Should a Christian Practice Yoga?

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Yoga and the martial arts are popular forms of recreation, but they often face criticism within the church at large because of their roots in Eastern religions.

However, some in Christian circles claim they have changed these practices to promote good health and to glorify Christ at the same time.

From a purely physical standpoint, research shows yoga is good for you. It can significantly decrease heart disease, cancer, and asthma, among other illnesses. This is largely because one of its cornerstones requires deep abdominal breathing.

Dr. Michael Roizen, chairman of the Wellness Institute at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic, recommends yoga to his patients.

"As you slowly breathe in and breathe out, it recruits extra alveoli, so it helps with oxygenation," Roizen explained. "But the main thing it does is it gets your mind to focus on that."

"Now when you take a deep breath in, you also do things with your vegas nerve and in this case what happens in vegas, doesn't stay in vegas, so you stimulate the vegas nerve," he continued. "It goes back to the brain and calms the brain."


Hindu Philosophy

Yoga is a Sanskrit word which means "union." The practice is rooted in the Hindu philosophy, which seeks to unify the mind, body, and spirit.

Dr. Dilip Sarkar teaches yoga at the Hindu Temple in Chesapeake, Va.

"Basically we believe through yoga philosophies that spirituality has nothing to do with any religion." he said. "Spirituality basically is believing in a supreme power, about me and surrendering. And once we surrender to the supreme power we don't have suffering, and the mind is in control."


Debate Continues

Some Christians who practice yoga say you can make it what you want, depending on what you think about during class.

Penelope Haws said yoga has only strengthened her faith, despite the fact that Jesus isn't mentioned by name.

"Well, Jesus isn't absent for me because that's the Beloved that I relate to. And yoga has no specific gods or anyone you're expected to worship," she said. "But if you're not comfortable with that, you can think about the divine mother earth," she said.

However, others disagree, saying it's inappropriate for Christians to do yoga. New Age specialist Doug Groothius, a professor at Denver Seminary said "all forms of yoga involve occult assumptions."

"When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents, or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga," Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. said.


'Christian' Yoga

Since some Christians object to the spiritual aspect of traditional yoga, Christian yoga is an alternative. Classes are often held at a local church building.

Students of Christian yoga say it maximizes the breathing and movements of traditional yoga, while minimizing the Hindu influence that disturbed them.

"They would say, 'The spirit in me honors the spirit in you.' And I was thinking, 'I'm not really sure what kind of spirit you're talking about," recalled yoga student Hope Crane.

"It seemed like you were almost worshiping in the pose of some kind of animal. So not feeling comfortable, I walked away from it," Dee Smith said.

Instead, Christian yoga incorporates readings from the New Testament, Christian praise music, and a narrative that is Christ-centered. For instance, during a movement in a Breath of Life yoga class, the instructor tells the students to 'Open to His grace. Surrender your heart to The King.'

Another popular Christian yoga school is known as Yahweh Yoga.

But if Christian yoga is so different from traditional yoga, why should it still be called yoga?

"I really think this has the opportunity to be an outreach tool to people to have it in a positive mode, and a Christian mode, as related to the other. And if we take 'yoga' off it, they won't even come because that's what they may be looking for," explained Randy Wooden, pastor of Kingdom Life Ministries in Chesapeake, Va.

In addition to Christian yoga, there is also Jewish yoga and yoga that attempts to remove any spirituality. In fact, the Hindu American Foundation has even launched a Take Back Yoga campaign.


Turning the Other Cheek?

Like yoga, the martial arts often combine mind, body, and spirit -- which for some Christians can be a problem.

Scott Gilbert started the Savior Martial Arts School because he liked the kicking and breaking boards, but not the Eastern spirituality.

"Their understanding of God is 'the force,'" he said. "There's an energy everywhere, and it's in everything and it's good and it's bad. You can't know it, it doesn't know you. That's really Eastern spirituality."

"For us, we are completely Christian. We believe God knows you," he added. "He has numbered the hairs on your head. He loves you unconditionally and has a wonderful plan for your life. So we teach that."

Classes at Savior Martial Arts begin with prayer and end with a chat about how the Bible applies to the martial arts. To obtain a higher belt level, students must memorize scripture in addition to physical accomplishments. Classes are open not only to children, but also to their parents.

Kimberlea Braun Difava said defending yourself isn't the only self-defense taught during the martial arts school.

"As we are obtaining our black belt, we need to be able to defend our faith," she said. "So there's lots of training on that, and what you believe and why and how to answer questions when you're faced with that, and how to lead someone to Christ."

Still, the debate continues. Within the Christian community there are those who have no problem with the Hindu influence on yoga or the influence of Eastern religions on the various martial arts.

Then there are those who believe there's simply no problem if you change the focus to be on Jesus.

Still, a third group believes it is impossible to separate the Eastern religions from yoga and/or the martial arts.

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Lorie  Johnson

Lorie Johnson

CBN News Medical Reporter

Lorie Johnson reports on the latest information about health and wellness. Since medicine is constantly changing, she makes sure CBN News viewers are up-to-date on what they need to know in order to live a healthy life.  Follow Lorie on Twitter @LorieCBN and "like" her at Facebook.com/LorieJohnsonCBN.