Does Downward Dog Dishonor God?

Hi. My name is Tamara. I am a Christian and I am a registered yoga teacher.

This is a topic that I have never really spoke about with anyone in depth. I have felt the judgment from other Christians because I teach and “practice” yoga. There have been several times over the last few years that I have struggled trying to figure out if what I was doing was dishonoring God.

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A few pastors have even brought the topic to their congregation and also to their blogs to much mixed reviews. Check out what Pastor Mark Driscoll has to say on the subject. His post starts out by saying:

There is nothing wrong with stretching, exercising, or regulating one’s stress through breathing. But when the tenets of yoga are included, it’s by definition a worship act to spirit beings other than the God of the Bible. By way of analogy, there is nothing inherently wrong with intimacy, sex, and pleasure. But when the tenets of adultery are included, it’s a sinfully idolatrous worship act. A faithful Christian can no more say they are practicing yoga for Jesus than they can say they are committing adultery for Jesus.

A little over a year ago, I said yoga was demonic. My stance hasn’t changed since then, but…

I felt sick to my stomach when I first read this article. I was super confused and continued to read as Pastor Mark went on to discuss the history and the eight limbs of yoga. This article is an interesting read if you have time.

If you have never before heard about the eight limbs of yoga here is what they involve:

  1. Moral restraint
  2. Religious observance
  3. Postures
  4. Breath control
  5. Sense withdrawal
  6. Concentration
  7. Mediative absorption
  8. Enlightenment

Most yoga in the United States barely resembles anything close to the yoga that originated in India and is rooted in Hinduism. American based yoga studios and gyms focus primarily on exercising the body using postures and breath control. When the postures and breathe are put together in the entire context of what yoga embodies you will find a salvation based system that relies on self effort. This is not the yoga I practice or teach.

I never ever want to misrepresent myself and what I believe. I do not practice yoga to worship animal gods or achieve nirvana. I practice it because it is fun and it allows me to challenge, explore, and create using my own body. If God had gifted me with the talent and ability to dance I would be dancing and sharing my love and passion for dancing with others. Unfortunately I look like Elaine Benes on steroids when I attempt to bust a move.

The point I am trying to make is God gives each one of us unique talents and abilities. It is up to each of us to discern how our gifts can be used. When I started teaching yoga I prayed that my classes would always be laced in joy and that God would allow his Spirit to pour out of me.  I wanted to make sure that anyone who came to my classes would leave feeling like there was something different or special. Of course you can’t always please everyone, but for the most part I do feel that I have been successful in creating an environment the encourages fun and creativity.

It is ok to be different. I have learned that I do not need to adhere to the traditional yoga teacher standards in order to teach or to take a yoga class. That being said their are certain types of yoga classes and many teachers who I would never go take a class from because I know that there will be chanting and singing that would not align with my beliefs.

If you have ever been to a yoga class you know that you will traditionally close with a namaste or chant om a few times. The translation for namaste means “the light with in me honors the light with in you”. There are several different variations that exchange honor with bow. For those who have been to my class you are already aware that I never say namaste at the end of my classes. I don’t know what others are referencing when they speak it, which is why I avoid it when I teach. I have never wanted to create any confusion for others in regards to who I am or what I stand for. When closing my classes I invite my students as they are seated to bring their hand together at heart center in prayer and from their I say…

Hands to your forehead, remembering to think good thoughts,

Hands to your lips, remembering to speak good things,

Hands to your heart, remembering to do good things.

And that is how I end my classes. No yoga scriptures, no meditation, and no pranayama. Just a bunch of sweating, smiling, and stretching.

Here is my take on this whole thing and I am sure some of you will disagree with me. My intention when I teach and practice yoga is to shine for Jesus. I want to shine for him in everything I do. From the words that I speak to the clothes that I wear. I hope others see the great joy I have in my life. My life is no where close to perfect. I am a sinner just like everyone else but I am joyful and happy because I know I am loved and forgiven. Using yoga as a form of exercise has helped me to build strength, connect with God, calm my anxiety, and most of all to let loose and have fun. Phillipians 4:8 says,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

I know what my intentions are when I practice yoga and I know what my thoughts are when I practice yoga. I also know the power of my God. I firmly believe that the environment, what we do with our thoughts, and who we choose to lead us matters when you take a yoga class.

So now I want to hear from you. What is your take on Christian’s practicing yoga?  Have you ever taken a yoga class that made you feel uncomfortable because what the teacher was saying or asking you to do went against your beliefs? Why do or don’t you practice yoga?

xoxo, Tamara

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Comments

  1. I’m glad that you wrote this, as I’ve encountered this too! My grandmother is always telling me how ‘bad’ yoga is because of that reason. However, I feel that you can make it any spiritual connection that you want. If you want to connect with the ‘traditional’ religious views you can, or you can take that time to be quiet and connect further with God. It’s a choice in how you practice, and there’s nothing wrong with it.

    • Hi Madi, Thanks for your response! I agree it is challenging to discuss this topic, especially because there are so many different views on Christianity and yoga. Have a great day and thanks so much for sharing about your experience :).

  2. This is honestly something that I hadn’t thought a great deal about before. I have stopped doing the bow at the end of class because I realized what I was doing and didn’t think that a bow during a yoga class was appropriate. Now that I look into the meaning of Namaste a bit more, I see what you are talking about. I had always taken it as a positivity thing, that I am trying to see the good in myself and the good in others.

    • If I had never gone to yoga teacher training I would have never given any of this a second thought. I had no idea what Namaste meant either and while I do enjoy many translations of this word there are several that I can’t get on board with which is why I don’t use it when I teach. Thanks Kaileigh for your thoughts.

  3. Great post! “I know what my intentions are when I practice yoga and I know what my thoughts are when I practice yoga. I also know the power of my God. ” Love this. I also love yoga. At one point a teacher that I had wanted us all to memorize several of the chants. She sent us home with printed copies. I looked up the meanings, and decided that this just didn’t fit w/ my beliefs, so I didn’t learn them and just sat quietly in prayer and meditation during the close. I had no problem with it…..but the teacher did. I eventually stopped going to that class and began taking Bikram for awhile. We have moved, so I am looking for a new vinyasa class. My body truly misses regular yoga………beginning to creak a little. 😉 Great post Tamara. Sharing….

    • Thanks Melissa! Good for you for looking up the meaning. I can’t believe the teacher had a problem with you not chanting, but honestly you were smart to investigate it more and figure out that particular class was not a great fit. Check out yogaglo.com. They have some really great teachers on there and you can practice at home.

  4. I love yoga! I have actually never heard any Christians bringing this up but it was so interesting for me to read. I honestly just use yoga to clear my head, so I don’t feel like I am turning it into something like they are talking about. Very good post!
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    • Thanks Kaitlyn :). I would have never given any of this a second thought either. When I went to yoga teacher training I was certified at a Christian yoga studio and had no idea how much controversy there was regarding this topic. I enjoy stretching and moving my body so much and love that God created me to move. Mark Driscoll has lots of views on a variety of topics and this is the most condemning I have read on Christians practicing yoga. Just like you I don’t feel like I am in anyway dishonoring God by stretching my body.

  5. Callie Unruh says:

    Great post, thanks! My dad still is unsure about the fact I do yoga. About 7 years ago when I was in Bible College and writing for the school newspaper I was told to write an article on yoga in churches–but bascially told that it was bad and the angle it should take. I didn’t practice yoga at the time but I remember going to a class in a church and thinking, “what is the big deal? It is just a bunch of flexible people stretching” I believe it is all about where your head and heart are–your intentions. You can make almost anything bad if you try. I am glad that more Christians are realizing they can do it and not compromise their beliefs. And lastly, Mark Driscol frustrates me with his thoughts on a number of things…now I can add yoga.

  6. Lori Nannie says:

    This was a WONDERFUL post. I know that I have felt the same judgement from some “Christians” because I practice yoga. I practice yoga to honor the TEMPLE that God granted me with (my body). If I am not keeping myself healthy, that is more of a dishonor than what I practice to keep it that way.

  7. This is why I have a problem with the Church. There are so many things I want to say but have no idea how to say them!!! I guess I’m just a believer in “Believe what you want to believe, don’t judge others, don’t pressure others to believe in your beliefs, and lets all just get along”

  8. Awesome blog entry!! Obviously as christian yoga teachers and practitioners we come up against this all the time. It is disheartening to hear people of God make claims that is a demonic practice. Many of the things we do in Western culture have a root in things that are far from Christian, but those roots have mainly withered and died and we are left with just a practice, routine, Easter is an excellent example. Much of Christian dogma and traditions are not even Biblical per say anyway. When they chose one little thing and pick it apart, I believe that is unricheous judgment and judgment based on their limited view and belief, not reality. There is not an ounce of religion in my yoga classes, I teach at a gym and so this is not an option anyway. I keep the class fun, stretching and exercise and thats it. My love of Christ and deep rooted belief in Him I hope shine through me and my words, but keep the class neutral. I choose to ignore criticism from other Christians because I KNOW without a doubt that the Holy Spirit in us will undoubtedly convict us if what we do or teach is counter to whats right in our souls and spirits. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    Thanks for writing this! 🙂

  9. I don’t think there is anything wrong with yoga (or call it just plain stretching!) as long as a person doesn’t take part in the chanting and related things. Stretching and taking the time out to just breathe is definitely worth it with three young girls running around. 🙂

  10. Wow! I had no idea this was such a big deal to some people. Yoga as exercise, not religion is everywhere now. Just a reminder for me and everyone to keep an open mind and heart. What is inside your mind and heart are what matters most. Thanks for sharing – and I love the way you end your classes…it is something I try to take with me everywhere.

    • Thanks Heather :). It is a huge deal to some people and I totally understand and see where their concerns are coming from. It is hard to express all of my thoughts sometimes to people on this subject which is why I wrote it down. Thank you again for reading and for your sweet comment.

  11. Christine Johnson says:

    I so appreciate your post! Several years ago I had two herniated disks in my back and had a series of injections and the doctor told me that I needed surgery. I had twin daughters who were small and I couldn’t be down for 6-9 months so he suggested that I try yoga to strengthen my core and he explained the different types of yoga and which one he wanted me to try. I got the videos and started doing them and I continue to do the exercises every week so I stay in shape. I get frustrated with Christians who criticized me for doing yoga, we all have sins in our lives and I don’t think it is right for us to be so critical to one another. I do yoga and don’t do the chanting, etc. Thank you for your post, I would be a mess without yoga exercises. Only God can see our hearts desire and I’m thankful that he created me flexible so I can do the type of exercise that keeps my temple healthy.

    • Awesome story! So great that you were able to use yoga to strengthen your body! It is disheartening when you are trying to do something to better your health and it is working and others just don’t understand. I used yoga too to help my body heal so I understand where you are coming from. Cheers to keeping our temples healthy!

  12. What and interesting topic. I had never thought of yoga as being against any religion until I tried bikram. I really knew nothing about that type of yoga other than that t was hot and tried it out. (I had only gone to a few other yoga classes before that anyway) once I tried bikram it felt so much like a cult that I couldn’t go back in good conscience. Since then I don’t go to many yoga classes but just do DVDs someone’s and enjoy the good stretch while only halfway relaxing and paying attention anyway. I went to my first class today for the first time mooonths only because I couldn’t make myself do a video, the couch sounded much better. I had just read your post but needed a stretch and watched to see what I thought in light of your thoughts. The class way great, but I found myself intentionally singing little church songs to refocus myself on The Lord. When she would talk about the light and energy I was singing “this little light of mine” in my head. Haha and then to top it off at the end in that dead body pose she was talking about finding your peace and what cleanses you and more and more church songs were popping in my head, making me smile big and relax. I totally see what others might say, but I agree and anything can be done to serve The Lord. Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks Stephanie for reading and sharing! I totally agree the teacher and environment make a huge difference in how comfortable and safe I feel during a yoga class. Sometimes you just get weird vibes. Glad you were able to get to class and worship and focus and God. I love how great our God is that we can love and serve him anywhere and at anytime. Happy stretching!

