Here we go…More controversy over yoga and religion! And now it’s making major headlines, but, nope, this is not new. The NY Daily News has a bit about Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler and his vocal anti-yoga evangelizing, positing that Christianity and yoga are incompatible. This was all brought to light after an interview with The Subtle Body author Stefanie Syman, and has now picked up by the Associated Press giving it a national voice. (see video)
We’ve heard what some of you had to say and as it turns out, so has Mr. Mohler!
“My email servers are exhausted,” Mohler wrote on his website. “Messages have been coming in at a rate of about a hundred an hour. The first lesson – count the cost when you talk about yoga,” he said. “These people get bent out of shape fast.”
“When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga,” Mohler said. “The contradictions are not few, nor are they peripheral.”“Sadly, almost every protest email makes my point better than I ever could myself,” Mohler wrote Thursday. “There is no embarrassment on the part of these hundreds of email writers that they are replacing biblical Christianity with a religion of their own invention.”
Oh, and according to Mohler, it’s the women running the revolt, and yoga, as it were. Via his website, here’s lesson #2 he’s learned from the controversy:
Evidently, the statistics reported by the yoga community are right. This is a female dominated field of activity. More than 90 percent of the protest communications come from women.
Yoga is what you make it.
Consider the source.
Southern Baptists have invented their religion to the same degree he acuses yoginis of doing so. They believe in strict adherence to the scriptures; however, they are “adhering” to texts translated from languages that contain many, many words for which there are no direct translation. Moreover, the translations were performed by those in power and with an agenda: control of the illiterate masses. It’s not like there was a thorough peer review of the work(heck most people couldn’t read and write). Therefore, his contention that practitioners of yoga practice a religion “of their own invention” is hypocritical.
Remember, SBs also reject most music and dancing as “profane”. This church repeatedly and aggressively inserts itself and its views into every aspect of the lives of its constituency…as though it must control every aspect of their lives. In another context, this is known as brainwashing. Apparently Mohler doesn’t want his followers to think; from his response: “I have heard from a myriad of Christians who insist that their practice of yoga involves absolutely no meditation, no spiritual direction, no inward concentration, and no thought element. Well, if so, you are simply not practicing yoga.” Why all the worry about self-directed thinking/meditating/spiritual direction? If doctrine cannot stand up to some thoughtfulness it must be on pretty shaky ground. And if the leaders of a faith don’t want its followers thinking about it, then it appears they have a man behind a curtain they’d rather not reveal.
To summarize: when a church becomes so particular about the everyday aspects of its members’ lives, it is a red flag to me that the church is more interested in controlling them, as opposed to the condition of their souls.
Sadly, I am far to bitter from my personal encounters with evangelical Christianity to be able to comment thoughtfully on the reverend’s comments. Funny, though, as that is sort of telling in itself.
No one is going to change Mr. Mohler’s opinion. Whatever argument anyone comes up with, he’ll come up with something to counter it either my making something up or twisting Scripture to suit his agenda.
Whatever he says doesn’t affect my beliefs or my yoga practice. I gave up trying to reconcile my beliefs with mainstream Christianity long before I took up yoga.
I think there is evidence that – some 3,000 years BEFORE Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism (or any other modern religion) there were yogis sitting in stillness and trying to grapple with the mysteries of life, suffering, death and after-death (Mohenjo-Daro artifacts show yogis in lotus pose). That’s sort-of what I like about yoga … its such a primal form of spirituality and free of the bells and whistles of organized religion (which is really what the SB seminary president’s remarks are concerned with – right?). I suppose that if studios have Buddhas or various types of Hindu or Indian art on display, it might create a space that makes a deeply committed Christian feel awkward. The teachers in my shala try to emphasize that the yoga space is “non-denominational” which I think helps keep the religious conflict to a minimum and might even be technically more in-line with yoga’s historical origins?
Ill take yoga over christianity.
Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, and anyone concerned about worshiping Hanuman while in a split can take a deep breath. A ujjayi breath even. As a Christian, my spiritual perspective is different than those described in the yoga sutras. I can appreciate the beauty and the common truths within these texts, but I have the freedom to believe in a different path. In my experience, transformation occurs by the spirit of Christ and through Bible study, prayerful meditation, and community. To be quite frank, yogasana isn’t necessary for that. Plenty of people are renewed without ever stepping on a yoga mat. Read more at my blog…
Yoga (and/or) meditation allow you to simply be. It doesn’t matter what your beliefs are, you are invited to be part of all existence in this moment. There’s no need for pressure, thought or dilemma.
That’s the beauty of it, we are all united.
Heather L. Johnston is a Certified Hatha Yoga Instructor, and a Registered Dental Hygienist in Cambridge Ontario who helps community minded, health oriented, older adults that are struggling with chronic back pain and not able to enjoy their day to day activities to the fullest.
