrenaline, Saki, and Hello Kitty.

    I mean, I dress my babies in kimono style clothing. I really don’t think it’s a big deal.

    Theresa Hilbig Reply:

    Amen!

    Charley Reply:

    I’m also Catholic – and as usual – am horrified by some of the pronouncements made by the Vatican.
    I truly believe that there are many ways to worship God – and every Catholic should have the good sense to decide for himself. I live in the body God gave me – and fitness honors that gift and God.

    cirelo Reply:

    I’m curious Charley what pronouncements made by the Vatican that horrified you? More specifically in how they relate to the discussion.

    Tina Reply:

    @cirelo, I read your post Nostra Aetete in my email. I can’t seem to find it on this page, but that post reminds me of the Church that I grew up with and why in many ways, I admire the Catholic Church above others. I never heard in CCD class any admonishments that my eternal soul was at risk. I was encouraged to explore and question my faith so that I could deepen my relationship with God and Jesus. Thank you for sharing that article. It confirms what I was taught growing up.

    Albert Reply:

    Tina,

    several thoughts:
    1) It’s important to distinguish between a) recognizing the truth that exists in other faiths, and b) affirming that all faiths are true. Since Christ is the Way, Truth, and Life, all truth is Christ’s Truth, whether it is spoken by a pope, a lama, a protestant pastor, or even Satan (though old scratch has a tendency to twist the truth to acheive his purposes, like when he tempted Christ).

    2) All too often we have a tendency to focus on the positive at the exclusion of the negative, which is what your CCD experience sounds like. Given our free will and our ability to reject God, our eternal souls are always at risk, so if you never heard that in CCD, your catechists did a poor job and you should be upset at them. The point of our faith is not to dwell on the fact that we could burn in hell, nor to ignore it, but to know it and understand it and then live in the freedom which the life offered by our faith affords. Because ultimately God should be loved for his own sake, and we are truly free when we are free from sin.

    Liz Reply:

    I am sorry, but this is hitting a little to close to the Whore of Babylon, One World Religion of Revelations for me. All paths do not lead to God, even if they may mimic the Good News. Jesus said “I am the WAY”. That’s it. And to NOT dwell on the fact that we could burn in hell is bonkers. The Fear of the Lord is the path to wisdom. A watered down gospel is a false teaching. False teaching leads well intentioned believers to hell. Jesus freed us from sin by his sacrifice on the cross. Nothing else. Not works. Nada. I will respect him by fleeing from anything that puts me in a position to worship false gods. That’s me. Jesus died for me, my lust for yoga can die for Him.

    Edward Reply:

    Liz, Either you are confused or you are leaping to conclusions here. Please read the relevant passage quoted elsewhere in this thread from Nostra Aetete, one of the documents from the second Vatican council, and you’ll see that the Church doesn’t promote what you are describing (all religions are equal, etc.) Rather, the church points out that even stopped clocks are right twice a day, and so even vastly deficient religions are right about some things. I mean, this is the catholic church, an we hold as true “extra ecclesiam nulla salus!”

    You seem to equate Fear of the Lord and fear of hell, but they are different things.

    Maybe you should read more of Paul’s letters to get a better sense of the freedom our faith affords us.

    Liz Reply:

    Okay, telling me to read my Bible more is an insult. Though I love the letters of Paul to the churches and read them more often than the other books, I tend to lean more toward the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, one part of the Trinity. I don’t care if other religions throw darts in the dark and hit a bible, I will not let them into my life. It is like time and time again when the Israelites were told to wipe the remnants of other cultures from their lives, and they kept all the little tidbits they liked. It led to slavery. Time and time again. It is with great passion that I am asking others to please carefully watch out. And fear of the Lord and the fear of hell may be two separate things, but flying in the face of one will certainly land me in the other.

    Albert Reply:

    Liz,

    Calm down! I didn’t tell you to read your Bible more, just the Pauline Epistles.

    And remember, it’s not that other religions are throwing darts in the dark and hitting a bible, they’re hitting the truth. That’s not to say that the bible isn’t the truth, but rather that the bible is not the fullness of the truth, which is a person, Jesus Christ. Scripture is the written Word of God, Christ is the word made flesh. You claim to prefer the words of Christ, but if Scripture is the Word of God, aren’t all parts of Scripture the words of Christ? And if you’re referring to his words which he spoke while incarnated on the Earth, well, Scripture itself says that we don’t have a full account of those.

    YOU claim to be insulted, Liz, by your erroneous interpretation of my remarks. Well, perhaps others commenting here are insulted that you tell them they are wrong for doing yoga after their careful consideration of the issue, after they have looked to pastors of souls for advice and guidance, and after they have read and studied and considered the wisdom and teachings of the Church through 2000 years.

    Thank God for the Tradition of the Apostles! Thank God for the Church!

    Liz Reply:

    Well, then let me rephrase my point-yes Christians CAN do yoga, should they is another issue. Let me go through all my volumes of the Ante-Nicean Fathers and see where they began doing yoga. Seeing that Christ and Paul both had the option, in light that it existed in their lifetimes. Will get back to you.

    Steve Reply:

    I’m a Catholic and I love yoga. In fact I’ve reafirmed my faith in the Church through yoga, thanks to a Catholic priest who taught me. I’ve practiced for nearly 20 years. I practice contemplative prayer (deep meditation) as taught by the early Christian Fathers. I practice many advanced poses, breathing patterns and concentration exercises and can assure you that I’ve never entered into any trance state that opens one to demonic possession and have absolutely no fear of that ever happening. That claim is utterly ludicrous because in the first place the practice is all about consciously reconnecting with God or rediscovering the deep connection between your spirit and the Eternal Spirit. For the devoutly religious you simply make a genuine prayer of protection to Jesus or Mary and enter into the deep contemplative prayer filled with faith. The only danger maybe that some practicioners may find more love, peace and harmony from their personal practice than from going to Church!

    Theresa Hilbig Reply:

    Hi, I too have participated in yoga. However, since I participated in the Seminar given by Fr. Yozefu-Balikuddembe Ssemakula, and studied his book, “The a Healing of Families”, I am convinced that yoga is just another ploy of “the thief” to confuse us spiritually. Fr. “Joseph” says an absolute NO to any form of yoga. If satan can get so many Catholics to promote an exercise which is a Hindu meditation…we need to ask ourselves why we are defending this practice with such energy. Are there not similar exercises available that do not have a spiritual connection?

    Remember that satan is a liar and a deceiver. When I hear Catholic women saying I know but…I say “be careful!”

    Blessings,

    Theresa

  • Milehimama

    Just a quick correction – the Rosary does not come from Hinduism. Tradition says Our Lady gave it to St. Dominic around 1200 AD, but using knotted strings as a part of prayer goes back quite a long way. The early monks used those kind of devices but really, having a way (besides counting on your fingers) to keep track is probably as old as recorded history; the Babylonians had them and so did the Buddhists.

    I don’t like that Eucharist analogy either. It doesn’t really fit because the Eucharist is actually real, a physical presence. I don’t think that the chakra even exists as an actual, real thing (not just an idea that has a placebo effect or as a grand trick.) So it’s really no comparison.

    But here is a different question- if yoga *could* be harmful, then why practice it? Why not do pilates or some other form of movement and stretching? Why yoga, specifically?

    While I don’t think we have to follow any priest’s advice blindly, it is notable that so many have warned so specifically against this one practice and we should heed their warnings.

    Can you stretch without it being religious worship? Yes, certainly. But if one becomes a yoga enthusiast, or buys more DVDs or takes more classes, then one is exposed more and more to the religious philosophy behind it and it could “desensitize” or start coloring one’s thinking without even realizing it.

    Kim Reply:

    I am Catholic & for me, if there’s even a “hint” of something hinky…that’s warning enough for me to stay FAR away.
    I agree with Milehimama. Not gonna even risk it!
    ((Besides…Even after 7 children & I am still in great shape! My exercise? Walking! Haven’t driven in 28 years!))

  • Ellen

    I am a Christian – not catholic. It therefore doesn’t matter to me what the church says, just what the Bible says, but I do appreciate your consideration of the topic.

    In our town the city offers, as part of their health and leisure programs, non-meditative yoga. This is billed separately from the standard meditative yoga and is solely focused on the fitness aspect of the exercise. Even the secular world recognizes that there are people who would like to practice yoga as exercise without the religious element.

    I would never join a meditative yoga class because I think that that IS opening yourself up to the invitation of other spirituality. When you’re in a room full of people who are calling for the presence of false gods, I think Satan would be pleased to show up.

    On the other hand, I’d love to join a non-meditative class. I agree with your take on the physical side of yoga. If we refuse to do any physical motion that has at some point been used for pagan worship, we basically won’t be able to move. Kneeling, singing, sex, prostration on the floor… all of these have been used in pagan practices. Yet I do them in worship and enjoyment of the God who created these movements.

