Several years ago I heard a story of a Tennessee congregation that innocently offered its facility for use by a yoga class. The leaders had to change course when some members protested that yoga was an activity contrary to Christian doctrine.
I doubt whether my anecdotal church had a thorough discussion of the principles of yoga. Dr. Mohler, however, deserves credit for taking yoga seriously. Many of us speak of yoga neutrally as an exercise program like any other, but it is categorically different. Yoga is more than a health discipline, it pre-dates the Christian era and has developed over many centuries as a “technique for God realization” quite distinct and alien from Christian faith. When we approach a practice with roots in another faith, it is well worth asking whether we are protecting the integrity of our faith, as well as the integrity of the new practice. Dr. Mohler’s is a thoughtful essay that does not demonize yoga.
But this points to the question of how the church adapts to changing times and different cultural conditions. It strikes me as a historic strength of the church that it has expanded around the globe and accommodated new practices and new styles of expression along the way. For instance, Easter egg decorating has its roots in a pagan custom celebrating the arrival of spring, appropriated by the early church. I choose the example of Easter eggs because Dr. Mohler mentions it in passing in his article. I’m not a student of yoga, and am not making a case for it in particular. But clinging to tradition for tradition’s sake, or out of nostalgia, is arguably to cut the church off from new sources of vigor.
Obviously, Christian understandings of the human body are different from yogic understandings. (God loves me whether or not I can get into the lotus position — I certainly hope so, anyway!) But part of the mission of the Duke Clergy Health Initiative is to remind Christians that God was incarnate in the person of Jesus and that our bodies are precious in God’s sight. Dr. Mohler refers to “our national cult of health” as if a wide-ranging search for new bodily disciplines reflects an improper concern with health, or a passing fad. I feel nothing could be more proper than for Christians to strengthen and renew our bodies, in harmony with our minds and souls, to equip us for mission.
I’d better stop before I exceed the limits of my understanding of this subject. If you have thoughts about these issues from your faith perspective, or from your experience with yoga, I would love to hear from you in Comments.
John James, M.A.
Duke Clergy Health Initiative