Our Position on Yoga
- Pietra Fitness respects people of all faiths. While we recognize and point out specific theological differences, we also firmly believe that all people are greatly loved by God.
- Pietra Fitness is not “Christian yoga” or “Catholic yoga” and should never be described as such. Yoga describes an integrated whole of philosophies, spirituality, and physical practices based in Hinduism and found in Buddhism and New Age practices.
- Pietra Fitness respectfully asserts that yoga cannot and should not be separated from its spiritual and philosophical root; therefore, the practice of yoga cannot be part of a specifically Christian exercise program.
- Pietra Fitness believes that beneficial stretching and strengthening exercises can be separated from yoga (in some cases slightly modified, and in all cases re-named) and redeemed in Christ for use in a Christian exercise program.
- Pietra Fitness believes that one cannot regularly practice yoga without some spiritual effect; therefore, we recommend that Christians stop the practice of yoga and seek alternatives that are consistent with Christian philosophy and spirituality.
What Is Yoga?Yoga is the ancient Sanskrit term for the physical practice used to develop Hindu spiritual disciplines. In fact, the word yoga means yoke or spiritual union, indicating the innate spiritual nature of the practice. Yoga teachings are thousands of years old and are detailed in the Vedas, sacred Hindu texts originating in ancient India. These teachings include:
- Polytheism (worshiping many gods and goddesses)
- Monism (a belief that all things in the universe are one, without distinction)
- Idol worship
- One’s own divine identity
It is important to understand that although yoga has become synonymous with stretching and strengthening exercises, there are many other important aspects to yoga. There are entire areas of traditional yoga that are often unknown to casual practitioners in the west:
- Bodily purification techniques
- Deep meditation methods
- Dietary guidelines
- Spiritual teachings
Interestingly, though many aspects of yoga are undeniably ancient, an objective historical look at the modern postural practice (yoga for exercise) indicates that it is not ancient at all. Archaeological and historical evidence place the development of yoga postural practice (in which the poses are the emphasis) in the late nineteenth century. While many yoga schools claim their asana (physical posture) methods, are thousands of years old and passed on from guru to carefully selected students, in-depth research indicates there is no evidence for these claims (except for a few seated poses for meditation).1 While there is certainly a relationship between modern postural yoga and traditional Hindu practices2, modern physical yoga appears to have developed fairly recently as a combination of western physical culture (such as British gymnastics) and elements of Hinduism.3 This new, dominantly physical practice became popular with Hindu nationalists as an expression of Hindu exercise. It was not embraced by traditional caste Hindus and was actually frowned upon by many.4 One of its premier supporters was Madame Helena Blavatsky5, a Russian medium who studied in India and is considered to be one of the founders of the New Age movement.
This history is very important because the use of various postures in gymnastics preceded their use in yoga, confirming that yoga does not “own” these movements and that they certainly can be used and applied outside of yoga.The movements themselves do not constitute yoga and should not be called yoga when used in isolation. When used in the context of yoga, however, other practices from Hinduism, Buddhism, or the New Age Movement are integrated into it.
Simply put, to practice “yoga” is to practice elements of Hinduism and/or New Age beliefs.Most people in yoga fitness classes do not understand the roots and purpose of yoga and therefore do not understand all they are participating in. While we deeply respect other religious practices and beliefs, it is important for Christians to truly understand their faith and to engage in activities that are wholly consistent with Christian teaching.
What Does the Catholic Church Say About Yoga?The Church clearly states that there are very real spiritual concerns associated with the practice of yoga, and it advises strong caution regarding the practice. We should not take this lightly. It is important to be informed and to make intentional decisions based on solid spiritual and intellectual formation. The Church asks Christians to know and apply their faith. Two documents from the Vatican are great resources on this subject:
- The Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith
- Jesus Christ The Bearer of the Water of Life by the Pontifical Council for Culture & Pontifical Council for Interreligious
How Is Pietra Fitness Different from Yoga?Because yoga is thousands of years old, it can lay claim—and does—to almost every possible movement or position of the human body, including movements as innate as yawning, blinking, and breathing. The human body is made and designed by God, and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. In dutifully and humbly caring for our temple, we glorify God. Since all that is good and true comes from God, we can freely utilize movements that keep us well. Movements that stretch, strengthen, calm, and relax are good for us! Despite the wide range of exercises cataloged in yoga (there are over 1,500), yoga does not have a patent on any of them. You should not feel guilty for doing ordinary and natural human movement just because it has an official name in yoga.
So while you may see familiar movements in a Pietra Fitness class, it is important to note that the differences between Pietra Fitness and Yoga go much deeper than stretches.At Pietra Fitness, we do not seek to attain spiritual enlightenment and immersion with the divine, nor do we utilize elements of yoga that conflict with Christian teaching. While we, as Christians, desire union with God through our relationship with Him, we recognize that no technique can ever lead to full immersion with Him. Union with God is a gift of His grace along with our cooperation, and we are distinct from God.
