Can Christians practice yoga?

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Can Christians practice yoga?

Yoga has become increasingly popular in Europe over the past few decades. For instance, according to a Statista survey published in July 2020, there are more than 9 million frequent and occasional yoga practitioners in Germany. [1] With its popularity, it should come as no surprise that there are Christians among yoga practitioners as well. Christians, after all, make up more than 60% of Europe’s population.[2] Therefore, the question as to whether yoga and Christianity are compatible needs to be addressed.

Yoga in the European market
Yoga is rooted in Hinduism and Buddhism.[3] However, the difference between traditional yoga and its commercial practice in the West needs to be taken into consideration: the widely lauded physical and health purposes of the modern commercial yoga practice are much more emphasised than the religious and spiritual aspects in its original form.[4] Consequently, many consider yoga to be a form of physical fitness or wellness, devoid of any theological or spiritual meaning.

The ‘Christian yoga’ controversy
Despite its popular conception, yoga also serves as searching for mystical experiences and the meaning of life in the religious sphere.[5] Some Christians use yoga to prepare themselves for inner contemplations, while others go further and seek to generate spiritual experiences, such as mystical encounters with God.

There are quite divided views towards Christian yoga among religious leaders. Some find it devilish and warn that yoga is essentially Hindu.[6] Others argue that yoga and meditation can help believers with their inner reflection and personal dialogue with God.[7] And Hindu mantras can be replaced by Bible verses, Taizé chants, or simple elements of Christian Prayer.[8]

The Catholic Church has not made an official statement regarding the debate. According to the statement made by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1989, the attempt to merge Christian meditation with Eastern practices is not without risks and errors. It must be constantly and carefully examined if one does not want to fall into a perishable syncretism.[9] The Protestant central office for worldview questions in Germany has given similar opinions as well. [10]

The possibility to find Christ in yoga
Prayer and meditation practices are both prevalent and shaped by every religion.[11] Moreover, yoga includes a variety of historical as well as living, dynamic traditions that have changed and evolved. In India for instance, yoga practitioners have included Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, and Muslims.[12] Christian prayer cannot be exclusively set against yoga practices. And Eastern practices of course cannot fit in every Christian piety. But none can make a claim to absoluteness.

The cultural and religious differences between yoga and Western-style Christianity should not be underestimated, but neither are they invincible. On the one hand, yoga practices should not simply be understood as an empty bowl which can be filled up with any religious contents as needed. On the other hand, the attempt to harmonise non-Christian practices and Christianity can be legitimised, provided that the faithful examine everything carefully and hold fast to the good.[13] [14]

Han Chang

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[1] Yoga – Häufigkeit in der Freizeit in Deutschland in den Jahren 2016 bis 2020
[2] Religionszugehörigkeit | bpb
[3] Yoga als Christ?
[4] “Yoga, Christians Practicing Yoga, and God: On Theological Compatibility” by Andrea R. Jain
[5] Yoga – Meditationsweg für Christen?
[6] Can yoga be Christian?; Zwischen Sport und Spiritualität 
[7] Yoga – Meditationsweg für Christen?
[8] Zwischen Sport und Spiritualität
[9] Schreiben an die Bischöfe der Katholischen Kirche über einige Aspekte der christlichen Mediation
[10] Yoga – Meditationsweg für Christen?
[11] Prayer – Religions of the East
[12] Can yoga be Christian?
[13] New American Standard Bible, 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;”
[14] Yoga – Meditationsweg für Christen?