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Saluting the sin: Christians speak out against the “evils” of yoga

To hell with you: can earthly peacefulness lead to eternal damnation? (Image: Tim Samoff)

The craze for stretching, breathing and buying Lululemon gear has hit Toronto as hard as anywhere else in North America. But as they try to empty their minds of daily troubles, are local yoga fans putting their immortal souls in jeopardy? Yes, say certain spoilsports who recently spoke to Religion Dispatches. They think yoga is Lucifer’s own gateway drug.

This view shot to mainstream attention recently when Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, warned Christians against the sin of yoga in a blog post that made headlines. But his comments were far from an isolated incident of evangelical Christian leaders inciting fear of yoga; Mohler simply took his place among the growing ranks of twenty-first century conservative Christian leaders with “yogaphobia.”

Since 2001, Laurette Willis, a public speaker and fitness trainer, has actively warned fellow Christians about the religious peril of the nation’s fastest growing method of exercise while promoting a “Christian alternative to yoga,” which she calls PraiseMoves. [A] 2005 article in Today’s Christian Woman… recounts Willis’ cautionary tale of how yoga led her into a life of errant New Age practices, loneliness, alcoholism, and promiscuity.

This is a real concern for evangelical Christians—OK, maybe not the alcoholism and promiscuity, but the concern that, basically, by doing yoga they’re sinning. According to some interpretations of scripture, a Christian has to love God with her whole mind, so emptying the mind in meditation is a big no-no.

Geoffrey Wiebe is a yoga instructor who teaches privately and at Downward Dog and Yoga Plus in Toronto. He’s counselled a few Christian students over this stuff but thinks evangelicals are missing the irony—their forebears are partly to blame for yoga being as big as it is. It was Christian Science, the New Thought movement and the YMCA, according to Wiebe, who helped bring yoga from India to the West. “It’s like a snake swallowing its own tail. Christians helped start modern, Western yoga; now they’re trying to remove the eastern exoticism they brought in the first place.”

In response to the Christian “alternatives” to yoga, Wiebe is appropriately mellow, resisting the urge to poke fun. “If I was going to start making fun of people, there are other places to start, like the people who want to talk on their cellphones during yoga.”

It’s not the only culture war going on over yoga at the moment: Hindu fundamentalists are outraged (and it’s hard to blame them) over Playboy’s “Naked Yoga” DVD, which is exactly what it sounds like. Not to pass judgment, anti-yogites, but if we’re talking sins, perhaps that’s a better place to start?

• Is Downward Dog The Path to Hell? [Religion Dispatches]
• Outrage over Playmate’s naked yoga [Stuff]

  • Laurette Willis

    Ex-Yogi Counters “Yogaphobia” Claim

    Amazing…first the Wall St. Journal and “Religion Dispatches” Magazine and now Toronto Life have given PraiseMoves a nod in the last five days. We must be living right. Thank you very much.

    You may find interesting that the word “sin” comes from a Hebrew word that simply means “missing the mark.” That’s all. Nothing mysterious or finger-wagging about it. Nobody’s perfect, right? We’ve all missed it — at least once I’d venture to say.

    As the founder of PraiseMoves Fitness Ministry, I would like to address the “yogaphobia” label.

    It is a common practice nowadays to classify anyone who embraces a different standard or viewpoint as phobic. Any logic contrary to our own must be driven by fear. The tactic seems to work. Even the most stalwart are hushed when the threat of being labeled an ignorant sufferer of “fill-in-the-blank-phobia” is in the air. They are hushed for, well, fear.

    Having been a yoga practitioner and adherent to New Age ideologies for 22 years, the information I present is not fear-driven, but offered in love based on three things:

    1. Biblical studies which counter yogic philosophy;
    2. Personal experience; and
    3. Research on yoga’s origins and religious practices [using primarily the words of Hindus, swamis, gurus and yogis (a.k.a. “Hindu missionaries” according to Swami Sivasiva Palani from an article entitled “An Open Letter to Evangelicals” from the January 1991 issue of Hinduism Today, in which he writes: “A small army of yoga missionaries – hatha, raja, siddha and kundalini – beautifully trained in the last 10 years, is about to set upon the western world. They may not call themselves Hindu, but Hindus know where yoga came from and where it goes.”)].

    Again, thank you for drawing people’s attention to this issue and for mentioning PraiseMoves, “The Christian Alternative to yoga.”

    For those fearless few who want to learn more about yoga, so-called “Christian yoga” (which I have called an “oxymoron,” see “Stretching for Jesus,” TIME magazine 8/29/05), and the PraiseMoves difference, please visit and its accompanying article “Yoga IS Religion” by L.G. Marshall, former yogi, TM’er and follower of “The Maharishi” (Warning: the latter article is not for the squeamish.).

    As the unabashedly outspoken apostle Paul wrote to the young Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” 2 Timothy 1:7.

    No Fear Here, just Amazing Grace.
    Laurette Willis,

  • Nic

    And amen to that. Having a contrary view does not mean you are phobic or narrow-minded. Christians need to speak out much more on these issues.

  • SMurphy

    It’s interesting that this same discussion is happening in Malaysia but instead of Christians speaking out about how yoga will damn you, it’s Muslims.

  • Charles Crenshaw

    Interesting to note that Praise Moves is considering itself a Christian alternative to yoga. With all due respect this idea is debatable. Is Praise Moves a western way to market yoga to people who would not practice hatha yoga under any other guise? Ultimately these distinctions about yoga will stop cluttering our minds, minds filled with one-ups-manship, and rationalizations.

    Yoga (divine union) is in Christianity! The latin for yoga is yugjum. Parts of the Christian tradition, at least parts not affiliated with the mystically-shy Protestant tradition, have long sought union with the divine which is the ultimate goal of yoga. From its highest perspective, union has little to do with the body culture that western culture is obsessed with. The body can’t help you achieve union with the divine, this is just another take on our western materialism. The body can be a hindrance in the quest for union, thus the need for good physical health which hatha yoga can provide.