    I think that it is very important to guard against philosophies of this world, paganism among them (see Colossians for Paul’s excellent treatment of this topic!!!), but there needs to be some discernment about where that line is.

    Would I enter a yoga class in a New Age/Mystic center that will involve meditation? No. Would I sign up for a class at my local city centre (the same place I’ll take my kids for swimming lessons) that is merely focused on exercise? Yes.
    With freedom. And if there was time for silence in that class, I would use it in silent prayer to God, thanking Him that He made me with a healthy body and asking that He would help me to use it for Him.

    Thanks for considering this, Katie.

    Mark Nel Reply:

    Hi Ellen

    I am curious about your statement that you do not listen to what the Church says but only the Bible.

    How do explain the fact that the New Testament was only formalised in the 4th Century AD? If not the Church, who then taught the Christians before this? Who did they listen to for nearly 400 years?

    Also, since it was the Church who decided, at the Synod of Hippo in 393 AD, which 27 books would comprise the New Testament as we know it today, why do you no longer wish to listen to the Church?

    Finally, how do explain the fact that the Protestants decided to dump 7 books from the bible in around 1500 AD. How did they suddenly know better than the Church which books should or should not be in the bible about 1500 years after Jesus?

    Just a thought…

  • Ellen

    Oh, one other thing. I’m currently working with my three-year-old to help her memorize Psalm 1. A pertinent verse regarding meditation, speaking of the righteous man: “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.”

    Meditation is a godly thing. Just be sure it’s on the right thing… the words of God!

  • Brooke

    So glad you tacked this subject. I am baptist and have been torn between these arguments for years. I have actually been certified to teach yoga in fitness settings and can assure everyone that yoga moves alone are not a form of worship. If you ever reach over and touch your toes, then you are doing a yoga pose. Almost all stretches are found in yoga too. I think people who are scared that it is a form of pagan worship have not ever tackled it from an exercise perspective before and are assuming that the new age principals are an integral part of yoga. Not so!!! I encourage everyone who is condemning Christians from practicing yoga exercises to try a yoga from a fitness point of view before forming their opinions!

    Julia in West Des Moines Reply:

    love that you say almost any stretching is found in yoga. i feel about yoga the same way i feel about home schooling. i did it because it felt right, then later learned that it had a name, the charlotte mason method. do i worship nature as some catholics think ms. mason did? no. when i was dancing, yoga was part of the warm up. i didn’t have a choice to opt out, and it was presented as a way to increase flexibility. no meditation at all. didn’t even know there were other (yogic) names for the poses. i think yoga is OK!

  • christy

    i have enjoyed reading your blog, but haven’t really commented before. but, i had to applaud your post here. as a christian i have wrestled with this same issue and come to a similar place as you have. the attitude of the heart is what God is concerned about. i think it’s good to be mindful of what messages we are sending as believers with our actions, but i also think that fear can drive us to throw the baby out with the bathwater at times.

    one thing that i do to keep my mind focused on the one true God, especially if i find myself in a class where the teacher is focusing on the spiritual aspects more than the physical, is to meditate on the Jesus prayer:
    “Jesus Christ, Son of God,
    have mercy on me, a sinner.”
    i breathe this prayer in and out as a meditation and allow that to be the focus of my mind, rather than the other. this has helped me at times, maybe it will help you too!

    thanks for your blog, i enjoy it!

    Rita Reply:

    I’ve done that too! “Jesus Christ, Son of God,
    have mercy on me, a sinner” is actually in a very similar cadence to some of the Sanskrit phrases used in meditation, and works well with the breath.

    I also have no problem saying “namaste” – there is so much disagreement in how it’s translated. Some people would translate it as “I bow to you,” but in my classes it’s usually used as “I acknowledge the light of Christ in you,” or (if the class is not all Christian) “I acknowledge the image of God in you” – because all humans were made in the image of God!

    Katie Reply:

    Love that prayer! A good one I’ve forgotten about recently; thank you! :) Katie

  • Tonya

    Not a catholic but a Christian. I’ve taken one quarter of yoga via my employer. It was held in a large classroom with nothing newagey about it. Since it was my first time I wa really evaluating it. Honestly, yoga most remind me of the considerable stretching I did before & after running as a distance runner in high school something I had found soothing. While doin the yoga poses I would try to calm my usually overacting mind & find a state of peace & calm that ha nothing to do with magic, mysticism or non Christian religion. I enjoyed yoga. It strengthened my body & I wish I could have continued. Now that I’ve had chronic back pain for almost 2 years I want to do yoga again because I think it will help with the twisted spine & pelvis that are causin my back pain. I hear wii fit plus yoga is great, so I am going to put it in my budget. I agree with what your priest said Katie. Any exercise, any passtime really, could become a stumblingblock or false idol if we spend too much time with it vs our faith. My aunt often mentioned to me when I would skip church in jr high & high school.

    AmandaonMaui Reply:

    Christianity says to treat your body as the temple of Christ, and that we must maintain it and keep it in good condition. If yoga stretches were good for helping to maintain your phsyical being (your vessel) then I believe it is a good thing to do.

    As another person said, all physical movements have been done in various spiritual practices since the existence of mankind.

  • Esther

    How intriguing! I never thought of practicing yoga as a contradiction to my Catholic faith. I used it simply as a tool to gain flexibility and strength and found it hugely helpful when pregnant with my children. I agree with you, and with Dustin, when you say “It is not the action that defines the intent, but the intent that defines the soul and guides the action.” That is very well put.

    Jane Reply:

    The trouble is every teacher has a teacher, and somewhere down the line the spiritual element creeps in, its like being under a curse. You can be sure the Yogi considers you one of his disciples, even if you’ve never heard of him.

  • Sarah

    Can Catholics do yoga?

    In my opinion, of course they can!

    I’m not much of a yoga-er myself, but I do love it when pregnant. I have a pre-natal yoga DVD (that I’ve actually been meaning to get out and start doing regularly again) that I love! Why do I love it? Because it’s gentle stretching that makes my body feel better. It has nothing to do with my faith. Granted, my particular DVD is probably WAY more New-Agey vs. “fitness” oriented than anything by Denise Austen but I find it calming and meditative. I wear a rosary bracelet when I do it and it actually helps me find time to meditate on GOD and the beautiful blessing my body is experiencing carrying a child of God in my womb; it forces me to focus on my body (created by God), the miraculous concept of simply breathing that God created, and I have more energy and feel better about myself and can be a better, Godly, wife and mother when I take the time to do the yoga because I feel better afterwards.

    The DVD I have is Kundalini yoga, it’s highly New-Agey but I’ve never, ever, not once felt swayed into sinb ecause of it. When she chants something in Hindu or something that helps her focus inward, I pray the Jesus prayer or a Hail Mary. When she tells us to focus on the Divine Mother (Gaia, or themselves, I’m guessing) I focus on one of my favorite images of Mary with Child. I don’t know if it’s a strong sense of my faith or just being able to tune out rubbish and focus on what I believe in, but I’ve never worried about it.

    I don’t believe that modern yoga is a “Biblical” quandary. I’m a relatively conservative person, even in my faith, but I have no problem wearing pants, cutting my hair, drinking a glass of wine, doing yoga, and blessing and finding God in creation. I’ve chosen not to worry about it and choose instead to seek, find and worship God in daily, inward life, whether it’s at the grocery store, enjoying the sunshine in my garden, stretching at the yoga studio or diapering a baby.

    Okay, getting off my soapbox. . . ahem, thanks for the interesting post, Katie!

    Best,
    Sarah

    liz Reply:

    “There is no yoga without Hinduism, and no Hinduism without yoga.”

    http://www.hinduwisdom.info/Yoga_and_Hindu_Philosophy.htm

    Julia in West Des Moines Reply:

    i have to disagree. hindus are not a highly regulated group. several have told me that it’s a “do as much or as little as you like, you’ll still be considered hindu.”

    Wendy (The Local Cook) Reply:

    exactly. I work for an organization that works in India, and our missionaries say it’s always difficult to discern whether a hindu has truly become a Christian or whether they’ve just added it to their list of gods they believe in.

    Katie Reply:

    Dead on, Sarah! In that spiritual-ish studio, I used to pray a lot, too, so for me, it wasn’t a stumbling block, but I would just caution those weaker in their faith to be on guard against intrusions of evil. However…sometimes we get a little too cautious. I should get my prenatal yoga DVD out too! ;) Katie

    liz Reply:

    Doesn’t it alarm anyone that they have to pray and seek God so much during yoga?? Do you have to do that during any other exercise? Red flag.

