The issue of whether Christians should practice Yoga and the Martial Arts has been a hot topic over a number of years. Not least of which, is because the practices have evolved from the beliefs and practices of other religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc.).

And the reason there has been much debate, is that even though many of the modern practices are adaptations of older religious practices, most, if not all, still include aspects of that past religious base. Indeed, the idea of some sort of creative life force, harmonising the body with the life forces of the universe, is still a common idea.

So, is it OK for a Christian to practice Yoga and the Martial Arts? Or is it something that all Christians should avoid? And just what should be the response of the Christian to the common response, “I only do the exercises?”

Well, to answer the questions we need to understand something of Christian beliefs. And there are at least three issues that we need to consider.

Firstly, Christians are supposed to believe in a creator—YHWH (Genesis 1:1). And we are supposed to believe that it is he who is the creator, sustainer (and redeemer) of the universe.

Secondly, Christians are not supposed to worship other gods, or copy their practices. Indeed, when God was leading the Israelites out of Egypt he told the people not to follow other gods (Exodus 20:3), and not to copy the practices of those who believed in other gods (Deuteronomy 12:29-31).

And, thirdly, Christians are not supposed to be stumbling blocks for others, no matter how liberated they may feel (1 Corinthians 8:9).

Now clearly, on those three principles, a Christian should avoid any belief or practice that is associated with other faiths, including Yoga and the Martial Arts, where such practices include religious teaching (overt or otherwise). But what about the argument “we only do the exercises”?

Well, there are two issues:

The first is, can the exercises be truly separated from their religious base? Because, if they are still dependent upon other religious beliefs, including the idea (implicit or otherwise) of a creative life force, then they are still in direct opposition to the idea of God being the creator and sustainer of the world.

And, secondly, even if they could be separated, do we understand why God told his people not to copy other people’s practices? Because, the clue for that, I believe, is in the passage from Deuteronomy, where God links the idea of people copying wrong practices, to them becoming “ensnared.”

Now clearly, as far as God was concerned, some things might start off seemingly harmless enough—even appropriate as part of their worship of him—but things have a habit of developing. Things don’t stay the same. And a practice that might seem harmless in the beginning, can so easily develop into something far more sinister and dangerous.

And I guess for me that has been proven from experience. Because I can always remember the man I met who practiced Karate, but who had lost interest in the physical exercises. He’d move on. Indeed, at the time that I met him, all he was interested in was what he openly identified as the religious beliefs behind the practice.

However, even putting that aside, there is one more complicating factor in the whole “I only do it for the exercises” debate. And that is the question of how the practices are promoted—and labelled. After all, I have seen many adverts for Yoga and for the different Martial Arts. But very few have detailed what they were actually promoting—the exercises, or the religious practices? Most of the time you wouldn’t know. Which is why when Yoga lessons were advertised as being taught in a particular Rectory it all sounded (to some) innocent enough. That is until it was discovered that what was being taught was Yoga steeped in Hindu belief.

Yoga and the Martial Arts tend to be called by their one or two-word name, regardless of whether they are “just exercises” or are overtly religious. Indeed, there is usually no distinction between the two. Which again, suggests God’s wisdom in prohibiting the pursuit of other religions and their practices.

So, for me, the idea that God is the creator and sustainer of life, that we are to have other gods, that we are to avoid practices associated with other faiths, and that we are not to be stumbling blocks to others, means there can only be one conclusion. And that is, that Christians should not be practicing either Yoga or any of the Martial Arts.

Having said that, I know many Christians do. But I wonder how much they are a stumbling block to themselves and others (inside and outside the faith), and what difference there would be in the church, if only they abstained.

Posted: 10th March 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis