Is Yoga Demonic?

kali yoga goddess demon
Photo Credit: wrestwood

While numerous reports have documented Christianity and yoga to prove uneasy bedfellows, a Seattle pastor has fanned the flames of debate by calling yoga “absolute paganism” that can lead to “demonism.” In a lengthy blog post claiming to summarize the history and traditions of yoga, Mark Driscoll employs apologetics (reasoned arguments intended to justify a religious doctrine) to rebut the tenets of yoga and demonstrate “why it is, in fact, demonic.”

At the core of Driscoll’s reasoning is the Christian tenet of the one (and only) true God, and only one path to spiritual redemption; “through the power of the Holy Spirit provided through Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross.”

Claiming the “virtual impossibility” of practicing yoga postures divorced from their spiritual origins, Driscoll notes “we should never, in our desire to be in shape and be healthy, adopt systems antithetical to Christianity because they make us feel good or have bodily value.”

In support of this point, Driscoll cites the seminal work of Mark Singleton, who posits the historical origins of modern postural yoga to derive more from Western gymnastics than Indian yoga. Driscoll fails to mention, however, the rich historical lineage of “spiritual gymnastics” in the US which had little to do with Indian forms of yoga, thus weakening his equation of modern and Indian forms of yoga.

Like any form of fitness activity (e.g., pilates, gymnastics, calisthenics), it is entirely possible to practice postural forms resembling yoga while reaping minimal spiritual benefit (e.g., without mindful awareness or connection to breath). For example, in Kripalu yoga, yoga is defined as the act of being compassionate and mindful of each moment; thus all of life may be considered yoga when skillfully lived, while yoga postures are mere exercise or calisthenics in the absence of mindfulness.

I contend it’s entirely possible for those of different religions to engage in “yoga postures” (particularly given the origins of many such postures in gymnastics) without threat to one’s religious identity. Yoga with a capital “Y” however, intentionally practiced on (e.g., postures; pranayama; meditation) and off the mat (e.g., how you show up in relationship; your attitude in traffic), has the potential to broaden one’s perspective, generating a more spacious and compassionate perspective and softening the rigidity of views such as Driscoll’s.

Political and religious conservative viewpoints have been shown in numerous studies to be motivated and sustained by fear of uncertainty and threat. Driscoll’s treatise congeals many threads of yogic and modern liberal American ideology, all of which radically deviate from (and conceivably threaten) conservative Christianity’s rigid tenets.

Perhaps yoga’s inherent spirit of inquiry, of “living into the answers,” thus partially explains the fear-laced vitriol expressed towards yoga and contemplative religions by conservative Christian contingents. The inclusive and pluralistic nature of contemplative thought may easily be perceived a threat to monotheistic paradigms, which espouse the Word of God (i.e., the Bible) as the only source of truth.

Do you think it is impossible to practice yoga postures divorced from their spiritual origins?

Comments 23

  1. well thats what i have been told all my life but there is a hidden meaning to these teachings , if you do yoga your not welcome at many churches because youre teaching mite not jive with Bible.well I can say the teaching of Baptism is very similure to the teaching of meditation in both we deni self in order to do the will of God die to self in order to live for God.I have my own life to acount for and hold the teaching of some denomenation that is at ends with anyone that does not agree with them dosent bother me. I been a christian all my life and dont think God is going to call me lost after learnig yoga.I had a friend from India when i was in college and asked him why do you worship a pictor of some animal he said well it may not be a the true God but if we did not have any God to be accountable to what would people do they would do anythig and have no regart for any thing. an idea that there is God better than nothing.

  2. I just read a book on the history of Hinduism. Originally the religion (like all) was based on serving “the one true God, maker of the universe, whose heart is love and compassion.” (hmmmm…sounds like Jesus to me). The many “gods” of Hinduism were designed to be physical representations of the character qualities of the One God. They are not recognized or worshipped as gods, just point to the One. For instance Saraswati represents God’s character trait of wisdom and knowledge.
    As a Christ follower who loves yoga practice, I recognize that the Supreme Being who is the embodiment of love and compassion is too large to be contained in any religious box, and to real to be an exclusivist hater.

