The Christian and Yoga

Regarding Yoga…
So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one… there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live…Food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak…
(1 Corinthians 8: 4, 6)
What the apostle Paul is saying in the above verses from 1 Corinthians is that sometimes what we practice in our religious freedom may affect others adversely even though it may be perfectly alright in God’s eyes. Many of the Christians in Corinth were “new” believers. They weren’t firmly established in their faith and a little unsure of themselves as far as what is acceptable to God.
In pagan sacrifices not all of the meat was offered to the pagan deity and often what was left over was sold in the market place. (Concordia Self-Study Commentary Pg. 152) The new Christians had a difficult time with that because they feared that the meat was “contaminated” by having been part of a pagan sacrifice. Paul explained to the “men of knowledge” (those who were firmly established in their faith and confident of their religious freedom) that it is perfectly okay to eat it because it is only food and means nothing else to the Christian believer or to God. However he was also saying that if the eating of meat which had been sacrificed to idols bothered the consciences of those who were new to the faith, or made some people fear that they were sinning against God by eating it, they should avoid it out of love and consideration for them.
In the May 2012 issue of a monthly magazine (Forward in Christ) put out by my Lutheran church body (The WELS) the question was posed; is it okay for Christians to practice yoga purely for physical benefits?  This article caught my attention because I have been doing Yoga in combination with strength training exercises 3-4 days per week for the last year. As a result I have lost 13 pounds, strengthened my leg muscles, and toned my hips, biceps and abdomen. The deep breathing which naturally accompanies Yoga helps to relieve stress and enlarges one’s lung capacity. As a result it has also helped me to more easily relax and go to sleep at night.
I am a Christian. I love and worship the true God. To be honest, when I started exercising I did not really know what the term “yoga” meant other than exercise. I knew vaguely that it originated from the Hindu religion. I learned through this article that the word “Yoga” means “union” and that in the Hindu religion; it is meant to serve as a path to spiritual enlightenment and growth. This “enlightenment” is sought from within oneself, not from an external source like Scripture.
As a Christian I know that my faith comes from the Holy Spirit. All humans are all born spiritually dead and are unable to come to faith on their own. As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. (Ephesians 2: 1)The Third Article of Luther’s Catechism (pg. 181) states: I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith…
By Grace Alone through Faith Alone
My path to spiritual enlightenment comes from time spent in God’s Word, prayer and worship. The Holy Spirit put faith in my heart at my Baptism. My faith is renewed and strengthened each time I hear and study God’s Word. I have never thought of my yoga exercises as a path to spiritual growth, however as I look back on the past year I can see that in a way it has become that for me. The difference in my case is that I know and am aware that the spiritual growth I have experienced has not come from within me, but from the Holy Spirit.
Yoga is not a fast moving exercise regime which requires a lot of concentration and physical energy on the part of the trainee. As a result it has also become a quiet time for me. As I bend and stretch and deep breathe I reflect on my upcoming day and praise God in my heart for the many blessings He gives me. It has become a time of meditation and prayer which lifts me up and draws me closer to Him. As for the Hindu religion – I do not know what they believe other than what was stated above so how could I be worshiping their god? God knows my heart. But the man [person] who loves God is known by God (1 Corinthians 8:3)
I was introduced to Yoga as a form of exercise through my Wii Fit Plus. Yes! I do it in my own living room! I have read that after the age of 40 we typically lose approximately 8% of our muscle tone per year. At the age of 61 I was beginning to realize the results of that muscle loss. It never for a minute occurred to me that Yoga was not appropriate because it had never been anything to me other than “exercise”.
In response to this article one woman wrote; the postures in yoga are actually “praise positions” that are used to worship the Hindu deity. She further stated that she had now given up doing yoga and is doing Pilates. When I searched Pilates online I found that many of the exercises are very similar if not exactly the same as those in Yoga. They are typically the same exercises with a different name.
As a Christian however it is my responsibility to be an example and a leader for others. I am doing yoga in the privacy of my own living room. Practicing Yoga in a public setting could possibly be misleading for someone who is a new believer and not as mature in their faith as I, and especially for a person who does not know the true God at all.
It could be compared to the example above from 1 Corinthians. The apostle Paul clearly states that food is simply food and nothing else, but if my eating meat that has previously been sacrificed to an idol bothers the conscience of a fellow Christian whose faith is weak, or whose faith is not as firmly established as mine, or who is a little less sure of what is right or wrong for a Christian, then I should avoid it for their sake. The same goes with Yoga. If new Christians or those whose faith is not yet firmly established in the Word are offended by the fact that I am doing Yoga, even if only for exercise, then I should, out of respect for them, not discuss it or practice it in their presence.
I would caution anyone looking to be part of a public Yoga class, to research how seriously the Hindu beliefs are being interwoven into the exercises. If the class seems to be more than “just exercise” I would avoid it at all cost. A Christian taking part in a class where Hindu beliefs are being taught as truth would be misleading others into thinking the worship of a god other than the true God is acceptable.
As a Christian woman, I feel compelled to care for my body and do my best to keep it healthy and strong. It is God’s temple – a precious gift from Him. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you whom you have received from God… (1Corinthians 6:19)My purpose here on earth is to serve my God. The longer I remain healthy and mobile as I age – the better I will be able to serve Him and others. For this reason I will take care of God’s “temple” and do all within my power to stay healthy and strong.
Every day people are dying in the darkness of sin. They are dying without acknowledging their sin or knowing about the precious and free gift of grace which we have in Jesus. The thought of suffering in hell for eternity is suffocating and terrifying to me. I don’t want to see anyone make that choice. All people need to know and realize that this life is not the end. They need to know the hope they have in Jesus. I do not have the power to put faith in their hearts, but I do have a God-given responsibility to plant the seed. I can go and tell. I will let the Holy Spirit take it from there.
I commend the woman who is now doing Pilates rather than Yoga. She is following her conscience. Continuing with Yoga would be going against her conscience and her love for God has compelled her to find another alternative. God knows her heart also. We are one in Christ.
I plan to continue with Yoga in the privacy of my own home. I am confident that I am merely doing physical exercise and my prayer and meditation is directed to the true God – The Creator of heaven and earth.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them from my hand. (John 10: 27, 28)
Gloria Dei! (All Glory to God!)
By Kristeen

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