  13. Cheryl Gall says:

    I didn’t read the whole thing. But what i dd read is silly. Yoga is peace, strength and taking the best care of you self. I pretty sure the god that i worship would be behind all this. Yoga Is Good!!

  14. If you would check out eBible.com, you would find MANY answers to every Yoga question. Unfortunately, from what I read the other night, Christians should NOT do Yoga. Research it yourself. I was amazed at the wealth of information it gave on the topic, including the different types of Yoga.

    This site, (eBible.com) is undoubtedly one of the best Biblical references I have ever found.

    God Bless you Sister in Christ,
    Nicolette
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  15. How interesting that you post this! This has been on my mind lately. While I still don’t know where I stand on it, I’m thankful for your post and your view point!

  16. I’ve never even heard of yoga as being anti Christian….ever. I was confused by the title of your post. I know a lot of Christians that do Yoga.
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  17. Joanna Woods says:

    Good morning, what an interesting read ! I too, enjoy yoga, just went back to class last winter after nearly 45 years, and plan on doing it again this fall and winter. However, like so many of us out there, I too have wondered about the beliefs behind yoga. I find it so relaxing for the body and given that I am a senior it not only helps to keep me limber, but melts away at the stress of everyday life. I haven’t done yoga class all summer and unless I do some real physical yard work or walk for a couple of hours my body tends to stiffen up. I have found yoga excellent for this problem of growing old and all the things that go along with that. Thanks for enlightening me on the meaning of Namaste, never knew that, it always sounds so Japanese to me, it is it derived from Japanese or Indian? Anyway, thanks for your post and I agree, God wouldn’t want us to not take care of our bodies that he so graciously has give us for this period of time here on earth. We must always allow his spirit which dwells inside of us to shine through so others can see the God difference in us, but at the same time we must care for the shell, which is the physical body. Without the physical body, our precious spirit would not be here in this physical world. Thanks!

  18. Wow, I didnt know that even Christians have this kind of problem regarding practicing yoga is dishonouring God or not. Such a surprise because as a Muslim, we also have this whereby the Imams would say that we are honouring other things than the one and only God. But I think, it’s all in your intentions and in your heart. So long as you do it for the purpose of getting fit and healthy, no chanting, and focus your mind on your one and only god, everything is good. he knows what is in the heart. I am doing it as it keeps my mind at peace and helps energize my body in the morning 🙂

  19. I’ve also heard the other side from my Indian friends, who don’t think that Christians should practice yoga either! Honestly, I feel like most American yoga is more health-based than anything. My Christian friend and I go to a yoga class together and just focus on Jesus as we stretch. I’ve never heard anything too ‘religious’ while in class, more like finding inner-peace and pouring out love for your fellow man….those seem Christian-based to me!

  20. I have never thought that by me doing yoga I am dishonor ing God. I’m stretching & working out. I know that it comes from India, but I think they are way more into it as a faith. Where as ppl here use it as a way or form of exercise.

  21. First off, I am a Hindu of Indian origin. I randomly came across this post and I am quite surprised that Christians frown upon Yoga. Before I voice my opinion I just want to say that I believe everyone has a right to their beliefs and opinions. Its great that you found yoga and that you have made it your own.

    I have learned yoga in India as well as attended a few classes here in the United States. As someone who grew up in the US and as a Hindu, I am not at all unfamiliar with the faith of Christianity and its view on Hinduism. As I mentioned before, I had no idea of the view on Yoga and let me tell you why! Yoga was infact based off of Hinduism but only because it originated in a country where the religion exists. The American version does not represent the religion at all. In traditional yoga, the chants are said to bring you closer to god and I don’t think the teachers that teach Yoga here understand the true meaning behind the chants. The exercise moves with yoga brings you calmness so you can stop thinking about the cares and worries of your daily life and focus on God… Which ever one you believe in!! I don’t think anyone that loves Yoga should discontinue because of their religion. There is also a lot of science behind Yoga. The moves not only improve flexibility but they also improve the quality of life. I see nothing wrong with doing yoga and repeating verses from the Bible, that is what Yoga is for! American Yoga today is trying to bring chanting and other stuff into it to make it feel more authentic and I personally find it irritating!