  3. “As a Christ follower who loves yoga practice, I recognize that the Supreme Being who is the embodiment of love and compassion is too large to be contained in any religious box, and to real to be an exclusivist hater.”

    I couldn’t have said this better myself.

  4. This article reminds me of the Yoga ban in Malaysia because it is considered a threat to Isalm and fearing that “Hindu roots could corrupt Islam”. And eventually there was a backlash from the public and I think they had to eventually lift the ban or make it more lenient in its scope.

    It is a difficult issue. I am a vegetarian, but do I think that people who eat meat are demonic? No. I think it is ridiculous to to call something demonic just because you happened to be born in a different country/religion and were brought up believing in a certain way of thought.

    I think a better way is to be more objective. If something is against your way of being/belief system then ignore it, I think we are living in an age and time where people are relatively free to be how they want to be. You don’t have to torment yourself, No one is forcing anyone to practice yoga. There is definitely a spiritual elemnt to yoga if you choose to pursue that. If not, then I think yoga can still be practiced in a purely “gymnastic” form.

    My philosophy is to try out different things, stick with what you think works for you and discard the rest.

    1. As a Christian, I was taught that Yoga goes against Christian beliefs and biblical practices. According to 2 Corinthians 10:5, we are to “(Cast) down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ”. Yoga clearly goes agains this teaching. Demons don’t present themselves with horns and a tail. 2 Corinthians 11:14 tells us that Satan “disguises himself as an angel of light.” Of course we will want nothing to do with any of his demons unless they are presented in a nice and neat little package. Yoga also teaches to be in tune with yourself, but the Bible teaches us to “die to self.” In Luke 9:23, Jesus tells us to die daily and take up the cross to follow Him; Paul tells us in Galatians 2:20 that we are crucified with Christ and therefore we no longer live, but have Christ living inside of us; and Galatians 5:24 says that those who belong in Christ Jesus have “crucified the flesh, with it’s passions and desires.” Once I learned the meaning behind those poses, I chose to steer clear of any Yoga activities. Also consider Romans 10:14: “and how will they hear…unless someone tells them?”…Now, you know.

      1. I think it is interesting that the “die to self” teaching you are referencing is embodied in Shavasana / Corpse pose in yoga. I love about yoga is an inclusive practice and encourages it’s practitioners to find the commonality between different spiritual beliefs and concepts of god.

  5. I completely agree with Lisa Cat…..”As a Christ follower who loves yoga practice, I recognize that the Supreme Being who is the embodiment of love and compassion is too large to be contained in any religious box, and to real to be an exclusivist hater.”

    I am continually surprised at the fear for some that condemn yoga as a threat to Christian beliefs…..would seem to me that an open heart and
    mind would strengthen anyone’s core values….

  6. Did you know that Christian missionaries have inspired Africans to BURN their fellow man alive, so that they suffer a slow death due to the suspicion that they are WITCHES? Tell me what is this “demonic” is?

    1. Hi,
      Yes, that is very evil that someone claiming to be a Christian would do this. However, this is not a biblical practice. The early Church did not preach or advocate violence. Read the New Testament: it was the early Church that was stoned to death, imprisoned, beaten, and burned (much of like what is being done to Christians today). Why would they have Believers do the same? Jesus taught to turn the other cheek…

    2. ‘Inspired’ is a very vague term. Christian missionaries would never outright tell someone to burn anyone else; however of they’re going into african tribal villages and telling them that it isn’t right to serve other gods, I imagine the villagers took justice into their own hands and did what they would have done to anyone who didn’t follow their belief system regardless of what it was. It’s not like the missionaries went all the way there to proclaim unbelievers be violently murdered– which would be [for lack of better word] outlawed within their faith anyway.

  7. I’m a Christian, and i practice Yoga purely for the physical benefits!Although i respect the spiritual origins, i don’t do meditation. So it’s possible!!

