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The New Year is upon us, and that means most people will rededicate themselves to eating right and more exercise. While fitness trends come and go, according to the American College of Sports Medicine’s predictions for the top 20 fitness trends for 2014, there is one exercise routine that continues to grow in its popularity: yoga.

This brings up some important questions for Christians to consider.

How did yoga get here?

Drive down the street of a city in America, and you are likely to see a yoga studio, or a gym or even a church offering yoga classes. So how did yoga, which has its origins from the ancient Hindu religion more than 2,000 years ago in a place that is thousands of miles from Oklahoma, get here?

It is difficult to pinpoint through research when yoga came to the West, but it appears the practice came to America in the 19th and 20th Century from a man named Swami Vivekananda and that during the 1980s, it gained full recognition as an exercise in cutting-edge places like California. The “yoga boom,” as it is sometimes called, has really taken root and acceptance in the last five to 10 years.

Is it morally and spiritually neutral?

The very word “yoga” means “to yoke” or “to unite.” But with what are yoga practitioners uniting? In its full form, the purpose of yoga is a union with the gods of Hindu. Certainly, the average dude in a yoga class—let’s call him “Sam Fitness”—at the YMCA does not have this in mind.

Yet when Sam Fitness goes through the yoga routines, including the meditation and poses, he is unwittingly associating himself with the larger religion behind yoga. Even more problematic, while Biblical meditation is filling the mind with Scripture, yoga preaches the very opposite: an emptying of your mind, thus opening it to bad influences. Moreover the very poses of yoga, such as the “downward dog,” are themselves acts of prayer and are tied to Hindu meanings, whether we intend it that way or not.

There is no question that physical activity and sports affect our psyche. Can a young man play tackle football each week without it changing his temperament for aggression? Can a lady take ballet lessons day in and out without it making her a more graceful person? In Christianity, there is no separation between the body and the soul.

That is partly why sex, for example, is such a big deal. Posture affects how we feel and who we are, because God made us as a body-soul unity, in which we experience all of life. Therefore, if we do yoga, even modified versions, we become more like its creators.

Should Christians do yoga?

Many Christians have taken up the practice of yoga, believing that it is just an exercise or that they can separate the practice from its Hindu associations by avoiding or changing the meditation.

“I pray Christian prayers and recite Scripture while doing yoga,” said one Christian lady I know who takes part in a weekly class. While that may be true, the people around her do not necessarily know that. This particular Christian is not thinking beyond herself.

What about the weaker brother who is not as adept at discerning the difference? “All things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial,” said the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 10:23). Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Moreover, one of the blind spots of Christians today is to overestimate our own abilities to “eat the meat and spit out the bone,” when it comes to engaging with the culture. Wisdom calls us, not to see how close to the edge we can get without falling off the cliff, but not even to come close to the edge.

In the case of yoga, the cliff’s edge is just too dangerous. To quote Christian apologist Elliott Miller, “While an alarming number of American Christians suppose they can harmlessly achieve physical and spiritual well-being through a form of yoga divorced from its Eastern worldview, in reality attempts to Christianize Hinduism only Hinduize Christianity.”

Christians would do well to cast aside the yoga mat and find other, more suitable bodily exercises in the New Year and beyond.

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