Matt Walsh’s article about why he doesn’t think Christians should do yoga has been generating some buzz around the internet. While I don’t want to rebut his article point by point, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share why I love yoga and feel comfortable practicing it as a Christian.
You may know that yoga has its origins in Hinduism, and there are chants and meditations that directly reflect them. I choose not to do those parts of yoga practice; I “plunder the Egyptians” as my philosophy professor Dr. Meek used to say, and take the physical and mental benefits from yoga and leave the rest behind. If the Calvinist idea that “all truth is God’s truth” is true, and I think it is, then we are allowed to celebrate and participate in the truth in secular and non-Christian thought and practice even as we acknowledge the brokenness and try to avoid the pitfalls. However, this is still a matter of conscience, and if you don’t feel good about doing yoga, you shouldn’t do it, and Christians who do feel comfortable doing it shouldn’t judge you for it. And let’s remember that, as someone on Twitter pointed out (whose tweet I can no longer find, unfortunately), Paul let people eat meat that was sacrificed to idols -- if that can be a matter of conscience, certainly yoga can, too.
That said, I think that yoga, at its best, offers physical and mental benefits and a knowledge of how the human body works that serves as a complement and sometimes corrective to the strictly Western view of medicine. Sometimes I think that in American Christians’ desire to avoid the practices of other religions, we reject the truths of Eastern thought in general. Just because something is Eastern doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, and just because something is Western doesn’t mean that it’s right or the only way of doing things.
For example, one of the main reasons I do yoga is that it’s very good for treating my endometriosis. The poses and stretches help keep blood flowing and break up adhesions, which also can decrease my pain. If I stuck to a strictly Western method of treating endometriosis, all I would have at my disposal is surgery and hormonal birth control. I’m grateful that these things exist, and I’ve used both of them at different times, but they both have significant costs, physical and financial. Yoga doesn’t.
In addition to not having physical costs, yoga also has significant mental benefits. For one thing, it’s great for treating my ADHD. I already wrote about how exercise in general is good for my ADHD, and yoga seems to be particularly effective. It forces you to be mindful and brings you back into your body, which is important when you get too much in your own head, as my counselor would say. I also just feel better about myself when I do it, and I suspect this is partially because of the wonderfulness of the instructor I follow, Allannah Law of YogaYin. (I may or may not have a woman crush on her.) She is gentle and positive, encouraging you to accept where your body is and not judge it, and to do things when you’re ready. I’ve been realizing the importance and power of acceptance a lot lately, and she’s helped me do that. I was brought to tears one day when I realized that God might view me in the same gentle, loving way that Allannah views all of her followers. The peaceful, non-judging ethos of yoga has been immensely healing for my judging, shame-fueled modus operandi.
For me, yoga has been immensely helpful, and its benefits outweigh the costs of having to be intentional and careful to not incorporate any elements that are too similar to Hindu beliefs that don’t align with my faith. I hope you can enjoy it, too, and if you do, please help me learn how to make downward dog less terrible. Thank you.