    1. It is not possible to do yoga only for the physical benefit. You may not want it but eventually you will start experiencing unusual phenomena. Very sharp vivid dreams for example. Or you will see pictures with your eyes closed when you do savavasana at the end of practice. Sometimes these pictures will turn out to be things that will happen in the future. Or you may have the feeling that you are separating from your body. This is the point when you seriously reconsider your view on yoga. You either 1) stop practicing or 2) delve deeper – i.e. get interested in breathing exercises and meditation.
      The first choice will bring you normal peaceful life. The second – I don’t know. Anything is possible but still very very dangerous. God bless you.

  8. I am not religious now, but I was raised Southern Baptist. Seems to me that were I still a believer, I could understand meditation to be listening to the Holy Spirit. The Zen “Buddha Within” also. Some folks just seem to be hostile to anything different or new. I think Rev. Driscoll needs to learn to relax, but I’m afraid that he would consider that to be ”antithetical to Christianity” :(

  9. Yoga brought me to God. Or God used yoga to bring me back to Him. Strip away labels. Just let God move us. He is the best instructor we will ever have.

    1. God will call on us in his own manner . There isnt another man on earth who can tell you, you are on the wrong path if God led you there.

  10. Well yoga and meditation are of Hindu/Buddhist origin and all teachings come from Hindu/Buddhist scriptures so from a strict Abrahamic faith point of view it is a Pagan practice and philosophy so yes it is “Demonic” in the eyes of the organised Abrahamic faith practitioners, leaders and churches.

    It’s because of this thinking why traditional faiths have been persecuted. Just read what happened to native American faiths, indigenous faiths, Northern European paganism and Greek paganism. Its why western missionaries go to India to harvest pagan souls.

  11. I would ask another question to Christians, of whom I consider myself one as well as someone who practices yoga. Can you not be mindful of God, and meditate upon His word while practising yoga? I am of an age where the usual aerobics class or spin class is out of the question, yet I want to keep active. Yoga has enabled me to do just that with the myriad of benefits that accompany the practice. Greater mobility, confidence & body awareness are just a few.

    1. I would advise against it. The Bible shows that God detests pagan practices. For example, He frequently admonished the ancient Jews against engaging in the pagan practices of the neighboring cultures, such as idol worship, human sacrifice, channeling through mediums, and even eating certain foods (Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Acts). So, based on that knowledge, are you comfortable practising Yoga? Maybe you all should just seek out scripture and pray about it. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide :)

  12. Perhaps Christian leaders have a fearful outlook because they know that yoga is fulfilling people in a way that Christianity is failing to do. Yoga is an incredibly positive practice. Whereas although Christianity has love and kindness at its core, it unfortunately in contemporary times has fear (as we’ve seen), judgement, self-loathing, guilt, and need to proselytize obscuring its nature of love.
    This is my experience, having taken sincere participation in both.

  13. I would advise against it. The Bible shows that God detests pagan practices. For example, He frequently admonished the ancient Jews against engaging in the pagan practices of the neighboring cultures, such as idol worship, human sacrifice, channeling through mediums, and even eating certain foods (Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Acts). So, based on that knowledge, are you comfortable practising Yoga? Maybe you all should just seek out scripture and pray about it. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide :)

    So apparently you don’t celebrate Christmas and Easter in December and Spring because the Christian calendar changed the dates (Jesus was born in March) to coincide with the holidays of the Pagans the Christians converted by force. I hope you don’t have holly, mistletoe, a Christmas tree, or Easter eggs because they are all Pagan symbols co-PTSD for the same conversion purpose.

    If you enjoy yoga as a solely a form of exercise I say keep on keeping on. If you also enjoy yoga for a spiritual aspect I think that’s wonderful too. If you want to mediate and think about your deity and religion during class instead of what the instructor suggests, I don’t see anything wrong with it. It shows you are comfortable and strong in the tradition you believe. It is YOUR yoga practice not someone else’s.

