"You shall have no other gods before me.
When I had my salvation experience with Christ, many things were removed from my life and yoga was one of them. The term "yoga" can mean a variety of things to different people. To some it just means stretching, while to others it is a spiritual practice and way of life. For me, it started as stretching and a fitness routine and over the course of 20 years became something I was deeply studying and dedicating my life to. Some of you may read this and think, "What is wrong with yoga? It's just some stretching that is good for the body." While others may read this and understand the depth of yoga and all it encompasses, but maybe never realized how when practiced in it's traditional way can go against the word of God and how He wants us to live our lives with Him.
Yoga is derived from a Sanskrit word that means 'to yoke' or 'to unite', and there are two definitions of yoga found in Merriam-Webster's dictionary:
1. a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation.
2. a system of physical postures, breathing techniques, and sometimes meditation derived from Yoga (see definition 1) but often practiced independently especially in Western cultures to promote physical and emotional well-being.
I experienced how easy it was to start with definition 2 mentioned above and bit by bit fully be immersed in definition 1. And because of that, I want to share some of my story with yoga to bring awareness to a practice that could unknowingly be sabotaging your relationship with Christ and opening you up to the works of the enemy.
I first started doing yoga in college through attending an occasional yoga class at the gym or following along with a yoga video I would play on my TV. I grew up as a gymnast, cheerleader, and athlete and my body loved the yoga practices. Since I was no longer participating in the activities of my youth, the yoga was fulfilling and nourishing for me. I felt great doing yoga; it was a great stress reliever, it got me in touch with my body, and kept me aligned and balanced. Yoga came and went from my life over the years. At times it was a big part of my life, with a very regular practice. And other times it was something that was just there, that I knew I could jump back into at any point. I found the most benefit from yoga when it was a daily practice of about 15-30 minutes of postures and breathwork every morning, and towards the end of my time in yoga I was doing around 2 hours a day. Throughout my years in yoga, I went through 3 different yoga teacher training programs at varying degrees, and interestingly I did not complete any of the trainings. I would be hard on myself for not finishing the trainings, proclaiming myself to be non-committal and not able to see things through to the end. Now I see that not completing any of the yoga teacher trainings as another way God was guiding me and working in my life even when I was astray.
Yoga eventually became a spiritual practice for me. As I studied and practiced the ancient roots and traditions of yoga, it was no longer just something I did for my body. Yoga became something I did for my mind, body, and soul. I was no longer just doing poses that would stretch and align my body; I was doing poses that would awaken energies in my body. As I continued to work to balance and fine tune these energies it would lead me to self-realization and enlightenment. I was working through my yoga practice to become all I could be and attain some higher spiritual goal that was beyond this physical realm; something that could be experienced in this world and take me beyond this world. In my head this involved realizing and awakening to a god-like divineness, surrendering and allowing my 'higher self' to become fully embodied. I saw God as a being I could be on the same level as. At that time I did not see God as our creator and our Lord as I do now. At that time I did not know the one true God that is all-loving and all-knowing, but also to be feared and honored above all else.
Eventually my yoga practice started regularly involving not only the physical postures, called asanas, but also breathwork, chanting mantras, meditations, studying spiritual texts, and participating in pujas (ritual of worship). As I got more into yoga, I discovered that it is not ultimately about the physical postures, but that the postures were meant to prepare me for meditation. That the ultimate goal of yoga is not to twist this way and that, to bend and stretch because you can, but rather to prepare you to go into a deep meditative state to lead to moksha (ultimate freedom and liberation).
And as I went deeper into yoga I also started worshipping and idolizing lesser gods and spirits such as Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, Hanuman, Ganesh, Durga, Lakshmi, Kali, Surya, Ram, Sita and many others (there are thousands). Not because I set out to do this, but rather because this is naturally found in most of the chants, mantras, meditations, postures, and pujas associated with many yoga practices. It started with the mantras I would chant, then became a practice of lighting candles, offering flowers, and burning incense to pictures and statues of these deities. It became blatant idol worship. At that time I was not a believer in Christ and was not convicted by this sinful practice, though the repercussions of it were evident in my life. Worshipping these lesser gods, idols, and spirits placed me in their domain and opened me up to their influence and control.
Yoga is believed to have started over 5,000 years ago, well before the time Jesus lived on Earth. The people of that region practiced yoga as part of their culture, and they called on and worshipped the gods of their regions in the way they knew how. But when Jesus came 2,000 years ago He paid the debt for our sins and restored our relationship with God so we all can truly walk with Him and have eternal life in His Kingdom. The price was paid, the option was given for all to turn from deception and worshipping lesser or false gods, to worshipping, honoring and living for the highest and one true God that is our creator. Through Jesus we are able to live with God in our hearts, but we must repent, turn from our sin, and believe in Him.
I stopped doing yoga because the level I had come to practice it at involved idol worship and putting my faith and trust in something other than God. I had placed yoga above God. I had to sever my connection to it as part of my own repentance and turning from sin. There were moments in the weeks following my salvation experience that I thought maybe I could still do yoga but without all the spiritual parts; a yoga with no chanting, no meditation, no deities. Maybe I could practice it with worship music playing and prayer involved (as I knew there were yoga classes out there that were doing a more Christian, holy type of yoga). But I personally could not separate it out. Getting on the mat and doing poses were so intertwined with the deities and their spiritual realm that my new Christ filled heart could not continue to practice it.
I am grateful for the love, grace, and forgiveness from God for all the years I did not honor Him in the highest. I am grateful for being given this opportunity to live with Christ in my heart. I am grateful for my eyes being opened to see the Way in God. Yoga was an important and helpful part of my life for many years, but it does not even compare to how important and helpful God is in my life now and the relationship that became available to me when I accepted Christ as my savior, repented, and turned from sinful behaviors.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
~1 John 4:1-6
Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God."
Believer in Christ