Is Yoga okay for Christians?

We got an email from a reader:

... It was Yogananda who had me considering that the ancient Hindu scriptures were describing an ageless spiritual Truth that ultimately is the same Truth Christian traditions are pointing to  ...I find myself enjoying Bhakti Yoga as it reinforces my devotional attitude towards Christ / God – or Krishna (whatever label chosen). The asanas are good for keeping my lower back in place and the breathing / singular concentration good for deeper prayer or union (yoking) with God ... So – I was wondering if you completely shed the “yogic mantel” ... and have solely dedicated yourself to the path of Christianity as laid out by the Catholic religion or do you see the truth expressed in both... mutually exclusive or ultimately supporting the same deeper Truth? ... While I’m currently sure the concepts expressed in the Gita support my willingness to deepen my relationship with Christ – I know from past experienced I can be deluded even when I feel sure about a thing. You know – it’s the whole veil of delusion/ignorance within duality thing … it’s so easy to become caught up in delusion.

Are Catholicism and Yoga mutually exclusive?

I (Hugh) am grateful to have "shed the Yoga mantle" after following Swami Satchidananda for 4 years, almost moving to their town called Yogaville to become a sannyasin. My New Age testimony is here. I have since found Christ and understand that he knows all about the human body and how to put it in alignment with our true nature. It is inconsistent to have an authentic conversion experience to Christ, and persistently follow Yoga. Yoga has much Truth. However, a glass of orange juice with 1% arsenic, is still very unhealthy or deadly.

Saint Thomas travelled to Southern India in 50-72AD and was martyred there in service to the Gospel. There were many converts, which is why many Indian Christians are in the south. However, the multi-deity philosophies of Hinduism persisted in most of India and these are incompatible with Christianity. The founders of "Traditional" Yoga were seeking truth before the birth of Christ, and they didn't know that there was one God, and they didn't know about the Jewish people. In a post-resurrection world, however, it is a sin to persistently follow any path except that of Christ, not "Christ-Consciousness" of the New Age, where anyone can achieve what he did, but the resurrected man, Jesus Christ who IS God. Within those other disciplines, a seeker's individual search for Truth might be honoured by God if they don't know better, but an authentic search for Truth always leads towards Christ and his Church.

Western Catholicism can seem superficial and stiff compared to Yoga. The Church has had many failings, but underneath the surface is the richness of Christ in the Eucharist, and you need nothing else. Jesus knows every spiritual channel in your body.

What about just doing Yoga exercises and ignoring the philosophy?

The purpose of an Asana (position) is to open up emotionally and spiritually as the body relaxes into the posture. The exercises are like a giant funnel guiding the follower toward a spiritually flawed reality. In order for a Christian to maintain his or her identity, he/she would have to stiffen up and try to ignore or resist that pull, and that defeats the purpose of the "relaxation and strengthening" exercises. Every Asana (position) in Yoga has a name associated with its underlying philosophy, or deity. This is a subtle and seductive link into the spiritual side of Yoga, even for those just wanting to do the exercise. During the Pranayama (breathing) and meditation at the end of the class the student is drawn further into the spiritual side of Yoga.

For exercise, we recommend "core" exercises from the Mayo clinic, which is purely exercise, and not associated with deities, and is not taught in ashrams, and is not a gateway to a dangerous path the way Yoga is. Also, there is a Christian alternative to Yoga called Praise Moves.

See also:
Hugh's testimony of the New Age
Vatican position paper on the New Age (opens to a new window)
In depth article on Yoga in Catholic Culture
The Catholic Church is totally into relationship and religion.

Lord Jesus, let Your prayer of unity for Christians
become a reality, in Your way.
We have absolute confidence
that you can bring your people together,
we give you absolute permission to move.