Can Christians Practice Yoga?

yoga church
Photo by Cal-a-Vie

Controversy seems to be a constant companion to Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Semininary, these days. Dr. Mohler is under fire from yoga practitioners, teachers, Christians, non-Christians and the main stream media for his statement in last month’s online blog post where he said, “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.”

Mohler wrote the post in response to a book entitled, The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America by Stefani Syman where he publicly explored the relationship between yoga and American Christian culture.  Mohler goes on to say, “I’m really surprised by the depth of the commitment to yoga found on the part of many who identify as Christians.”

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It’s really interesting that Dr. Mohler would be surprised by the depth of commitment to yoga on the part of just about anyone who has a regular practice. Yoga is a deeply personal experience for many so the words of Dr. Mohler seem more like a personal attack rather than a logical argument on the benefit or harmful effects of yoga.

Personally, I find Dr. Mohler’s statements oddly out of sync with the yoga I know and teach. I grew up in the Baptist church and the God I prayed to on the church pew growing up is still the same. Yoga doesn’t negate the concept of the spiritual practice of prayer, the morals taught in Sunday school or the religion I grew up with. In fact, anyone who reads the yamas, the niyamas and practices meditation will find the words and practices strikingly similar. They are, in fact, similar to many religions.

One can’t help wonder what the motivation is for these types of words from a man who carries one of the largest seminaries in the world and who Time Inc has called, “the reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the US” and who is a sought after columnist and commentator on some of the nation’s leading newspapers. Is it fear or is it simply a misunderstanding of something Dr. Mohler has never personally experienced?

In the meantime, Dr. Mohler is sticking to his original statements and saying that the numerous emails, calls and letters he’s gotten in protest of his statements are proof that he was correct in his assessment. “Sadly,” he says, “almost every protest email makes my point better than I ever could myself.”

The emails, according to Mohler, were sent from Christians and stated repeatedly that there was no incompatibility between yoga and Christianity. That, he says, is exactly where they are wrong. In his own words, “They are replacing biblical Christianity with a religion of their own invention…not one – not a single one – has addressed the theological and biblical issues.”

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As Patanjali teaches us in the yoga sutras, having compassion for our fellow human beings is of utmost importance – compassion for those who are on the same spiritual path and those who aren’t.

While we have our differences, we are all on the same journey of being human. As a species, we are capable of making grand discoveries, experiencing spiritual illumination, understanding the depth and healing power of love all the whilst making judgments, accusations and false statements from narrow mindedness. We are perfectly, imperfect.

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