    Christi Reply:

    I agree, red flag… my mom always said to “avoid the looks of evil”

  • sara

    I’m not Catholic (we belong to an RCA church), but I’ve wondered this same question. Thanks for tackling it-you’ve given me a lot to think about :)

  • Bethany

    1) Quick question regarding “We can’t be afraid of falling into sin on accident…”

    What about avoiding the near occasion of sin?

    2) Comments regarding “A sin is an act of the will, and to sin requires full knowledge of sin as well as full intent.”

    I don’t think sin involves INTENT; rather, sin involves knowledge and CONSENT. (My apologies for now knowing how to cite the Cathechism.)

    So it seems possible to consent to sin even if that is not the intent.

    3) I was on the fence about yoga before reading this post, leaning to the “maybe it’s okay” side. I now think I’m leaning to the “not okay” side.

    The analogy of an atheist taking the Eucharist is what is pushing me in that direction.

    A consecrated host, which is the Eucharist, is Jesus. An atheist (or other non-believer in transubstantiation) receiving/taking the Eucharist and declaring it to NOT be Jesus doesn’t change the fact that it is indeed the Body of Christ. The fact that the Eucharist is the Body of Christ is not dependent on that person’s belief in it. It is what it is, and the Eucharist is someBODY: Jesus.

    Katie Reply:

    Bethany,
    I do think the near occasion of sin deserves mention, so thank you for bringing it up. I would say that attending a yoga class where the instructor is spouting pantheistic views and asking you to center your mind on something other than God would or could be the near occasion of sin, depending on the person’s state of grace and relationship with God. That’s where the warnings against yoga hold water, in some sense.

    However, although you are dead on about the Eucharist being unchanged regardless of intent, the question remains: Is the Eucharist, a physical miracle with only one purpose, comparable to yoga, which is simply a position of the body, a body made for many purposes?

    I think a better analogy is my husband’s, which I forgot to include in the post: He says, “I can kneel down to use a tool under a table, but I’m not worshiping the table even though my body is doing the exact same motion as the genuflection I perform at church toward the Tabernacle.” Make sense??

    Thank you for your good comments, let’s keep dialoguing! ;) Katie

    Dustin | Fit Marriage Reply:

    Love your husband’s analogy, Katie!

    Bethany Reply:

    Your husband’s analogy does make me stop to think, so thank you for sharing it. :-) (I like thinking, by the way.)

    Assuming that yoga “is simply a position of the body” does make the comparison of the Eucharist to yoga seem like a bit of a stretch. Using this assumption, your husband’s analogy is a good fit.

    However, is that what yoga really is?

    Overall, I think this discussion would benefit from an “official” definition of terms. I’ve found these:

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/yoga

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/yoga

    Can form be separated from function?

    Thank you, Katie, for a thought-provoking post and for thoughtful replies. I studied lit theory & criticism in grad school, and this dialogue reminds me how much I miss thinking critically.

  • Nina

    Recently, I was shocked when I found a whole site of people who proclaimed they were christian and were quite hateful toward yoga, those who practiced it and, especially, those who did it and “professed” to be catholic and/or christian.

    honestly, I have a very difficult time with people who profess to be christian because of their outward actions- going to church, partaking of the sacrament, wearing certain clothes, etc. yet underneath they are not anything like Christ was or would want His followers to be. I call them surface christians and I will certainly NOT be spending eternity with them!

    Recently I had someone who constantly talks about her love of Christ and his teachings do some terrible things to me and my son. And I thought if this was the only person I was judging a Christian by, I would not be in any way inclined to find out more about Christ. I think that would be a good thing for everyone to learn when interacting with others and loudly professing their religion.

    I don’t think calling things garbage is appropriate and detracts from your well-written and thought out article.

    I have practiced yoga and never felt it was leading me away from Christ. if anything, it, more than anything, including the abusive priests and nuns who taught me nothing but to fear them as a child, helped me to learn to quiet my mind and focus on God and having the Spirit in my heart.

    honestly, I think its a little outrageous to be so caught up in the appearance of things. really! I think its much more important for those who profess to follow Christ to actually follow him and love everyone. I wonder how many people who are outraged by yoga are homeschooling their children and following a waldorf like lifestyle and way of teaching…which is based on a scientific spirituality which, imo, would contradict many roman catholic teachings.

    I think God wants us to care for our bodies. I think he wants us to eat well and to exercise them. They are a gift from Him and I think He’s going to be more upset if we don’t treat that gift well than He will be if we do yoga.

    Deb Reply:

    Ding ding ding ding!!!! I concur!!!

    Katie Reply:

    Nina,
    Thank you for the compliment about the thought that went into this article – I suppose when I haphazardly tossed out the word “garbage” I was getting a bit fed up with the whole issue and let it show. I hope that one word didn’t taint the whole focus of the post, which was one part exploration of all sides for everyone’s benefit, and one part speaking my mind, which is that yoga exercises can be separated from the religion from whence they come and are not always (but could possibly be) harmful to one’s soul.

    I am so saddened that certain people in your past have given you negative views on the Church because of the way they have hurt you. I’ll pray for your peace and continued love for others, even those who were not loving to you. God bless, Katie

    Josie Reply:

    Bravo Liz!

  • Naomi H

    Great post Katie! While I agree with your conclusion, I have watched many of my friends and relatives walk the path towards New Age with seemingly innocuous beginnings. I wish that things like yoga from a Christian perspective were more available. Even if someone goes to mumbo jumbo yoga because it helps their back, they are still hearing the same stuff over and over, and we can become blase and let our guard down. How much better would it be to go to a Christian based yoga class?

  • Danielle

    I hear what you are saying but I would error on the side of caution.

    I also think the new Zumba is on the line. It looks like a sensual tribal dance. Just because I am doing it in my home, thinking right thoughts, not showing my body … doesn’t mean it doesn’t leave an open door to Satan and the supernatural world.

    Stephanie M Reply:

    I don’t have a problem with yoga, but I do have a problem with Zumba. I feel at peace when I do yoga, but Zumba made me feel dirty. I follow my gut and it serves me well.

  • Wendy (The Local Cook)

    I’m not Catholic but I found this post interesting because when I was going through my divorce I spent a lot of time at the Dominican Center (which I’m pretty sure is Catholic . . . ) doing labyrinth walks, taking yoga and Tai Chi. It definitely helped me feel closer to God and help me through a difficult time. Maybe because it was taught by a nun from a Christian/catholic perspective? At the time I was like “cool, these Catholics have redeemed some great spiritual disciplines!”

    The yoga I’ve done at the gym is definitely not spiritual. In fact many of the poses are identical to stretching routines on my workout videos that you do after exercise.

    I’m reminded of Paul and the whole eating meat thing . . .

    Katie Reply:

    Yes! Thank you, Wendy! We studied that one last year in Bible study, and Paul really took a forgiving ground, allowing Christians to eat meat sacrificed to idols if served by their hosts, for example. :) Katie

  • marcella

    I think the instructor and the type of yoga matter. We often tend to lump anything called “yoga” into the same pot but actually there are the old traditional religious poses and what many others call “american yoga” like downward dog that are new and unrelated to the religious. I am very uncomfortable with the new agey, medatative yoga style. However, I have done Bikram yoga for quite a while and do not feel it’s the same. In bikram you are to be focused on the present (not thinking about the sun or your inner feelings), no eye closing and drifting off is allowed. You are present and focused on your posture period. I think there is modern yoga out there like your p90x that is soley based on the body position and the flexibility or strength it gives rather than the “spiritual” mumbo jumbo it might have evolved from. I do see them differently and don’t feel that one will lead me down the wrong path to the other. Candy canes and Easter eggs haven’t lead me to paganism either :-)

  • liz

    No, you cannot do yoga as a Christian. It is true that with each pose you are bowing to false gods. I got into a discussion about this with Jan of Olive Tree Ministries. She gave me the smack down. I had one of the most awesome yoga dvd’s ever by Shiva Rea. Fortunately I found a dvd from WholyFit http://wholyfit.org . It is very much like yoga but is christian based and meditates on God’s word. The good thing? Its challenging.

    Tonya Reply:

    who draws the line between a stretch/posture/pose being yoga & not yoga. Looking at your link…the people pictured look like they are doing yoga to me.

    liz Reply:

    The fact that everyone is taking such offense at my lack of endorsement for yoga is heartening to me. Analyze it to down to the very last corpse pose, its contrary to scripture. Plain and simple. That is not hate speech or condemnation. You will NOT go to hell for doing yoga. I am just warning you. Take it as you will.

