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Son Salutes: Is Yoga Dangerous to Christianity?

in YD News

Uh oh. Is yoga threatening Christian faith? And the debate marches on! This time Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, faces off with Stefanie Syman, author of The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America, on his online talk show. The interview (listen here) is actually a very civil and engaging discourse on the fascinating history of yoga in America, and it’s rise to super industry status, though we can’t help feeling like we’re witnessing a turkey shoot when the conversation turns to yoga and sexuality, spiritual realization and whether or not yoga can be detached from its Hindu roots.

Interestingly, Mohler loves the book! But he is not a fan of Christian Yoga. And he’s sure to remind us that this once “bizarre” practice is now “probably right down in your neighborhood, right down on your STREET. ” (emphasis ours)

Mohler continues his own post-interview commentary on his website, citing Ms. Syman’s words to elaborate on why he’s not hip to the mainstream yog-enlightenment, and why believers should keep their holy toes off the mat:

Syman describes yoga as a varied practice, but she makes clear that yoga cannot be fully extricated from its spiritual roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. She is also straightforward in explaining the role of sexual energy in virtually all forms of yoga and of ritualized sex in some yoga traditions. She also explains that yoga “is one of the first and most successful products of globalization, and it has augured a truly post-Christian, spiritually polyglot country.”

To which he responds:

Christians are not called to empty the mind or to see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine. Believers are called to meditate upon the Word of God — an external Word that comes to us by divine revelation — not to meditate by means of incomprehensible syllables.

So can yoga be just physical? Er, no. Dr. Mohler continues:

There is nothing wrong with physical exercise, and yoga positions in themselves are not the main issue. But these positions are teaching postures with a spiritual purpose. Consider this — if you have to meditate intensely in order to achieve or to maintain a physical posture, it is no longer merely a physical posture.

When does yoga move from physical to spiritual? And when does spirituality cross the line to conflict with religion? Sounds dangerous. And it lives among us RIGHT NOW. Hide your children! Hide your wives!

Sidenote: USA Today reported on the story (check it out for a variety of pro-yoga opinions from other Christian groups). Guess whose photo they used? You betcha, it’s everybody’s favorite Sarah Palin in tree pose! So will politicians who want to appeal to the religious right have to quit the yog?

ps. we made that church sign.



10 comments… add one
  • Christian fundamentalism that adheres to the principle of Sola Scriptura (by scripture alone) can’t help but feel threatened by yoga or any other wisdom tradition outside its own narrow parameters. Of course it’s threatening when people develop a relationship with God (to use their term) that is outside the control and the dictates of the church authorities. Meditation becomes an act of willful rebellion because it circumvents (actually undermines) the power structure of the Church.

    It’s clear that these Churches are demanding their followers have no contact with God or any type of religious experience without the advance express approval of the Church authorities. In other words, God is expected to answer to the Church elders.

    You betcha yoga is dangerous — to the power structures.

    • Howard

      Pure idiocy on your part.
      Scrape the scales from your blind eyes and see the true God, Jesus Christ.
      How dare you mock him with your limited intellect?

  • David

    I had a conversation with an older (60s) devout Christian about a line from the Gita: ‘In whatsoever way the people worship me, that same faith I make unwavering’. He found the idea that all the things he loves most are an act of worship in themselves to be completely life changing.
    I agree with Kate above, in that the attempt to tell people how they can worship has more to do with control than an attempt to keep people spiritually safe.

    I do find it funny that some people who find the concept of chakras preposterous are afraid of opening themselves up to evil spirits by meditating.

  • A yoga student of mine mentioned this to me yesterday. I live and teach in Louisville, Ky where Dr. Mohler and the seminary exists. I unfortunately attended a souther baptist school from kindergarten through high school that practically worshiped Mohler. I’ve been doing yoga since 14 and teaching for over 10 years, and this is by far the most disheartening bash against yoga I’ve seen. He clearly hasn’t researched yoga or understood yoga at all. I hope this erupts a debate that brings a better understanding of yoga and its ability to enhance anyone’s chosen religion. Hopefully more radical fundamentalists will do their homework before publicly throwing judgment on yoga.

  • Mary

    “Consider this — if you have to meditate intensely in order to achieve or to maintain a physical posture, it is no longer merely a physical posture.” Couldn’t this be said for any activity that requires intense concentration? If you have to meditate/concentrate intensely to hit the tennis ball, it is no longer merely a game…but a threat to Christianity???

  • HOLY MOLY…Imagine being in contact with God…Christians need to open their minds…and hearts to feeling and experiencing GOD in a real way

    I am a Catholic who has been practicing yoga for 7 years. Each and every time I tune into my energy, I realize it is God’s energy within me. Holy Spirit moving within me reminds me to honor others.

    All of the practices of eastern yoga combine with my christian practices, Chanting is like the rosary…Meditation blends with Lectio Divina. the list goes on…

    In Richard Rohrs, The Naked Now, http://astore.amazon.com/gathering-20/detail/0824525434 , He discusses real experience of God through mystical experiences. Rohr is an Enlightened Catholic priest who is tuned in…respect

    I was married to a Hindu and learned to respect all spiritual paths. I have been able to create a blend that works for me…one that connects me to the God and my personal divinity. That to me is what YOGA is…

  • zo newell

    Interesting…but what, other than a well-publicized book, makes Syman an authority on yoga as a spiritual practice? Her degree is in journalism. She has no academic credentials in philosophy, psychology, or religion. Her book, which I have read, is fuzzy-light in some of its metaphysical claims and inaccurate in some of its factual statements. We’re all glad that her book is infusing new life into the public conversation about yoga, but for heaven’s sake, people, if you want an informed spokesperson, talk to someone who has actually studied the traditions – someone with a doctorate, like Christopher Chapple, Edwin Bryant, or Judith Lasater.

  • Ryan

    Probably christians are more dangerous to yoga than the other way around. Ever hear of Mithras?

  • Sara

    I am so blessed to have discovered yoga. I say blessed because it was yoga that led me to look into other faiths like Hinduism and Buddhism. Of course, being a Christian, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. Being open-minded (and I mean open-minded to everything, even the Bible) I decided to take a peek at that Good Book I rarely read. One look at the book of Revelation and the rest is history. Jesus saves!
    The true path to peace is through forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. For me to honor any other path would dishonor the God who died to save me. I hope this note encourages another to seek Him. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

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