For roughly two millennia, people have practiced yoga for its physical, mental, and emotional benefits. With roots in ancient India, there are also undeniable spiritual undertones to yoga, particularly among Hindu and Buddhist practitioners. This begs the question; can the spiritual side of yoga be separated from the other aspects of this popular discipline and are yoga and Christianity compatible?
Yoga and Christianity are compatible, but a thoughtful approach must be taken for the two belief systems to co-exist. To the extent that yoga can be viewed as a philosophy and lifestyle with practices that promote self-confidence, mindfulness, and inner peace, yoga is complementary to Christianity.
The compatibility of yoga and Christianity is an issue requiring a thoughtful and purposeful approach, but it need not be a controversial or divisive matter. The two belief systems can, in fact, co-exist and even thrive as complementary lifestyle choices. Keep reading for some thoughts on why and how.
Practicing Yoga as a Christian Is Totally Possible
Yoga is a complex discipline comprising different elements and it is the multi-faceted nature of this ancient art that makes practicing yoga as a Christian totally possible. For Christians to practice yoga, it is necessary for them to recognize which aspects of yoga are incompatible with their religious beliefs and which ones can co-exist with Christian ideology.
Put another way, Christians must draw a clear line between yogic practices that are (or can be made) secular in nature and those that are inseparably spiritual. The most straightforward approach is to distinguish between the physical and spiritual practices of yoga:
- Yogic practices like postures and stretching exercises have clear and tangible benefits for physical health and are therefore compatible, if not complementary, to Christian ideology
- The same can be said for breathing exercises, which can calm the mind, alleviate stress and anxiety, and promote mental and emotional clarity
- Even certain meditative practices can be compatible with Christian beliefs so long as they do not purport to recognize or worship any deity or divine force as this would certainly conflict with the Christian notion of worshipping God as the sole creator
The key to successfully navigating any potential spiritual pitfalls if you are a Christian wanting to practice yoga is to recognize things for what they are and to take appropriate, and decisive, action.
Why Yoga and Christianity Are Compatible
There is a strong spiritual element to yoga and this is beyond any argument. For nearly two thousand years, Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism have been closely associated with certain yogic practices, particularly meditative exercises that purport to connect the practitioner with divine forces.
But the fact that yoga is inherently spiritual in a general sense does not mean that Christians cannot selectively practice certain elements of this ancient art that do not conflict with their religious beliefs. In fact, a state court in California recognized this notion as a matter of law in deciding a case brought by parents seeking to prohibit the teaching of yoga at a school in San Diego:
- Yoga postures can be practiced strictly for their benefit to physical health without any spiritual overtones
- The same can presumably be said for breathing techniques
- Removing any Sanskrit names or references to yoga poses and replacing them with alternative, secular descriptions can cleanse postures of any religious connotations
As a platform used strictly for physical, mental, and emotional wellness, with all spiritual references and implications stripped from them, yoga can benefit Christians in the same way that it benefits all practitioners regardless of religious beliefs.
Self-Awareness Is Universal
One aspect of yoga that is compatible with Christian ideology is the concept of self-awareness. According to yogic philosophy, self-awareness is achieving mental clarity by focusing on the here and now of the moment whether it is in the midst of performing yoga poses, controlling your breathing, or gathering your thoughts and keeping your emotions in check.
Self-awareness is a state of mind that benefits Christians too but in a different way. Whereas self-awareness is an objective for yoga practitioners, for Christians practicing yoga, it is a means to an end. Through self-awareness, followers of Christianity can identify the faults and circumstances that prevent them from connecting more deeply with God.
Thus, self-awareness is a universal concept that is an important facet of yoga and Christianity, albeit with different intended results.
Connection With the Divine or Eternal
Yoga can serve as a vehicle through which practitioners connect with the respective divine forces of their belief systems. For Christians, yogic practices like breathwork and meditation represent opportunities to calm the mind and prepare the inner self to communicate with God in quiet solitude. In other words, yoga can serve as a platform for prayer.
For non-Christian practitioners, yoga is a means to appreciate and recognize the divine powers that shape the universe and to interact with these powerful forces in an impactful way.
A Shared Focus on Mindful and Moral Living
The core principles of yoga are laid out in the eight limbs of yoga, a structural framework that was written many centuries ago. The first two limbs are devoted to the yamas and the niyamas, which together form moral guidelines comprising ten dos and don’ts such as abstaining from violence and greed and exercising self-restraint and purity of heart.
Similarly, the eight beatitudes delivered by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12) provide the core virtues of Christian life, including notable verses like “Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land” and “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy”.
From a moral and non-spiritual perspective, yoga and Christianity share similar values that advocate living with purity in the heart and mind and it is through yogic practices like mindfulness that practitioners can focus on the here and now of upholding these universal values on a daily basis.
How To Learn More About Getting Started in Yoga
Before the arrival of the digital age, learning yoga meant finding a local studio or attending a group lesson at a gym. But now, getting started in yoga can be as simple as hopping onto your computer and registering for online classes.
Online yoga courses allow yogis of all skill levels to learn at their pace by accessing on-demand videos or streaming live classes. Best of all, yoga techniques can be learned from the comfort of your own home or office at whatever time suits you, no matter what your spiritual beliefs may be.
Yoga in its many forms is practiced by millions of people around the globe. While the spiritual element of yoga is undeniable, it need not dissuade practitioners of Christian or other religions from enjoying the positive, and ideologically compatible, effects of yogic practices like postures, breathwork, and mindfulness.