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Yoga and the Christian Years ago I began each day with yoga. I stepped barefoot onto a mat and moved from pose to pose for a half hour. I ended with the prayer pose in which I stood erect with my elbows against my sides, palms pressed together near my heart, and fingers pointed skyward. I bowed slightly to the divine in all life. Then I sat crossed-legged with my hands resting on my knees. I breathed deeply, closed my eyes, and slipped into a twilight place. Some mornings I stared at a small flame in my mind’s eye, and other days I concentrated on the inhaling and exhaling of each breath. My goal was to detach from thoughts and feelings and defer to something greater than I. Visions emerged from the dark expanse in my mind, and I occasionally received uncanny insights into life situations. A sense of unity and peace convinced me that I had nothing to fear but fear itself.
I practiced daily for ten years. Yoga gurus taught that a daily yoga practice changed a person. I agree.
Yoga, breath control, and meditation were my path to wholeness. Spiritual experiences confirmed that yoga unified mindbody which enabled universal energy to flow through me. In private and public classes, people closed yoga sessions by putting their palms and finger together near the heart chakra, bowing, and saying Namaste, which is a Hindu salutation that pays homage to the soul and the divine in others. Christians understand that bowing to another god, even with the best intentions, is idolatry.
One should never underestimate the power of yoga.
Yoga and Culture
During those years, yoga permeated a subculture across the United States. Yoga enthusiasts had a way of talking and looking that signaled a shared understanding of the way the world worked. We prided ourselves on being spiritually and physically fit. Ours was a deep, authentic spirituality. I had no idea that God intended to turn my upside-down world right-side up.
Yoga is now mainstream. Commercial images of women in the prayer pose saturate popular culture as symbols for tranquility and well-being. Lean, beautiful females clad in yoga pants are the ideal. Not everyone who does yoga attaches religious significance to the exercise. Some simply perform the routine, relax in the silence, and enjoy camaraderie. Others pay attention to religious implications in the instruction and practice. For both groups, the allure of yoga is undeniable, even for Christians.
In her first chapter of Yoga for Christians: Exercise for the Christian Body and Soul, Christian yoga author Susan Bordenkircher wrote, “I contend there is no practice like yoga for integrating the mind and body in unity.” She and other yoga instructors teach that control of the body, breath, and mind frees people to experience God more deeply. In the silence, they can discover deeper truths about God and themselves. Christians hear praise songs, repeat Scripture, and pray in Jesus’s name. Instead of reciting a Hindu mantra such as Om, they might mentally repeat something like, “I inhale the Holy Spirit (breath of God). I release all that is not of God.”
Participants repeat such phrases as they slip into a suggestible, twilight state of mind where spiritual experiences seem to have standalone authority. Momentarily, they might ask themselves whether a person can inhale God the Holy Spirit and whether mindbody unity is a goal of biblical faith. But the personal benefits of yoga overshadow such questions, and they repeat the mantra week after week, even daily. Somehow it feels right.
Yet, it is the meaning attributed to experiences, spiritual and otherwise, that endures in a life. What we believe matters. In this regard, the most serious risk for Christians who practice yoga is not opening oneself to demonic manifestations, though that is a serious threat; rather it is blending the yoga worldview with biblical faith. Mixing water and oil pollutes water. Blending biblical faith and yoga leads to syncretism wherein the gospel is no gospel at all.
The Gospel and Yoga
God initiated and orchestrated my conversion. I asked Jesus to be my Lord, and the Holy Spirit instantly resided in me. In the same nanosecond the Spirit told me that Scripture had authority over my thoughts. His presence was strong, sure, and authoritative. His love filled me, and I sobbed my gratitude. I was safe, loved, and protected. He was a personal God, not a universal life force. He expected me to turn from sin, not my humanity.
I immediately stopped yoga. Embedded in the practice were lies that a personal God did not exist; that he did not rule his creation, that people could save themselves, and that wholeness came as people controlled and detached from themselves. The Holy Spirit was a Person, not an amorphous energy that entered the crown of the head, traveled the spine, and released energy through chakras. Mindbody disunity was not the problem. Sin was the problem.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8). Jesus was a man who lived in perfect obedience to God the Father. In love, Jesus died a dreadful death on the cross and satisfied the righteous justice of God. He atoned for human sin and provided the way for sinners to have fellowship with God. Believers put faith in Christ. Believers pursue his holiness, not wholeness. To this end, they seek the will of God not deeper experiences of him. They love and obey Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit who transforms them to reflect Christ. He creates them anew. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Gal 5:22–23). I learned that there is no deeper knowledge of God than what is in Scripture. Spiritual experiences do not have standalone authority. The Bible does. Christians can learn to discern and test the source of supernatural events, but they must read and understand God’s Word. The Bible tells them everything they need to know about who God is, his creation, and what he expects of his people. God renews the minds of sinners. He values our intellect. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will
(Romans 12:2). Morning Devotions
Each morning I sit in a chair with a cup of coffee in hand and ask the Lord and myself, “Where am I today?” I write in a journal, read the Bible, and pray. I am aware of my inner life as I read and pray. God pushes me to do more than I thought possible, and as I submit, he remakes me to be more completely myself. He works through all that makes us human—our minds, desires, and affections—to accomplish his purposes. He is our Lord, friend, and Savior.
I stopped yoga the day I met the Savior. Some people can use it to exercise, but many are snared by its religious teachings which are incompatible with biblical faith. Even casual participants should enter yoga classes clothed in holy armor.
Bordenkircher, Susan, Yoga for Christians: Exercise for the Christian Body and Soul. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006.
Angels, Demons, and the Dead: Casting the Light of Scripture on Spirit Beings is available on Amazon and bookstores. You can also order a signed copy on my website www.SharonBeekmann.org
Sharon T. Beekmann – Christian Discernment Resources
In Angels, Demons and the Dead, Beekmann answers questions like: Can we still speak to the dead? Does God still send angels to minister to his people? How can we know the difference between angels and demons? What is discernment and why is it important? Building a solid foundation on Scripture, she offers a method to test the source of these mysterious beings.
Rescued and Redeemed: How to Discern Demons from the Divine
In Rescued and Redeemed, Beekmann shares that Christians should be:
• Educated about the demonic realm
• Inspired by the power of Christ
• Equipped to help others
Click to Read More >
Silencing Satan: A Handbook of Biblical Demonology
When face to face with supernatural evil in its various guises—apparitions, voices, sensations, false doctrine, and temptations to immorality—believers resist the devil and reflexively turn to Jesus and Scripture. Click to Read More >
Sharon Beekmann is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). For many years, she conducted a private practice in individual, marriage, and family therapy.
Sharon is a retired Associated Faculty at Denver Seminary where she taught Biblical Demonology. She writes and teaches on spiritual discernment.
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