Pietra Fitness, then, is not a technique to attain perfection. Rather, Pietra Fitness is a way to stay physically fit while answering the call of St. Paul to pray unceasingly. We simply offer our exercise in prayer to God.In Pietra Fitness, each exercise class begins and ends with prayer. While the physical workout stretches and strengthens our bodies, our hearts and minds are free to follow the advice of St. Paul and focus on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, and excellent (Phil. 4:8). We do this with Scriptures and meditations read during long stretches. Because gentle, soothing movements and extended periods of stretching naturally foster relaxation and serenity, this type of exercise is a great opportunity to turn our hearts and minds toward Christ. To further illustrate the differences between Pietra Fitness and yoga—and to help you discern elements of yoga that conflict with Christian teaching—let us take a closer look at specific practices found in casual yoga classes offered at the gym and in-depth classes taught in professional yoga studios.
Elements of Yoga That Conflict with Christian TeachingIf you have ever attended a yoga class, you have undoubtedly been exposed to one or more of the practices below. All yoga teachers are educated in these techniques, and their classes will certainly be influenced by such non-Christian eastern spirituality and New Age practices.
Chanting MantrasAccording to Merriam-Webster, a mantra is a mystical formula of invocation or incantation, originating in Hinduism and Buddhism. Mantras are often used in yoga, two of the most common ones being aum or om and soham.
- Aum/Om: “The syllable om, also known as aum and pranava, is the most sacred symbol of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism. It is used both as a symbol and as a sound in religious worship, ritual chanting, performance of sacraments and rituals, yoga, and tantra. In Hinduism, it is venerated as Brāhman in the form of word (askshara) and sound (sabda).”6 In an article in Yoga Journal entitled ”Mastering the Om: A Guide for Beginners,” Yelena Moroz Alpert says, “Om is more than just an invitation to start your practice. It is said to be the primordial sound born with the universe. As we exhale the A-U-M, its vibration links us to the original source of creation. When done properly, the sound reverberates from the pelvic floor upward through the crown of the head, filling the body with pulsating energy that simultaneously empowers and radiates tranquility.”7
- Soham: According to Yoga for Dummies, “The mantra soham (pronounced so-hum) means ‘I am He,’ that is, ‘I am the universal Self.’ It is repeated in sync with breathing: so on inhaling, ham on exhaling.”8
In Christian teaching, “I AM” very specifically refers to God the Father, and is not appropriate for an individual to chant.
Chanting in SanskritMany yoga classes feature chanting at the beginning or ending of class. The chanting is done in the ancient language of Sanskrit, so most participants have no idea what they are saying. There are many chants, but here are translated portions of common chants:
- “I bow to Lord Shiva, the peaceful one who is the embodiment of all that is caused by the universe.”9
- “I bow to the lotus feet of the gurus, the awakening happiness of one’s own self revealed; beyond better, acting like the jungle physician; pacifying delusion, the poison of samsara . . . to Patanjali, I salute.”10
Clearly, chanting in yoga class presents a dilemma for Christians.
Body Positions to Channel EnergyThere are specific hand, body, and eye positions in yoga called yoga mudras. Yogis believe that by forming these positions, one can direct the flow of energy. These positions are utilized by skilled yogis to induce alternate states of mind and consciousness.
An article in Yoga Journal explains, “Fingers and toes are charged with divine power, which, when intelligently accessed and properly applied, can intensify the transformative power of the practice. [. . .] Symbolically, a mudra seals or ‘stamps’ the mark of the god or goddess on the practitioner, much like a signet ring stamps an impression on soft wax, signaling complete devotion and self-surrender . . . “
“. . . some texts claim mudras confer magical powers on the practitioner, such as healing others’ illnesses (and maybe even exacting revenge on enemies) and assisting in the awakening of kundalini.”11Kundalini Yoga is a particular type of yoga that aims to develop spiritual awareness by freeing kundalini (the serpent power that is coiled in the base of the spine) through exercises and meditation that draws it upward through the seven chakras (energy centers).
ChakrasThe concept of chakra originates in Hindu texts and is in yogic traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. The chakras are thought to be the seven main energy centers in the body that are located along the spine, starting at the base and running up toward the crown of the head. They believe that the chakras can become blocked, and that by practicing poses that correspond to each chakra, a person can release these blocks and clear the path to higher consciousness. It is also believed that with the healing of each chakra comes the gift of certain powers. The University of Metaphysical Sciences states, “In addition to its connection to the body, the third eye chakra is also highly related to the spiritual realm. This chakra is said to be associated with the ability to experience and even see into other dimensions during meditation. Astral awareness is related to this chakra. When the third eye chakra is awakened during meditation, a number of abilities are said to open up including higher cognition, remote viewing, intuition, telekinesis and telepathy. Inasmuch, psychic powers are often said to be related to this chakra.”12 Yoga poses are often sequenced to unblock the chakras, and meditation on the chakras in a yoga class is commonplace. There are many dangers associated with kundalini rising through the chakras, including psychological disturbances.