    AmandaonMaui Reply:

    If we will not go to hell for doing it, then why do we need a warning against it?

    liz Reply:

    Well, if it led you down the road to another religion causing you to turn your back on God….see where I am going with this? If you eat the meat that everyone likes to cling to (seeing that is more important than the commandments) you will not go to hell. But if you begin to partake in the lifestyle and worship other gods you run the risk of becoming like Solomon. I do not want to put myself at risk of losing God’s favor. Once again, if you get offended by someone’s simple statement ie “yoga does not line up with scripture” then maybe the topic bears more scrutiny.

    Sarah Reply:

    I’m not sure that anyone is offended by your statement. We are simply asking you to back it up with a scriptural reference, since you keeps saying that “yoga does not line up with scripture.” I also asked you to back up your claim that anyone is defending yoga in a way that is “contrary to scripture.” (from another comment further down)

    I commend your encouragement for Christians to go to the Bible for their decision-making; for what it’s worth, I absolutely agree. I would like to see what scriptures you have used to form your belief, so that I can analyze them for myself. Thanks.

    liz Reply:

    Well, gently I would direct anyone to Deut. 8:19 “But I assure you of this: If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, worshiping and bowing down to them, you will certainly be destroyed” In Israel, time and time again the people kept going back to false idols or behaviors that were tied to other cultures.
    Of course I refer to Deut. 5:6 ” I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in Egypt. Do not worship any other gods besides me.” It is true, as another person said that there is only one GOD. But there are countless demons, fallen angels, whose job is to undercut God’s Word wherever they can. These demons have set themselves up as gods to be worshiped. Hinduism has 350 million and counting.
    1 Timothy 4:1-2 states ” Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times so will turn away from what we believe; they will follow lying spirits and teachings that come from demons. These teachers are hypocrites and liars.” Some here on this board have argued that yogas benefits are good because it leads to healing in areas of back pain etc. But I would argue that Satan sets up counterfeit systems, even ones that appear beneficial, to lead believers astray.
    2Cor 11:14-15 “But I am not surprised! Even Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder his servants can also do it by pretending to be godly ministers.”
    Yoga ends with the saying namaste meaning the divinity or light within me salutes the divinity or light within you. Or simply, I bow to you.
    2 Peter 3:16 “Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters around to mean something quite different from what he meant, just as they do the other parts of Scripture-and the result is disaster for them” I have read quotes with Scripture to defend yoga. These scriptures were never written to defend yoga. Yoga was not involved in creation, the laws, grace or salvation. At all. I do not say these things in hate or condemnation. I say them out of concern for my brothers and sisters who are being led astray. Be wise, be sober. There are many ways to get fit. Be in God’s Word daily and His Holy Spirit will guide you.

    Katie Reply:

    Liz,
    I definitely appreciate you turning to Scripture, and I agree that some folks could be led astray by some teachers of yoga (many teachers of yoga, perhaps?). That’s why I would caution Christians to seed a godly (or at least religiously neutral) yoga teacher and avoid classes with pagan undertones.

    However, I have to agree with Tonya that every pose I saw on the wholyfit site is from yoga…so rather than an “alternative to yoga,” I’d call that “Christian yoga” – and I think that’s pretty cool!

    In 1 Cor 10, just after St. Paul says that Christians can’t eat meat sacrificed to idols because they’d be partners with demons, he tells them not to question where the meat comes from so they’re not a pain in everyone’s behind. It’s okay to eat the meat, then…the meat itself has no power. But if your friend tells you it’s idol meat, you can’t eat it – that would be a bad example for your neighbor. I’m thinking yoga poses on their own have no power to kill our souls….it’s knowing and believing that they’re pagan worship that will. That’s where our own conscience and calling comes in.

    May we all find ways to exercise that lead no one to sin!
    Katie

  • liz

    oh, and labyrinth walks and all that stuff is a covert infiltration of the church by new age and mystic mumbo jumbo. I would advise those who “feel” closer to God by doing those kinds of things to be very wary. The Galatians were reprimanded severely for looking for ways to get a “feeling” that was not scriptural. If Jesus did not do it, we should not even contemplate it. He is our model.

    Dustin | Fit Marriage Reply:

    I respect your opinions, Liz, but your last statement really struck me so I hope you can clarify.

    Surely, you don’t mean that we can’t do anything Jesus didn’t do? Jesus didn’t drive a car and motorized vehicles aren’t mentioned in Scripture, so does that make driving a car an invitation to demonic possession?

    Jesus also didn’t go to Church, say the Rosary or read the teachings of a Pope…all of which can help us feel closer to God in our modern age. Can we not “contemplate” any modern activities without losing our status as a Christian?

    AmandaonMaui Reply:

    I agree with you. Jesus didn’t post on the internet either. LOL

    The other thing is, Jesus did not hate and Jesus did not condemn so harshly.

    liz Reply:

    Sure, I would be happy to clarify. As far as Jesus would travel? He did what was appropriate for the common man during his time. Rode on a beast of burden or walked. Scripture does not mention him on a chariot as far as I know. So to put it in todays perspective, I am sure he would have ridden a bike or used a car, maybe a bus. But I doubt he would have ridden in a limo, even if Peter paid for one… Nothing too showy. As far as how he communicated, again he communicated appropriately for the times. Today, He may have used several outlets to call as many to Him as possible. He may have gone with Sprint but preferred Verizon.
    The point is, that Jesus modeled the way to be a good human and a follower of Him. He showed us how to pray. He did NOT bow to other Gods. He did not seek out ways to “feel” closer to God. Prayer IS closeness to God. Living for Christ IS closeness to God. Yoga has been around, according to some sources, for 5000 years. Jesus did not do it. I did it and found out it was contrary to my faith. So I stopped. I cannot say that we should ONLY do what Jesus did, but that’s a good place to start. I also know that Jesus was not born during this time period, so I have to use scripture and my brains to figure out whats appropriate.

  • liz

    If your child or a new believer saw you doing yoga, how would you justify its safety? Would you warn them not to attempt it until they were fully rooted in their faith? If you have to give that warning, or justify it in anyway that is contrary to scripture, I would mark it down as a stronghold and turn from it.

    Linda Reply:

    This is similar to what I was going to post, Liz. We have to be very careful about what our own behavior is saying to other people, lest our actions cause confusion or scandal. If someone who is NOT strongly rooted in their faith sees you practicing yoga poses, and doesn’t realize that you’re not practicing the “religious” side of it, they may think it’s perfectly fine to go take any old yoga class. They may then be put in a dangerous place for their soul, or at least “a near occasion of sin”, because they were imitating you. Does that make sense?
    I’ve often wondered about how yoga exercise and Catholicism could work together or clash. This post definitely makes me lean on the side of avoidance of yoga.
    I’m going to have to check out that wholyfit.org site. Thanks for mentioning it!

    MaryEllen Reply:

    Liz, that doesn’t answer Dustin’s question to you.

    Linda Reply:

    Liz posted this comment before Dustin asked her that question.

    Sarah Reply:

    “If you have to give that warning, or justify it in anyway that is contrary to scripture, I would mark it down as a stronghold and turn from it.”

    I absolutely agree. However, please explain how yogic practices are being justified in a way that is contrary to scripture. In fact, I went straight to scripture for the point I was trying to make.

    As far as a child (or any new believer) asking questions, I would be delighted. I would explain exactly what I wrote in my comment. There is a big dfference between explaining – illuminating a point that is not immediately obvious – and justifying – scrambling to make something that you know is not okay seem like it is okay.

    As far as a young believer asking question, it is not about spiritual maturity. It is about where your heart lies with God on the matter, and also what your personal history is. Most alcoholics refrain from drinking any alcohol at all. Is it because consuming alcohol in any amounts is a sin? No, it is because they know that they have a personal area of weakness, and they are – as the Bible advocates – fleeing from temptation. That, however, is a matter of understanding yourself, not laying down blanket restrictions that everyone should abide by.

    In the situation you mention (being questioned by a child or young believer), I would probably mention a few of the arguments for, a few of the arguments against, explain my personal conviction, and then encourage the person to seek more information, study scripture, pray about it, and then make their own decision. It may not be easy, but the fact is that there are a lot of areas of our lives that the Bible does not lay down absolute proscriptions or restrictions. In those areas, the “final answer” may be different for different people.

    liz Reply:

    Yoga is not running obsessively or making fitness the first focus in your life. (Like alcoholism to the alcoholic. Thanks for using that analogy btw, my husband is in recovery.) Yoga is a companion training program to a religion. Not onward Christian soldiers, but onward Shiva’s beings of light. Its a BIG difference. Believe me, I would LOVE to have the stretching exercises completely extrapolated from yoga. I think they have true benefits. But what if say, you found out that doing the rain dance or a druid ceremony had heart and health benefits? Yoga is so slick and harmless looking. Its easy to want to find it harmless. I am only giving my opinion. If you find that its okay with you, by all means. If I have given you something to think about…wonderful!

