Is Yoga Helpful?

A Methodist minister responded to the ThinkChristian piece talking about how helpful Yoga has been to her. Here was my answer to her.

1. Has Christianity borrowed from other religions? Let’s rephrase the question: How has Christianity borrowed from other religions?

Throughout the history of the church it has engaged other religious beliefs and practices, other philosophies, and shown an incredible capacity engage a diversity of cultures. This is part of the reason Christianity has been so successful. You find this capacity already in the book of Acts.

At the same time, the reason the religion has survived and thrived is because in the process it has also not lost itself. For a history of this I recommend Alister McGrath’s book “Heresy” that I reviewed here on TC

The Christian church has appropriated other practices and beliefs that it did not (sometimes over long periods of time) find to be destructive to the church. Part of the reason Christianity could do this is because of its core beliefs, that Yhwh, the creator God created a good creation and the fruit of culture too belongs to its maker. See the “cultural mandate” in Genesis and Isaiah 60 as worked through by Richard Mouw.

Having said that Christians have likewise had a long tradition of particularism. Notice how Paul handles the issue of meat in the market place that had been sacrificed to idols. Notice how Paul deals pastorally with those who were leaving the temple worship found throughout the Roman empire and all of the practices that went along with it along with the knotty economic, familial and social ramifications connected to it.

Christianity has a complex history of engagement with other beliefs and practices. Yes, but also a very strong strain of Christian exclusivity.

2. One of the areas of clear contradiction between yoga (in the context of Hinduism) and Christianity is in fact the religious importance of physicality. Hindu pantheism is a very different understanding of reality than the Christian foundation in the Hebrew Scriptures. At some point you have to ask yourself whether God is the creator or the creation? You’ll have a very difficulty time embracing pantheism given both God’s strict commandment about graven images and Romans 1.

3. In my opinion many world religions highlight true things and can yield experiential benefits to its adherents. To me it is dishonest to say they don’t. Can yoga give a secularist a greater experience of calmness, self-control, peace and wellbeing? Of course. So can therapy, so can modern medicine, so can a job change, a marriage or divorce, a relocation, a new relationship, a better doctor, etc. So can a beer. The book of Proverbs offers the advice to provide alcohol to the miserable to forget their troubles. It works. I could with some expectation of success send someone in distress to a mosque, a synagogue, an 12 step meeting, a therapist, a yoga instructor, etc. and expect from many of these sources to see some positive results. But all solutions happen within a frame. The question of a religion concerns that frame.

When I was a missionary in the Dominican Republic doctors would prescribe 3 pills to sick people. They were poor and so went to the pharmacy and bought only the cheapest one, usually the pain killer. They took it, the fever was relieved, the pain went down, they felt better. We can all, however, appreciate the sad irony.

4. All religions attempt to address not only felt needs but underlying problems. All religions offer salvation, but when people say “all religions are basically the same” they discredit the integrity of those religions because “salvation” is NOT the same in every religion. It’s at this level where the foundational assertions of the competing religions are engaged. Are you seeing the annihilation of your narrative identity, consciousness, individuality in pursuit of union with the divine? The 8 limb path of Yoga leads to Samadhi “we realize what it is to be an identity without differences, and how a liberated soul can enjoy pure awareness of this pure identity. The conscious mind drops back into that unconscious oblivion from which it first emerged.”

That is a very different image than faithful servants of Yhwh, individual narratives intact (the “you” you know, the “you” that God can love, the “you” that is in community with other “you”s, distinct yet in community) continuing the cultural mandate unfettered from our rebellion and decaying condition within the age to come.

Which frame do you really believe? Which frame are you investing your life in? Which frame shapes how you spend your time and the years you’ve been given?

The posts in what turned out to be a series:
Christians and Yoga
Is Yoga a Religion?
Is Yoga Helpful?
Should You Give Yoga Your Heart?

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in Culture commentary, theological. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Is Yoga Helpful?

  1. Anne says:

    You’re wrong. Not all religions offer salvation. In fact, salvation is a distinctly Christian concept. It is what saves us from sin, which we believe to be humanity’s downfall. On the other hand, Muslims see our problem as pride with submission as the solution. For Buddhists, it’s suffering with achieving nirvana as the answer. Buddhists and Confucians don’t even believe in sin. Jews and Muslims mention sin, but they aren’t terribly interested in being saved from it. So when people say that only Jesus offers salvation from our sins, they are absolutely right about that. Not only is that true from a theological perspective, but believers of other faiths are likely to agree with you.

  2. PaulVK says:

    “salvation” has become an American Evangelical code word for going to heaven rather than hell after you die.

    All religions try to answer some basic questions. These are the common ones. What are we? Where do we come from? Why is there brokenness, suffering, imperfection? What is the remedy for our problem? What is our final hope?

    You’re right. Christians, Jews and Muslims talk about sin. Many of the eastern religions that grew out of Hinduism don’t use that concept because the entire conception of the universe and its problem is different. I would use the term “salvation” in this context as the proxy for the “remedy” or “relief” portion of the dialogue. pvk

  3. Pingback: Christians and Yoga |

  4. Pingback: Is Yoga a Religion? |

  5. Pingback: Should you give yoga your time and your heart? |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s