  14. I was raised Catholic and a time I was quite religious – I went to church every Sunday and started reading the Bible, and then it hit me that being a Catholic is not for me.
    I think that Mr Driscoll is a little bit uneducated on the subject to make such claims otherwise he wouldn’t have come up with them in first place. Starting with what Annie already mentioned that Catholic church hijacked pagan celebrations to meet own ends.
    In case some forgot the inquisition started in Catholic church to fight off heresy and any views that went against Catholic truth. Spanish inquisition, although initiated by Spanish monarchs, was also backed up by the church and responsible not only for burning heretics but also scientists. We went backwards in history instead of moving forwards. Jesus during the last supper initiated symbolic cannibalism, that is happening on every single mass, and Catholics partake in it every Sunday. So Mr Driscoll is claiming that few stretches are demonic but consuming body and blood of his Jesus the Saviour is not?
    I also came across claims that by emptying mind one invites demons in and that yoga can contribute to demonic possessions. But what about baptism, during which not only one is accepted into the church but also accepts that a “Holy Spirit” might descend upon? Sounds like possession, doesn’t it? Same principle.
    Having been practising yoga for mere couple of months I can only regret that I haven’t started sooner. I practise pranayama, asanas and mindfulness daily. And as far as I can understand the very little that I know about yoga is that you can divorce different practices from spiritual aspects. Christian churches encourage contemplation and even in modern medicine there’s a lot of research done on pranayama, because it helps people get healthy!
    I don’t mean to attack anyone, believe all you want. I am still learning about yoga as much as I am learning about Christianity and there’s is plenty to think about in a new light. :)

  15. I think even the Dalai Lama this year was reported in saying that it is up to us as individuals to look BEYOND RELIGION. and it is useful to remember that we all have been indoctrinated from birth to think of religion as our saviour, however
    there are more and more views coming to light now since the world wide web, which allow different perspectives to shift our consciousness into more fulfilling thoughts which nourish us and bring us closer to the divinity of ourselves.
    You cannot have ying without yang! you cannot have night without day, you cannot have light without dark. Once we realise that we are actually immortal, that is, we are a form of energy residing in a body, then we have the option of allowing yoga to help us understand ourselves as pure consciousness, that is what yoga means, to unite with ourselves, forget the religion. What happened to just being kind? Our consciousness is expansive, as in it can travel beyond our physical selves, and believe me, since practising yoga now for 30+ years, my experiences have been good and not so good. The process of yoga is to rejuvenate, balance, and elimination. Years of indoctrination now needs to be eliminated, this does not mean we become hedonistic, it means we need to question indoctrination, and its validation in relation to consciousness, and whether or not religion is holding us back from being a light body, as in being released from gravity. Just ponder on this for a moment, what if with our continual practice of yoga, we can eventually come out of our bodies and fly wherever we want to go, because if we are a form of energy, energy can move. It can move within the body, and if it can move within the body, it can move outside the confinements of the body.

  16. I am so tired of this topic, to be honest.
    I choose to NOT follow ANY form of religion or spirituality to a black and white view like my mother did. I do not believe that ANY religious or spiritual path will help you get a better afterlife or reincarnation.

    I do not believe that you can foresee the future in any way (astrology) because the future does not exist and it can be altered in any minute or second.
    I do not believe that if you are a perfect Christian or yogi that you will have an awesome life…etc.

    I do believe that yoga has helped many, more than the Catholic church.
    I do believe that most of Jesus’s teachings are good, BUT this depends on who and how it is being preached it.

    I do believe that we have energy within us.
    AS someone wrote above:
    “the Dalai Lama reported in saying that it is up to us as individuals to look BEYOND RELIGION.”

    I can be Catholic and practice yoga.
    I do not believe it is a “pagan practices”
    Yoga can be practiced as a spiritual practice and it will not lead you to demonism, it might lead you to Hinduism at best.

    I can mix both worlds and have a happy life. It’s my life, my rules. No one is right, no one is wrong.
    There is no future. There is only NOW.

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