    In Indian yoga ashrams they don’t say Namaste. It is a greeting used in India, it’s basically Hello/ bye for us and everyone uses it including the local Christians and Muslims.. None of that light stuff you mentioned haha. One more thing, Om is not necessarily a religious thing. The vibrations from elongating the OM are good for the mind. If you think it is too much it is no big deal, I just thought I would mention it.

    I am typing this all on my phone so don’t mind any mistakes.

    • Kam, Thank you so much for writing this comment! I learned many new things by reading this. Thank you so much for sharing what you know with me :). I greatly appreciate everything you said and how you stated it. I am even more amazed and impressed you were able to write this all on your phone. Have a great night!

  22. markywmurray says:

    I am an older woman, I am a born again Jesus Loving, Cleansed by the blood of the Lamb lover of Christ. I do yoga because I have less back pain when I do. I am also an RN I have taken Healing Touch classes. I believe it is about heart condition, relationship to Jesus, my family then others. If your heart is right with Him, that is all that matters.

    That being said we are also supposed to avoid the appearance of evil, not to lead the young in Him astray. I believe that as long as you are very clear what your beliefs are it is all good.

    marky

  23. I appreciate your courage to bring this up. It is definitely an interesting topic. I do yoga, as you know, but I always make sure to pray to Jesus, especially when touching my pressed-together hands to my heart. I skip things that I don’t prefer, such as hands to forehead or lips — just personal preference, and I never bow.

    Our mindset is important. Someone told me that the yoga poses are designed to invite gods or spirits into our presence. Well, that might be true, who knows — after all, this world is a spiritual Battleground — it is and always will be, yoga or not! What we should always do is arm ourselves with the armor of God. That is our protection.

    I can still see both sides of this “argument” but I personally have not felt convicted to cease going to yoga classes — I just choose carefully which ones I attend, and make sure I do not do anything that is dishonoring to the Lord. 🙂

    Thanks for this great topic!
    xoxo,
    gayle | grace for gayle
    I’m a #Previvor!
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  24. I agree with you on your take of yoga. I am a Christian as well and yes I do yoga. To me, it teaches you how to really listen to your body and strengthen and stretch your body in a healthy way. Yoga practiced in the United States is so far placed from the Eastern mysticism often associated with yoga.
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  25. Chris Tian says:

    I don’t like the word Yoga because of the connotations so I do the same thing only calling it Yadah and I do it as part of my Biblical worship. I am uncomfortable with some of the Yoga names such as bow to the sun and that’s why I don’t want any part of it. If I could find a teacher who loves the Lord and will use prayers, the Bible and worship as part of the class I’m more than happy to get involved the problem is that too many teachers do the whole “love and light” thing and I don’t like it. xx

  26. I am a Christian and also a 500 hr registered yoga teacher. I completely agree that yoga can be a moving method to honor and worship Christ. It starts with your intention for the practice, and ends with the Lord’s omnipotency over everything. He knows our hearts and has created us to give Him glory in and through these bodies.

    Yes, I have experienced yoga classes that were led to ‘honor’ other dieties. Because yoga is NOT a religion and can be used by any faith, it is possible to have the intentions of a practice be directed at something other than God. This will of course completely change the experience.

    But my personal practice is to praise the Lord! I write about yoga and the Christian faith at http://www.perfectpeaceyoga.com

    Thank you for sharing your post! I always enjoy seeing other Christian yogis share the union of their beliefs and practice.
    Blessings,
    Wendy

  27. hi,
    you have expressed your beliefs in a nice manner but being a Hindu and having good knowledge of Yoga, i can say that yoga does not preach any religion and no where does it offends any other religious beliefs. its not necessary to say namaste at the beginning or end of yoga practices and neither its practices or postures preach Hinduism in any form. Yoga is connection of your body with your soul in a way to realize God. when i am saying God, it does not refer to hindu God or a Muslim god or a christian God, so lets not confuse and mingle two things together. God is one, his form and practices may be different. Yoga is another name for peace, harmony, healthy life style, good thoughts and realizing your self.

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