Over at his blog this week, Tim Challies posted a link to an article by Albert Mohler entitled "Should Christians Practice Yoga?" Wow - what I read nearly knocked my socks off. Definitely not an article for the timid or faint of heart!
I routinely attended a yoga class several years ago at our (then) local YMCA. It didn't take me long to realize that there was a difference between "practicing" yoga and "doing" yoga. I was interested in developing muscle flexibility and proper body alignment, not "finding my inner source of strength and energy." Clara, our instructor, would shoot me a disapproving glance in the fitness room mirrors when I snorted or giggled at her instructions to "empty your mind and find your place of inner peace." Seemed to me some folks were taking this yoga business a tad too seriously!
Anyway, after reading Dr. Mohler's article, my first thought was, "Are Christians free to eat meat that has been offered to idols?" Okay, my mind moves in weird ways. I wondered if there were parallels between the dietary practices in Corinth, and the fitness practices of some Christians today. Dr. Mohler seemed to equate yoga - of any type - with pagan religious practice, therefore making it undeniably unclean and inappropriate for believers. Some in Corinth associated particular bits of cooked meat with pagan religious practices and therefore considered them unclean. Others, however, looked at the meat and saw...well, just a piece of meat. Dinner. Paul's discourse doesn't seem to imply that the issue at hand was the roasted meat, but rather the conscience of the individual diner.
So back to yoga...is a forward bend or a leg lunge necessarily anti-thetical to sincere Christian faith? I think that depends on what's going on in the mind of the individual. Dr. Mohler writes, "...if you have to meditate intensely in order to achieve or maintain a physical posture, it is no longer a physical posture." Which leads to another question - is there a difference between meditating and concentrating? If no difference exists, then almost every athletic/physical discipline seems to be suddenly called into question. What about the ballerina, dancing on pointe? The major league ball player, perfecting his home-run? If a difference does exist, then is it possible to do yoga (and concentrate) without practicing yoga (and meditating)?
I have to admit that when I work through my routine each afternoon, I am NOT emptying my mind, searching for my inner center of energy, or channeling. No, I'm watching a CD lecture on American History. The yogi who truly "practices" yoga would say I'm not really doing yoga at all, although they would recognize many of the movements and positions. Sure, when I'm standing tall on one leg (like a "tree") and trying not to wobble, I'm aware of my body alignment and balance. I'm also thinking about significant figures in America's Great Awakening, or the industrialization of American cities, or the construction of the first trans-continental railroad. Clara would be appalled!
I think the key to understanding Dr. Mohler's concern hinges on that particular word "practice." Is a forward bend a posture for meditation? Or is it a way to stretch tight back and leg muscles? The tone of the article seems to communicate that exercise in any way related to yoga is contrary to Christian faith. Dr. Mohler writes, "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."
After reading Dr. Mohler's article, I have to admit that I would feel uncomfortable doing yoga in front of someone who didn't know me. What if they misconstrued my actions as some form of pagan religious practice? What if they assumed I was trying to "channel the energy of the universe," instead of relying on Christ for my strength and purpose? (Then again, I wouldn't feel comfortable working out in front of a stranger anyway - for vanity's sake. Too many jiggles! Too much puffing! But vanity will have to be a topic reserved for another post.)
Back to 1 Corinthians 8...After reading this article, I agree that those whose consciences are weak in this area should not be doing yoga. And no one who claims Christ should be practicing yoga. That said, I'll be rolling out my sticky mat on the living room floor this afternoon for another session of stretching and toning, while Professor Patrick Allitt talks to me about the Richard Nixon and Watergate. And tonight - it's pork chops for dinner. Guilt free.
I found Dr. Mohler's article very thought-provoking. I need this kind of challenge to make every thought, every action captive to Christ. Thoughts, anyone?
3 weeks ago