Can a Christian Practice Yoga in Good Conscience?

Many Christians are asking whether practicing yoga is sinful or not. Others argue that doing yoga just for its health benefits is not wrong. Christian author, teacher and pastor John Piper addresses these concerns in his column ‘Ask Pastor John.’
People take part in a group yoga practice on the morning of the summer solstice in New York's Times Square, Reuters/Eric Thayer

Many Christians are asking whether practicing yoga is sinful or not. Others argue that doing yoga just for its health benefits is not wrong.

Christian author, teacher and pastor John Piper addresses these concerns in his column 'Ask Pastor John.'

The founder of Desiring God explained that, based on little research he has done, yoga is rooted in eastern worldviews that are "antithetical to a Christian understanding of God and the way he works in the world."

He also presented a parallel between how a mantra works and how yoga works. Mantra is the practice of chanting a particular word or phrase to achieve the superconscious. While yoga does not use a lot of words, it functions in much the same way in that it makes a person tap into the superconscious, Piper explained.

"So yoga is to the body what mantra is to the mouth - that is the way I would put it anyway," Piper said. "In other words, yoga exercises are a spillover from that kind of verbal repetition and philosophy of how one moves physically and emotionally and intellectually to this superconsciousness."

According to Piper, yoga, which means "merger" or "union" in Sanskrit, aims to create a balance between mind and body through meditation, physical movements and sometimes mantra in order to lead the yoga practitioner into a state of self-enlightenment.

"To achieve this state, yoga uses breath, posture, relaxation, and meditation in order to bring about a healthy, lively balanced approach to life. That would be more or less the way they would say it on a lot of places on the web," Piper said.

So what's wrong if a Christian practices yoga? Piper pointed out that the worldview presented by yoga is in stark contrast with that of a true believer.

"In Christianity progress toward wholeness moves from a God who communicates intelligibly through language to be understood, through a person, Jesus Christ, who becomes fully human and speaks to be understood by the mind, not the canceling of the mind," Piper explained.

He expanded his explanation by saying a Christian's journey toward wholeness involves the work of Christ on the cross and His resurrection from death, which defeated "a real Satan." It also involves the indwelling and sanctification of the Holy Spirit in a believer "through a life of transformed godliness into eternal life where God is our joy forever."

"It is totally different than the kind of worldview that lies behind the meditative, physical and emotional and intellectual practices that flow out of yoga and tai chi," he added.

In conclusion, Piper said he would recommend a different kind of exercise for Christians.

"So for my money at this point, as I assess maximizing rather than minimizing my pursuit of God's goals and the flourishing of my own soul, I would go another way and find another kind of exercise," he said. 

Tags : yoga, can Christians practice yoga, is yoga sinful, yoga for Christians, Christianity, meditation, self-enlightenment, superconscious, eastern mysticism, eastern worldviews, wholeness in Christ, Gospel