    Tonya Reply:

    I’ve danced in the rain too. Not to make it rain, not to worship a rain god, just because it hadn’t in so long & it was a welcome relief to me personally & (I assume) the crops & plants around me.

    AmandaonMaui Reply:

    Will you stop your children from dancing around to music, or running around in the yard?
    Would you stop grinding your own grain, or sewing?
    Would you stop caring for your family, stop giving them medicine?
    All of these things have been, and are part of spiritual practices around the globe.

    liz Reply:

    Oh good grief. Please. This is what I am talking about. You attack me because I am raising an alarm about something that has infiltrated christianity. Yes, like the Christmas tree, and the Easter bunny. If you are doing yoga and feeling just peachy about it, carry on. Running around in the yard? Sewing? C’mon. The point of discussion is to listen to both sides and form an opinion. My opinion is that yoga and hinduism go hand in hand. I am not a hindu, so I do not practice yoga, lest outsiders view me as a hindu.

    Katie Reply:

    Liz,
    We do each have to listen to God’s call in our own hearts, to a certain extent. I’m not saying that our consciences are always correct, or that we all get to make up our own moral standards based on what we feel is right – that’s relativism and anti-faith. But in a situation like this that seems so gray, we must consult holy priests we trust and form our consciences with prayer. I appreciate your perspective, and know that I for one am certainly not judging your convictions. It’s difficult to explain God’s working in one’s own soul, and I commend you for sharing,
    Thanks, Katie

  • Sarah

    It’s interesting that you post this now, because I just had this conversation with my mother a week ago. First off, let me say that I am not Catholic, and I think that makes a big difference in the way I come to this question. As you said, “Catholicism is a faith that requires total allegiance to the magisterium (the pope) on matters of faith and morals.” As a protestant Christian, I simply do not share that viewpoint. If my church were to speak out against yoga, I might refrain, not because I think it’s inherently evil – nor would I teach people that it is inherently evil because the church says so – but rather because I believe that by joining my church, I am placing myself under the authority of its leadership. If I cannot follow their leading, than I probably need to find another church.

    That being said, my mom and I had an excellent discussion about this very matter. We talked about Paul’s comments from the book of Romans. “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.” (14:14) He says that even meat directly sacrificed to idols does not *necessarily* have power over a believer who eats it. If something so directly pagan and idolatrous can be permissible, who are we to decry yoga as too vile to be redeemed by God?

    I thin that the key to Paul’s argument is that one must settle the matter between oneself and the Holy Spirit. If you are convicted by the Spirit that yoga is not for you, then you need to follow that. Disobeying something that God has spoken to you is a sin, regardless of what that conviction pertains to. If you have studied the matter through scripture, prayed about it, listened for God’s word, and are still not convicted, than it’s not an issue.

    For whatever it’s worth our final decision was this… for me, yoga is not a sin. I feel no convition warning me off from yoga as a practice of physical exercise. (Of course, as everyone else has mentioned, as a spiritual practice of meditation for the purpose of joining myself with the deity that supposedly infuses the whole univers, I would not be okay with it.) For my mother, who was heavily into the New Age scene before she gave her life to Christ, yoga is not permissible. It puts her into a dangerous position, because it opens her up to a spirituality that once had a deep hold on her life. I think an interesting point that we realized was that the Holy Spirit drew this line for her not to make more rules for her to follow, but rather to protect her from something that could be harmful.

    In the end, I am brought back to Romans 14:22, “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” Each of us should definitely ponder these things deeply before we make a decision. However, we do not do so to decide if it is permissible for any Christian to do such a thing, but rather to discover what God has to say to ME about MY engagement in this practice. I leave this comment with one final quote from Romans:

    “10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

    “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
    ‘every knee will bow before me;
    every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

    12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.”

    Thanks for opening the door to this interesting and important discussion.

    Ellen Reply:

    That’s fantastic, Sarah. Thanks for putting all that out there. As a non-catholic christian, that’s exactly how I approach the question and you expressed it so well.

    I would love to see more christians from every denomination answering questions straight from scripture.

    Dustin | Fit Marriage Reply:

    Great response, Sarah. Thank you for your insights on this topic!

    Sara Reply:

    Exactly what I was thinking, Sarah, just much more eloquently said :) Thanks for backing up with such great Scripture!

    Molly Reply:

    Thank you Sarah for your references and points. They were exactly what comes to my mind when I think of this subject. For some it may be sin and for some it may not be. We all have different areas of weakness that leads us away from God. We are not given authority to condemn each other but we are to be iron that sharpens iron.
    There are numerous areas in life that can be similarly contoversial. For me personally, a few years back I chose to change my diet to that of a kosher one. This was something that God was working with me on. It became an area of conviction. I don’t condemn others or think poorly of them for not feeling the same because that is obviously not something God has convicted them of. I still cheerfully cook bacon for my husband.
    I feel that God gave the law of clean and unclean animals to us because He knows what is healthiest for our bodies. Living healthier and being concerned about what I take into my body, this temple, has been and still is a journey for me. To all of us, please be cautious about where you throw your judgements and how you do so b/c it can potentially do more harm than good.
    I thought this was a great topic and enjoyed the many view points shared here.

    Sarah Reply:

    Funny that you mention eating kosher, Molly. I do keep kosher, as a believing Jew, not because I feel like I need to, but because it maintains a cultural connection for me. I was attacked by a Christian brother for this, and accused of legalism. I loved your comment that “we are not given authority to condemn each other.” Amen!

    Katie Reply:

    Thank you, too, Sarah! I used Paul’s recommendations for meat sacrificed to idols in a post above, but you worded it so much more eloquently. A very good example about your mother, for whom yoga is dangerous.

    Thank you for the good Scriptural insight – :) Katie

  • Bethany

    I hadn’t thought of this subject in this light. Excellent point.

    Bethany Reply:

    I’m not sure what I did wrong here, but I was trying to reply to Liz’s comment about yoga and children. I’m sorry for the confusion.

  • Michelle

    This post and all of the comments after have been very interesting. I am not catholic either. I am a christian though. I avoided yoga for many years because of the spiritual implications. However, I’ve always used stretching to ease my back pain and headaches and wondered if the yoga stretches would be beneficial. When we got our Wii Fit, There was yoga on it. I decided to try it since I could just shut it off if it was spiritual in nature. There was only one pose that I decided I wasn’t doing (one where you sit cross legged as still as you can and focus on the image of a candle) . The rest of it was just stretching and breathing deeply with no concentration on anything but the stretch and no chanting. It has been extremely beneficial. I even found out that a few of the stretches that my christian chiropractor had taught me when I struggled with sciatica a few years before, were yoga poses. I still won’t go to an actual class. I’m too worried about the atmosphere that the instructor will want to introduce. I won’t even take it from a “christian” instructor because of the amount of people in this country calling themselves christian who are obviously not christian. I do go to a church that believes very much in the spirit world. We know that dabbling in anything of Satan can give him a foothold in our lives. That being said, I even spoke to one of our elders about the yoga because he is struggling with sciatica. If this was something that they felt was of Satan, I would have been admonished to stay away from it.

  • Amy

    Great post! There are some crazy threads about this on fisheaters – it’s so much nicer to read a coherent, balanced article than a fiery forum thread. :)
    I agree with Sarah: ‘“I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.” (14:14) He says that even meat directly sacrificed to idols does not *necessarily* have power over a believer who eats it. If something so directly pagan and idolatrous can be permissible, who are we to decry yoga as too vile to be redeemed by God?’

    Bodily postures are not and cannot be inherently bad. God created us and out bodies and said that it was good. I do think it depends on your own sense of temptation. I think so often we are embarrassed to admit to being tempted by petty things. But there it is. I personally would only do yoga at a really fitness-oriented class. When I was pregnant I was emailing all around to try to find a class where the teacher wouldn’t proselytize, haha. (Ultimately I couldn’t afford it, anyway.) For me it would have been a temptation over a period of several weeks, knowing that the smalltalk before and after would have been fluffy as well.

    I also keep in mind that when we are talking about physical-fitness yoga, the word “yoga” almost becomes arbitrary. What does it even mean? If we modify poses for pregnant people, or start making up our own stuff that feels good and pushes us, is that even yoga anymore? Can we just “christen” it as something else entirely and be done with the worrying? My point being that it’s not a uniform entity; from studio to studio and person to person, how we understand and practice yoga will differ widely, so I feel that blanket judgments are unwise.

