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?