Is Yoga a Sin?

Dear Pastor Gabe

I had a suggestion [for a video]. I have spoken out about yoga and other things that have invaded the church. More often than not, I get lots of disagreement with my standpoint and the views of good preachers and Bible teachers.  Inevitably I hear some form of the phrase “it's about our hearts” or our intentions. I heard Voddie Baucham preach several years ago about how that is rubbish. He brought up the story of Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6:7. I just thought this might be a great topic for WWUTT to cover. Praying for your ministry.

In Christ,

Thank you for your e-mail, Cherry! This may come as a surprise considering how strict I get accused of being: When it comes to yoga, I'm a little more permissive than most. Yoga is exercise. Though this particular kind of exercise has origins in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Janism, the stretches and poses common to yoga are not inherently pagan.

There are many every-day traditions with pagan origins we don't pay any mind to. All of the calendar months are pagan: January is named after the god Janus; February is named after a purification ritual called Februa; March gets its name from Mars, the Roman god of war; and so on. Should we stop using calendars? Should we Christianize the names of the planets and constellations? Should we not celebrate birthdays? Should we not wear wedding rings? Every mention of dogs in the Bible is negative. Should we not own dogs?

The kinds of exercises common to yoga can be beneficial to the body. Where a person goes wrong is when they start using yoga to make themselves "one" with everything. That's what the word yoga means: to "yoke" or unite oneself with everything around them. Doing yoga the traditional way would involve some kind of transcendent meditation. But the yoga class at your local gym is probably not doing that. For the mystic yoga, you'd have to go to a place that specializes in that kind of spiritualism, and then they likely do their exercises outside to be "one" with nature. If you go into a yoga class and they have a bunch of spiritual nonsense or symbolism around, they're not just exercising.

I've run track and played sports, and the person leading us in stretching incorporated yoga poses into our warm-ups. At the time, I didn't even know what yoga was. Was I inadvertently sinning, or was I just stretching? If you've ever seen a statue of Shiva, the idol is sitting in the lotus position which is a yoga pose. Should we never sit with our legs crossed like that, lest we be accused of worshiping Shiva?

A few members of my congregation have attended yoga classes. When someone in my church has asked my thoughts on that, I've said, "If you're asking because you feel guilty, you shouldn't do it." But if they don't believe they're doing anything that would displease God, I tell them not to mention it to anyone else. Not that they should be sneaky or lie about it, but they need to be careful not to cause anyone else to stumble. Someone whose conscience is weak, who considers yoga to be more than merely exercise, might see a Christian practicing yoga as permission to dabble in other religions.

Regarding Dr. Baucham's comment and his reference to 2 Samuel 6:7, I'm not sure in what context he was speaking. (The guy does Brazilian jujitsu, so I'd be surprised to hear this had to do with yoga.) There are certainly some things our intentions don't purify; for example, if a man looks at images of nude women and excuses this behavior by calling it "art." No, he's leering at porn, and it's immoral. There are some movies, shows, music, and books we have no business investing ourselves in -- not our minutes, money, or minds. The content corrupts our thinking, which we are to commit unto the Lord (Philippians 4:8-9).

I don't believe yoga exercises are corrupting. This discussion falls into the Romans 14 category of Christian liberty. We read in 1 Timothy 4:4, "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving." Someone might argue, "But that's about food!" Sure, and Romans 14 deals primarily with food and holy days. But the principle being presented there remains: we must deal graciously with one other and not quarrel over opinions regarding those things the Bible doesn't expressly forbid. If you think it's wrong, don't do it; but don't look down on a brother or sister who isn't convinced it's sin.

Now, having said all of that, women need to stop wearing yoga pants in public, or she must wear some kind of warm-up pants over them. Just as a Christian needs to consider that practicing yoga might cause someone else to stumble, a Christlike woman needs to keep in mind that exercise pants are very form-fitting, and a man's mind works differently than a woman's does. Some of those yoga poses can also be... let's just say awkward. A woman is instructed to adorn herself in "respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control" (1 Timothy 2:9). There are no ifs, ands, or buts about this, sisters: be considerate and cover your bum.

All of us must live disciplined lives, giving our whole selves unto God, worshiping Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Romans 12:1-2 says, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

I hope this was helpful, Cherry. For another take on Christians doing yoga exercises, I recommend watching this video from Wretched. God bless!

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