  • Bethany

    Something else to consider… First, I totally get trying to separate out the physical poses from the spiritual aspects of yoga since that has, historically, been my approach. But is it possible to do just that? What happens when we try to remove the original meaning/intent from something? This makes me think about what happens when we try to separate the procreative and unitive aspects of sex. (The results of which are disastrous, despite any “good” intentions, and lead us away from God.) P.S. So thankful for this discussion today. It is distracting me from unnecessary worry in addition to challenging me to think about a topic in a new way and to reminding me of the power of words to shape thoughts, beliefs, and actions. :-)

    AmandaonMaui Reply:

    “What happens when we try to remove the original meaning/intent from something? This makes me think about what happens when we try to separate the procreative and unitive aspects of sex.”

    Could you elaborate on what you mean by this?

    Katie Reply:

    Amanda,
    In Catholic teaching, God designed sex for two purposes: procreation of the species and the enhancement of the permanent bond of marriage. Because of the hormones released in sex and the soul-connecting that invariably happens, it brings two people together. The intent is forever, such that when sex happens outside marriage, the unitive meaning is lost, and people are hurt when they are not together forever. When the procreative aspect is shoved off, such as with contraception, God is also pushed out, causing the two people, even when married, to be in sin. Their bodies are saying “I give myself fully to you,” while they are not really giving fully. Any lie damages relationships, both the marriage and with God. That’s the disaster, pretty common in our society. Katie

    Katie Reply:

    Bethany,
    I’m thinking it depends on whether God designed the action, as with sex, and wrote into it certain elements, such as the procreative and unitive, as opposed to postures that humans designed. I do think they can be separated w/o disaster. ;) Katie

  • Rita

    Thanks for talking about this topic, Katie.

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. As far as I know, the idea that yoga is a millennia-old religious tradition was invented just over a 100 years ago. Religious groups and yoga studios like this myth because it lends seriousness and credibility. But yoga asanas (the movements/postures) were basically developed just like any other formalized exercise routine. So people who worry that doing yoga is making them susceptible to an ancient religion are worrying over false information.

    Here are two articles that address the historicity of yoga asanas:
    http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/living/not-as-old-as-you-think

    http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/article7172361.ece

    2. The pieces of yoga that are very old and religious are not the pieces that are usually emphasized in most American yoga studios – for example, concepts of ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (not lying), or yoga of devotion, yoga of liberation, etc.

    I’m not sure where people are getting their information when they claim that the motions of yoga are inextricably linked to the spirituality of yoga – all the different classes/videos that I’m familiar with are just variations of hatha yoga (or asanas), which is only one tiny part of the idea of Yoga. The asanas are only linked to spirituality if you intend them to be.

    I once attended a class at a studio that did emphasize chakras, chanting, and ‘enlightenment,’ and was very uncomfortable and never went back. But that was one iffy experience in years and years of different yoga studios and classes.

    3. Katie, I know you’re in the GR area – I don’t live there any more but when I did I took classes with Andre Daley, who is an amazing Christian yoga instructor. He’s not Catholic, but I would check him out – a couple classes really changed my mind about how to use yoga.

    Here is an article about yoga and Christians on his website, Wholly Yoga: http://www.whollyyoga.com/about/yoga-christians/

    And here is a reflection I wrote about using yoga as a (temporary!) way to worship: http://www.ritafeikema.com/2010/08/yoga-worship-and-great-strength.html

    4. As you may guess from #1-3, I practice yoga and like it. I would say it’s “just” exercise, but that’s not quite true – in the life of a Christian, nothing is “just” anything – all actions/thoughts/intentions matter! It’s just exercise in the same way that what I choose to eat is just food, that what I wear is just clothes, that what I give with or buy with is just money.

    Sarah Reply:

    These articles you linked to in your first point are fascinating! (Especially the first one, though I will need to reread it when I have more time and quiet.)

    Thanks for sharing them.

    Katie Reply:

    Thanks, Rita, although I’m probably too cheap to take a real yoga class anymore! ;) Katie

  • MegganB

    I am a protestant – if I have to give myself. It seems to me that there is such a huge concern over drawing lines in the sand and little to do with the heart. I know plenty of people “of faith” who are ridiculously concerned with issues like yoga, pre-marital sex, drinking, rosaries, etc. I feel like so many things people look for an approval from their priest or Rome or their minister but the cool part is Jesus says that we are all now priests – that we can pray directly to him – no need to run down to your local parish – just ask! I guarantee that HE will respond to your heart. And for me that’s what this particular practice is about – the heart. I think that’s what Christ is most concerned with – where is your heart?

    Katie Reply:

    Meggan,
    I agree that some get overly concerned about matters that don’t seem all that important…but I can’t condone pre-marital sex on that list. Sex out of marriage not only damages, but KILLS our relationship with God. I’ll live my life without a Rosary and among people who are drinking and doing yoga all day long, but I will never see pre-marital sex as not important. I believe that’s one sin that is eating our culture from the inside out and pray often for our world to be healed and return to a proper respect for holy marriage.

    One’s heart must be with Christ, yes…and he says pretty unequivocally to keep sex within a permanent marriage.

    God bless you, Katie

    MegganB Reply:

    Hi Katie,
    I re-read my comment and yours and I’m sorry if I sounded flippant to the Holiness and sanctity to marriage. I whole-heartedly believe in abstaining from sex before marriage and remaining pure and faithful to your spouse so I’m sorry if by putting it in my “list” I seemed to condone that behavior. If I can re-state my thoughts – I feel like Christians have some sort of a “black list” that they have for all those things they don’t approve of in others. Some Christians are very strict and others seem to have no “list” at all. My point is – I get concerned with lists because what they seem to do is control behavior of others rather than with matters of the heart. Some how putting others on one side of the line and of “those” people that do “those” things… Christ’s love transforms our hearts from the inside. I’m sure I hang out with MANY people that don’t remain pure before marriage and I’m okay with that. I don’t condone their actions or encourage them to stay unfaithful but I do love them. There is no sin that is greater than God’s love.
    So, how I was intending this to relate to yoga is that to me it’s a practice about the heart – as in, I’m a Christian and my heart belongs to God – no amount of physical stretching (even if others around me have alternate views) is going to change that for me. Just as being around people who have had premarital sex doesn’t change my view or make me love them any less. Sorry if I’m a rambling fool or if I make no sense – I didn’t mean to get in to a debate – especially about purity – of which I’m completely a practicer and a preacher :) thanks Katie!

  • Kayce hughes

    It reminds me a bit about the issue of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols.

  • AmandaonMaui

    “Mention of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” which of course disallows the religious practice of yoga, but I still can’t tell if we can do the exercise without the turning of the heart.”

    Right there you are pointing out a very interesting piece of scripture. This piece of scripture acknowledges the existence of other gods, and to me allows for the practice of yoga and connection with these other dieties/spirits/etc. but that you must place the Christian God higher above all of the other dieties.
    I do not see it as condemning anything. I see it as saying that Christianity must be more important to you than any other religion or spirituality.

    Katie Reply:

    Amanda,
    The first commandment had to speak to the people of the time, surrounded by other (wrong) religions with their own gods. There is no God but one Lord, and any other “god” is Satan in disguise. That’s why we can’t worship other gods at all, not just a little bit less than the real God.

    “No other gods before me” can even apply to people who put money, power, or even food in a place more important than God…but that doesn’t make any of those things a god.

    I hope that cleared things up – I’m not trying to chastise you, only to explain what I felt you misunderstood. Always good to have you around! ;) Katie

    Barbara Reply:

    Each yoga pose is a pose to a Hindu god. Doing yoga “just for exercise” is breaking the first commandment.

    “…any other god is Satan in disguise…” Could it be possible that Satan would use an exercise that people find pleasurable to lure people away from God?

  • Elizabeth

    I have to admit I did not make it to the end of the post–sorry! BUT, the thing that holds the most weight for me is the point you made about how many of our traditions are actually rooted in pagan practices that we have turned into a way to glorify God. Christmas is the first one that comes to mind; and there are countless others. The point is, Satan is in this world and he has brought all kinds of evil and misery into it. BUT–the remarkable thing about God is that he can use those things–even the evil things–to bring himself glory. He can turn sinful, ugly things into beautiful things filled with grace and mercy. So why can’t yoga be one of those things? I don’t practice yoga (because I am too lazy ;) but, as a Christian, I do not have a problem with the practice of yoga as exercise. And if you want to bring spirituality into it, then yes, let it be a time to pray and open your heart and meditate on God.

  • 'Becca

    I’m an Episcopalian, not a Catholic. I agree with your decision, and I’m impressed that you did so much research! Two things jump out at me:

    a god within oneself is intrinsically evil
    What does “the Kingdom of God is within you” mean to you? This is an honest question. My belief is that God is within us as well as without because God is everywhere. Similarly, I don’t worship nature; I worship the God who created nature and is within it but is also far larger than that.

