18 July 2006

Speaking Ethically No. 4

By Rod Benson

June 2006

Yoga is an important part of the weekly regimen for many Christians. Yoga reduces stress, increases fitness, and strengthens body-mind unity. But yoga’s roots lie in ancient Indian philosophy and religion, and some practitioners seek to empty the mind and achieve union with the ‘transcendent.’

Some Christians are uncomfortable with this apparent syncretism, and there are ethical as well as spiritual concerns. Children are introduced to yoga at some Australian schools, and in after-school care programs, by instructors who insist it is “secular” and “values-free.”

Like reiki, performed by nurses on newborn babies without consent, yoga is a values-laden practice that children should arguably encounter in religious studies classes rather than the gymnasium.

Yet for evangelicals like Agnieszka Tennant, yoga is “bodily-kinetic prayer,” and “the Hindu gods don’t make it onto my mat.”[1] At the end of her session, however, Tennant’s instructor bows and says, “Namaste,” which can be translated, “I bow to the god in you,” reflecting Hindu doctrine.

Some Christians would respect Tennant’s integrity and freedom to express her faith as she wished. Others have offered us “Christian” yoga programs, one of the most popular of which is Laurette Willis’s PraiseMoves.

In place of yoga stretches, vinyasa flows and meditation, Willis offers “Walkin’ Wisdom Warm-Ups,” “Scripture Sequences” and “What Would Jesus Do? Relaxation Time.” You can buy her book, Basic Steps to Godly Fitness, peruse her website, and purchase her workout DVD. In 2005, Willis trained nearly 60 instructors to offer PraiseMoves classes in their churches.[2]

For Willis, any belief system not explicitly sanctioned in Scripture is a potential threat to one’s moral compass. But importing Christian prayer and Scripture quotations to yoga seems to do the trick.

On reflection, it all sounds pretty harmless. I’m in favour of encouraging a closer relationship between the evangelical body and the evangelical mind. But one wonders what Jesus and Paul would have made of PraiseMoves, and of the increasingly fad-based and product-oriented nature of evangelical experience and discipleship.

Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney.

[1] Agnieszka Tennant, “Yes to yoga,” www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/120/42.0.html, dated 19 May 2005.
[2] Monica Byrne, “Yoga and fundamentalist Christianity,” Sightings, 18 May 2006.

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