It is interesting to see this post on Yoga controversy by Christians initiated by SBs President Albert Mohler here joining the Islamists who resist everything on this planet in the name of Islam or Quran. But the Southern Seminary is another hardcore belief monger and no wonder they have joined in this band wagon.
But let me explain certain questions here. (1) Yoga is a Sanscrit word for exercise. This is a very comprehensive technique that has been classified into two groups basically considering the two aspects of human “Body-Mind complex”. Please concentrate on my brief account here to understand the entire “Yoga” concept that is nothing to do with any particular religion except for the fact that it is an ancient age old technique originated in India at a time when there were no other ideological beliefs on the earth and the human population was too scarce, medieval and uneducated because there were no systems of education that we call today or see in these sprawling big campuses to embark upon. (2) It will be just as absurd to condemn the sports, games, or other indoor or outdoor games activities which is designed to promote a good health as we condemn Yoga here. Both have similar aims but Yoga is more comprehensive in the fact that it does not stop only at physical level but it also helps to control your mind that is so essential to distinguish one from the other
by their acts. The acts are carried out by our mental acuity which we fondly call “Intelligence Quotient”. (3) We all know and say, “A healthy body has healthy mind”. Why? Why do we think of mind or body separately and to be healthy? (4) It is a pure and simple philosophy of life that should concern everybody who has taken human birth. We are all three in one. One the body that we ourselves think that “I” am. Second the mind that inspire and instigate to do a particular act and we are accordingly known by the others like e.g. a doctor, a Bishop, a businessman, a politician or the like. These two things make us all differ with each other but complementary for our survival. We can not live without each other. The third and most important part that is common to all of us and that makes us all identical twin is the “Breath” that we inhale. It is the life force or the essential “Spirit” that is neither different nor anything to do with any “Faith” of any identity or denomination. The “Air” we breath is neither Christian nor Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or any other clan, cult or religion as we fancy to call it. (5) The Western concept is still evolving in the sense that we have just started to realise the “Spiritual”
part in our life. The ‘WHO’ still does not include “Spirit” in its definition of “Health”. It stops short at physical, social and mental level only. Though “Spiritual” aspect was included for sometime after 1972 but somehow it was again excluded. (6) Carl Jung the great physician and psychiatrist has said that in his carrier of 60 yrs of medical practice, he never saw even a single psychiatric patient who believed in “Spirituality”. What does it have to do with religion to make a person healthy and happy?
By “Meditation” one tries to calm down the “monkey mind” which is so agile and constantly active. We do say, “An empty mind is a devil’s home”. Why? What makes it so vulnerable? Hence by its mental exrcises that are called “Meditation” one is trying to tame this monkey mind.
Now I leave it to you all to judge in it, “How religious” is it and how anti-christian or anti-islamic is it? It upto you to go to seek help ofthe doctor if you are sick. The doctor will never come to you uncalled for.
So it is upto you to practice Yoga or play games or sports to be healthy. If you do not want to, be prepared for a heart attack, or a mental case, or diabetes or blood pressure and the life style diseases that we call it nowadays. Then these SBs or Mullahs will not come to share your grief or misery. In stead they will cleverly invoke “Their God” to infuse fear psychosis that will help to build their slave soldiers to pay their money to alloow their luxurious lives. It is all business and nothing to do with “Religion”.
Dr. O. P. Sudrania
For more on Yoga – refer to
Behind this all is the fact in the US at least yoga is predominately taught and practiced by women – this must make the exclusively male religious leaders very uncomfortable. This is quite possibly a reaction against women finding another space for themselves outside male organized institutions.
Thanks for your observation. Your comment on female intrusion in Yoga where again you deceptively invoke religion is, in my opinion, a little misplaced. Because Yoga practice as such, as I have tried to explain above, is nothing religious about.
This involvement of religion is being invoked by the interested Clergies in different faiths who may be unfortunately feeling or finding themselves threatened by diversion of desciples from their institutions but I am sure it is just one of those misplaced fears to spread either hate or politics of religion.
As far as reaction against women, in India also, there are a lot of females teaching this technique especially in the metropolices. When I attended my certificate course on Yoga training in Mumbai University, our two teachers were both females and young ladies. Just for your information. The course was organised through the department of Philosophy.
Dr. O. P. Sudrania
Anyone interested in the details of studying the essence of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is welcome to follow my series on Yoga written by me under the titles of “Is Yoga Science or Religion Part I? onwards. I have written so far upto Part VIII C? relating to Pratyahara, i.e. the fifth limb of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Others are in development and will be added as soon possible in near future. One can also follow them on my blog: http://opsudrania.blogspot.com