    Since you (and I) believe that “there is one God and one God only,” the idea that we could be accidentally worshiping a false god doesn’t make sense: There isn’t any other god! “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” means, “Don’t treat anything else as if it were your god,” it doesn’t mean that there are other genuine gods floating around. I’m not afraid of false gods overpowering me if I do a particular stretch without believing in them, because false gods have no power but what I could give them if I believed. The problem with the Eucharist analogy is that the Eucharist is REAL and TRUE and this other stuff is not, so I see no reason to be afraid of it!

    Stretching and deep breathing, whether called “yoga” or not, can facilitate a more peaceful and meditative mental state. What you do with that mental state is up to you.

    Katie Reply:

    Becca,
    I guess the difference between our God living within us, which He certainly does in the Holy Spirit and through the Eucharist, and connecting with a “god” within is that any other god is Satan in disguise. The gods that others believe in, since they aren’t the true god, have to be evil as there is no middle ground. Satan’s greatest trick is to convince us he doesn’t exist – not that I think you don’t believe he exists, but it’s important in the battle of spiritual warfare for our souls that we acknowledge that Satan has some unfortunate power in this world. Could he work through yoga to steal a soul? You bet. We have to be so on guard.

    Really good clarifying question, though – I hope this helps other readers, too. :) Katie

    Barbara Reply:

    Couldn’t Satan use the pride of our intelligence to trick us into thinking that we are safe if we just do it as an exercise, especially when the Hindus say that you can not separate the postures from the religious beliefs?

  • lynn

    It seems to me that many gymnastic moves come from hatha yoga. I have practiced both gymnastics and yoga and see many similarities. Does that mean that Christian girls shouldn’t do gymnastics? I mean how far do we take this?

    Physical yoga is a cellular exercise bringing blood to areas that it would not normally reach. This also includes the brain and hormonal system. So practicing yoga may give you a natural euphoria or enhance a meditative state. Perhaps the Church can learn something from this. After all our spirits are connected to our bodies. Didn’t you mention this in your “Theology of the Body” post?

    Personally I find it helps my bad back, fights cellulite and tones my whole body. It’s the best form of exercise I’ve ever done.

    Tonya Reply:

    I think that if we overanalyze everything, we will end up with nothing outside the church that is God approved.

    dancing bad
    yoga bad
    sports bad

    should our only excercise be walking?

  • liz

    It is one thing to eat at a neighbors home and not know if the their food was sacrifice to idols. If you directly ask, and find out that it was, then your opinion of the meal might change. That’s personal. But there is a BIG, BIG difference in getting in a position that brings exaltation to one of the millions of Hindu gods. Believe me, I practiced Yoga for years. I always struggled with not putting “any other god’s before Me” part. I explained it away that I was not a worshiper of these gods, so I was not bringing them glory or honor. I even tried to turn the volume down and put on praise and worship music. Still struggled. Then when I was trying to recommend yoga to a friend who was struggling with back pain, I told her that I would avoid going to yoga classes. When she asked why told her that they do and say things that are not Christian. She then asked why would I even be involved in something like that. That sent me on a search. It was tough. But I had to lay yoga aside. I loved it. I truly did.
    This article explains it pretty well.
    http://www.newswithviews.com/West/marsha198.htm

    Katie Reply:

    Liz, I started the article but stopped when she picked on Lectio Divina, an ancient heritage in my Church, and put Roman Catholic mysticism in the same boat as Buddhists. I’m sticking with my Catholicism through rain or shine (or 100 comments!). ;) Katie

  • Lori

    I’m also not a Catholic, just a Bible-believing Christian. There is so much controversy on this topic. I found a wonderful alternative called Praise Moves. Check out http://www.praisemoves.com She has a great take on ‘yoga.’ Godly fitness for everyone!

    Blessings!

    Ed Reply:

    I’ve thought a lot about this as well, and saw Praise Moves, and I feel that it is bogus. They take Yoga poses, call them something else, and pretend that it’s not Yoga. They use the term Christian Alternative to Yoga, but in reality she stole the moves, renamed them and pretended she came up with them independently.

    In my research I preferred Yaweh Yoga. Same thing as Praise Moves, you get scripture to keep the eastern influences at bay, but it seems to be more honest about its roots. It’s moves come from Yoga traditions, but the eastern spiritualism has been replaced with Christian teachings.

  • Lori

    I think it is commendable that you looked deep into this issue, but as a few others have stated, I would look into what God’s word says over what any church says since the word of God is what counts. As a born again Christian, I know that I must follow God’s word in all things and not a church. My hope does not lie in a church, but in God.
    As long as Yoga is done with the right aspect (limbering/stretching), without having to listen to one who is practising Hinduism, I think it would be okay.We have borrowed heavily from pagan nations in many of our traditions and turned them into Christian holy days.

  • Karen

    Hi Katie – It’s your Southern Baptist friend here…
    Fantastic post…kudos on your diligent research. I personally don’t find the movements in yoga to be threatening to my eternal soul – any more than jitterbugging in the 40s or rock & roll in the 50s – even though my own denomination has come out against it. I would agree with other posters, and encourage everyone to go to Romans 14, and read the WHOLE chapter. We have a greater responsibility to our fellow man, and that is to share God’s love, not threaten with damnation. If we belong to Jesus, then the Holy Spirit dwells within us and will guide us in all matters of living.

  • Jen @ Oh no! I really do need to eat my vegetables!

    Thanks for a great post! You may want to add to your list of resources: http://www.newagedeception.com/new/
    The host of that website was heavily involved in the New Age movement, converted, and has clarified yoga on catholic answers many times. From what I recall, (and you can check her website on this), basically there is yoga that is dangerous, and there is yoga that is really just pilates and called “yoga” to attract participants.
    Some of these same concerns come up with homeopathy and other “alternative” methods of healing as well – the hard part sometimes is discerning the methods from the madness. But if you are just trying to relax, heal, stretch, and help your body, then there is no danger. Only if you are trying to “empty your mind” or enter a meditative state or belief system apart from the truth is there danger. God naturally put all kinds of methods of healing into the natural order, and many of them are not yet understood. That doesn’t mean we should condemn and fear what we do not understand, but arm ourselves with prayer and study of the truth, and embrace all that is good.

    AmandaonMaui Reply:

    I like how you point out that homeopathy, and many of the natural healing and wellness methods (discussed here on KS too), have been condemned because they are used in other spiritual practices. However, they were put here for us to make use of for our well being.
    Just because someone of another spirituality uses herbs to heal doesn’t mean Christians should not use them.
    Frankly I’d trust a product of nature (created by God) over a product of man (made by man).

    Katie Reply:

    Thanks, Jen! I’ll have to dig deeper than the first page on that site, but thank you for summarizing. Sounds sensible to me… :) Katie

  • Hanna

    Thanks for bringing this all up, Katie. We are faced daily with decisions about how to live and what to do, etc. The first and foremost foundation for all things is the Scriptures. To search and know the heart of God through His revealed Word to us will make us wise unto knowledge, and that’s what we need most in order to truly follow Him.

    In reading your full post and most all the many, many comments, I found that really this is all about man’s ideas, not God’s. We are not to rely on each others’ wisdom, it’s like the blind leading the blind! Found your beliefs in Scripture, taking it’s full counsel into consideration, and then let each man stand or fall to his own Master.

    “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Philippians 4:8

    Colossians 3 also has much to say about our heart focus.

    Can the Lord redeem a “pagan” ritual or holiday or exercise, etc? Is that a question of God’s sovereign power? Of course He can! Should we, His people, try and redeem it ourselves? Probably not.

    “When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations.” Deuteronomy 18:9.

    The whole book of James is very good, speaking to our heart attitudes, but especially chapter 1.

    This is by no way a thorough look at God’s full Word, but a starting point. Go to Him first, seeking His revealed will, intent on obeying Him in all things as an act of love for the One who forgave so much!

    Christ Himself said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. ” and since He is God Incarnate, all of God’s Word, the Bible, is what we should be obeying.

    Kelli Reply:

    This is beautifully written…

  • liz

    I can agree with this comment. There are definitely some “yoga” dvds that bear little or no resemblance to actual yoga. I would just cautiously view them or read the reviews before committing to a “practice.”

  • Anne

    Very interesting discussion! Just thought I’d pass along this article I bookmarked from CNN. I was struck by the fact that Hindu organizations are attempting to raise awareness of the spiritual origins of yoga– to fight what they perceive to be the “conscious de-linking between Hinduism and yoga.”

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/01/25/fight-emerges-over-yogas-religious-roots/?hpt=C2

    I liked Milehimama’s twitter comment. I’m not a theologian and I’ve never studied yoga, so I haven’t formed my own opinion since I know it isn’t thoroughly informed. :) Enjoying your discussion!