Numerous websites, written by those who have experienced kundalini rising, are devoted to describing the dangers of this practice.
Unnatural Breathing TechniquesWhile proper breathing is extremely healthy (it releases stress and calms the nervous system), it is important that breathing be done gently and at the pace of the individual. In yoga, pranayama is not just breath control, but is also believed to regulate the prana (or life force) in the body. Some yoga studios practice breath control for up to fifteen minutes at the beginning of class. In more advanced practices, students are encouraged to meditate on the breath and visualize drawing themselves into healing, cosmic, divine energy. The California College of Ayurveda cautions against pranayama when not done correctly. It states: “The practice of pranayama has always been surrounded by an air of mystery. Since such practice is a gateway to yogic powers (siddhis), gurus have traditionally been hesitant to teach it until the disciple was able to prove his or her readiness.”
“Many great yogis have known of the dangers of pranayama when performed incorrectly . . . ““. . . faulty practice puts undue stress on the lungs and diaphragm. The respiratory system suffers and the nervous system is adversely affected. The very foundation of a healthy body and a sound mind is shaken by faulty practice of pranayama. [. . .] This results in the prana charging recklessly through the body, causing both physical and psychological imbalances.”13 Caution should be used with many breathing exercises found in yoga because these structured techniques can adversely impact students.
NamasteThis physical and verbal salutation is regularly said in yoga classes and means “the divine in me bows to the divine in you.” An article in Yoga Journal explains, “To perform namaste, we place the hands together at the heart chakra, close the eyes, and bow the head. It can also be done by placing the hands together in front of the third eye, bowing the head, and then bringing the hands down to the heart.”14
While Christianity certainly recognizes the sacredness of another person—we are temples of the Holy Spirit—we need to be careful not to insinuate that a human person is the same as God.The Creator and His creatures are distinct beings, although they may be united by grace. For Christians, it is undesirable to allude to the chakra system when greeting or honoring another person.
Yoga MeditationYoga uses various meditation techniques to draw students inward psychologically and emotionally. These techniques may include chants, mantras, and Transcendental Meditation. The Transcendental Meditation technique is based on the ancient Vedic tradition of enlightenment in India. It is believed that, through yoga meditation, you can open the chakras that lead into yogic powers (siddhis). According to traditional sources, the five siddhis of yoga and meditation are:
- Knowing the past, present, and future
- Tolerance of heat, cold, and other dualities
- Knowing the minds of others, and so on
- Checking the influence of fire, sun, water, poison, and so on
- Remaining unconquered by others
There are also other powers that can be achieved. These powers include items such as clairvoyance, levitation, bi-location, becoming as small as an atom, materialization, having access to memories from past lives, etc.15
Trying to attain these powers is not compatible with Christianity.While Pietra Fitness deeply respects other religious practices and beliefs, it is important for Christians to truly understand their faith and to engage in activities that are wholly consistent with Christian teaching. The Catholic Church, whose job is to care for souls, cautions Christians regarding the practice of yoga and the influence of the New Age movement. It is important to do your research and get informed when in search of an exercise program for your body, mind, and soul.
- Singleton, Mark. Yoga Body: the Origins of Modern Posture Practice. Oxford University Press, 2010. p 3-4.
- Singleton, Mark. Yoga Body: the Origins of Modern Posture Practice. Oxford University Press, 2010. p 33.
- Singleton, Mark. Yoga Body: the Origins of Modern Posture Practice. Oxford University Press, 2010. p 5.
- Singleton, Mark. Yoga Body: the Origins of Modern Posture Practice. Oxford University Press, 2010. p 6-7.
- Om, Aum, Pranava or Nada in Mantra and Yoga Traditions, https://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/essays/aum.asp
- Mastering OM, Yoga Journal, https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/mastering-om
- Georg Feuerstein, Ph.D., Larry Payne, Ph.D., Yoga for Dummies, pg. 317
- Yoga Journal, The Beginner’s Guide to Common Chants http://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/841?print=1
- [Elephant Journal, The Ashtanga Opening Chant, https://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/10/the-ashtanga-opening-chant-melanie-cooper/]
- Richard Rosen, Seal the Deal, Yoga Journal, http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/1740
- University of Metaphysical Sciences, Understanding the Third Eye, http://www.umsonline.org/third-eye.htm
- California College of Ayurveda, Pranayama, Yoga and Ayurveda, Swami Vishnu-devananda, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Containing the Commentary Jyotsna of Brahmananda (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass/Om Lotus Publications, 1987), pp. 11 and 19 and chapter 2, sutras 15–17., https://www.ayurvedacollege.com/articles/drhalpern/Pranayama_Yoga_Ayurveda
- Rita Geno, The Meaning of “Namaste”, Yoga Journal, http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/822
- Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, Chapter 3,. The Extraordinary Powers, 111.1 – 111.56
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