  • Kelli

    I would like to know….do any of you have Christmas Trees….PAGAN. Maybe before you worry so much about yoga which isn’t attached to Christianity and therefore not hypocritical, you should look into the overly publicized practices of Christianity that are PAGAN FOR SURE, Christmas Tree and so much more.

  • Sherry C.

    This said it all for me.

    “Sometimes demons come in b/c we’ve opened the door, even if we don’t think we’ve invited them in. Fr. Gabriel, the exorcist in Rome, speaks unabashedly that Catholics cannot do yoga, that it’s dangerous stuff.”

    Yes, sin usually requires an act of will or intent. There is generally no will or intent in demonic possession…it’s not required.

    Katie Reply:

    Sherry,
    True, but if you are rooted in faith and prayer, you get through even a demonic possession. His grace conquers all! One could become possessed by a demon simply by praying too much and challenging Satan with her holiness, too, but that doesn’t mean we ought not pray in fear of the devil. We cannot fear him, just acknowledge his presence and fight him off.

    P. F. Hawkins Reply:

    I don’t think Sherry is arguing out of fear, but of prudence. I ultimately don’t fear the devil, for Christ and His Church are in my corner, but I do try and make sure that I’m not doing anything that might let him into my house. Devils make poor houseguests.

  • Jolene

    Thanks for the great informative post. I actually am in the middle of my christian yoga teacher training through Yahweh Yoga. Check out their website. It has been amazing so far. Completely biblical, in line with God’s word and it has done nothing but bring me closer to him in physical, spiritual and emotional health. They have a great book about Christian yoga on available on their website.

  • Jennifer

    I consider myself a devout Catholic. I practiced yoga for a couple of years until it was brought to my attention that you cannot seperate the actual movements from the religion. The movements ARE the religion. Then, I heard Johnette Benchovic EWTN speak about this quite often and says it contradicts Christianity. She also says to ask any Excorcist and they will tell you that yoga is opening a door. Just as playing a ouija board innocently is opening a door.
    I have chosen to listen to these wise people when it comes to yoga. I feel that now that I understand the truth, it would be sinful for me to continue practicing yoga. I also discourage everyone I meet from it. It does not stem from fear, but from knowledge that is goes against Christianity.

    Mary Jo Reply:

    I completely agree. Yoga, devoutly practiced, is inherently evil. We cannot be prideful in thinking that just by manipulating something like this we can make it benign (for lack of a better word). It’s better to err on the side of caution. There are plenty of exercises that stretch and strengthen the core.
    Mary Jo

  • Anon

    What is pagan Hindu? I heard of pagan as a religion and Hinduism as a religion. Never heard of Pagan Hindu.

    Katie Reply:

    As a Catholic, any faith that doesn’t worship the one God who is true is a pagan religion, so a Hindu wouldn’t call themselves a “Pagan Hindu” but I merged the terms from my own perspective.

  • Katie @ Wellness Mama

    Fascinating post. I’ve researched this one a lot myself, and as a Catholic, it is an issue of concern for me. I’d actually add to this category several other things that family members of mine have tried that I believe to be contrary to the Church (iridology, certain techniques used by their chiropractor, biofeedback machines, etc).
    In the end, I think this is ultimately an issue of conscience, and as Catholics we are bound to follow our consciences (though we are also charged to form them well). I agree that for many people, doing yoga is not done with any intent to sin, and is therefore not mortally sinful, as that condition is not fulfilled. That being said, one does not have to have the intent to be open to demonic exposure or possession for it to happen. If a person used an ouiji board or similar device without the intent of being sinful or being open to possession, the person could still potentially be open to demonic possession. As you mentioned, this goes back to if the spirituality of yoga can be separated, and from what you’ve written, it seems that it can’t definitively be decided.
    My opinion is that prudence dictates that yoga should not be practiced by Catholics, as it can be agreed that at least with some forms, the potential for demonic exposure is there.
    We have a personal family friend who is a devout priest and an exorcist. I’ve spoken with him about these things in depth, and he strongly warns against yoga (as does the vatican exorcist). In the absence of any definitive evidence that yoga can be harmless, it would seem best to avoid it, especially as there are certainly other methods of stretching. I’ve had other family members disagree with his opinions, saying he is overly cautious because he has dealt directly with the demonic, but I see this as a reason to heed his advice.
    When speaking of the demonic, we are talking of something that most of us have (hopefully) had not direct dealings with, at least not to the level of needing an exorcism. This makes the true reality of the demonic hard to comprehend entirely. Priests and religious who have the difficult job of confronting this on a daily basis have a better idea of what one is actually dealing with.
    That’s just my two cents. My family and I will not be doing yoga (or iridology, etc) for these reasons. Just because it isn’t sinful, doesn’t mean it can’t be potentially dangerous.

    Katie Reply:

    Kate,
    Your point “Just because it isn’t sinful, doesn’t mean it can’t be potentially dangerous,” is a very solid one, and one that’s making me think. You’re right that those who deal with demons face to face would know best. Hmmmm…

  • Amy J.

    My understanding is that this is not just a Catholic issue. I’m involved in Bible Study Fellowship and this issue was brought up in one of our lessons this year studying Isaiah.

  • Barbara

    People have their own justifications and excuses for participating in an exercise that can not be separated from the spiritual. We must acknowledge the truth, be obedient to God and keep our souls from danger. The definitive answer to this comes not from Catholics or Christians, but from the Hindus.

    “For those who are doing hatha yoga ‘just as an exercise,’ they too will get the benefits of stimulation of spiritual awareness and relief from negative karmic burdens though they may not recognize these as such and instead call it ‘wellness’ or ‘being at peace with oneself’ or just feeling stress free. One does not have to believe in the theories behind yoga for it to be effective. ”
    http://www.myhindupage.org/index.php/is-yoga-hindu

    Yet, even when Yoga is practiced solely in the form of an exercise, it cannot be completely delinked from its Hindu roots. As the legendary Yoga guru B.K.S Iyengar aptly points out in his famous Light on Yoga, “Some asanas are also called after Gods of the Hindu pantheon and some recall the Avataras, or incarnations of Divine Power.”
    http://www.hafsite.org/media/pr/yoga-hindu-origins

  • Elizabeth

    How interesting. I have never really thought of whether, as a Catholic, I can do Yoga. Ironically, my Yoga instructor is also Catholic. Here is my take on it: Yoga helps be relax and be healthy and therefore a better wife and mother and isn’t that what God wants is for me to grow as a wife and mother?

    P. F. Hawkins Reply:

    The anti-yoga position is not arguing against exercise, health, or relaxation. It *is* saying that yoga is a spiritually hazardous way to get exercise, health, or relaxation.

  • liz

    Okay I just read this blog and it was a perfect tie in to all this. Please read it.
    http://johanna-an-old-fashioned-girl.blogspot.com/
    It goes further into how deep the yoga deception goes. I just received this post. God’s perfect timing!

    Katie Reply:

    Liz,
    The top post at that site was about the peace sign,…is that the one you meant us to read? You’ll want to click on the title of that post and leave it in a reply comment, because in a week that post will be off the front page and too hard to find. :) katie

    liz Reply:

    Yes, because in the article it goes into where it originally came from and how it ties into hinduism and the yoga practice as a spiritual tool. Sorry about the confusion! :)

  • Pamela P

    Katie- Love this post! I am protestant but have also struggled with this question. Some of the guidelines I’ve come up with include never attending yoga classes at a place where there are images of idols displayed. Also, have you heard about the Praise Moves DVDs? They were created as a Christian alternative to yoga. Sorry if these were already mentioned by someone else above; I didn’t have time to read all the comments. I was recently reading the Corinthians passage about eating meat sacrificed to idols and thought it had some parallels with the yoga question.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    The comments to this post sadden me. I was raised protestant, but am definitely leaning towards more catholic and liturgical traditions as I get older. One thing I have been increasingly drawn to in the Catholic (and I think mostly monastic) tradition is contemplative prayer. Nuns, monks and many of the Saints practice(d) contemplative prayer which essentially IS meditation. It can be an extremely rewarding, enriching, and life-changing practice (just read Thomas Merton, Mother Theresa, or St. Augustine to get a glimpse). It is ridiculous and pretty arrogant to claim that you can say with any certainty that God does not condone meditation. No one branch of Christianity has a monopoly on the truth. God is not Catholic or Baptist or Presbyterian or Lutheran. These are simply human-contrived theologies that help us understand God better. If God had his way, I doubt there would be any denominations or divisions within the church. Don’t put God in a box. If a person feels they can deepen their faith and understanding of God by practicing yoga and meditating or practicing contemplative prayer, then by all means respect that this is their personal experience without condeming it. God is far, far bigger than that.

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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