Archive for the ‘Jesus & Yoga’ Category

Let me back up a bit. Remember the whole sh*t storm started by Albert Mohler a few weeks ago? He’s the head of Louisville’s Southern Baptist, Albert Mohler, who blogged about his thoughts that the practice of yoga is at odds with the beliefs of Christianity.

Well, ladies and gentleman, stop the presses because Bikram Choudhury has weighed. During an interview with Clifford Pugh of the Houston-based daily digital magazine CultureMap, Mr. Choudhury was asked to respond to the recent hoopla. In typical Bikram awesomeness, his response will likely send you laughing into your weekend

Choudhury scoffs at Southern Baptist Seminary president Albert Mohler’s recent pronouncements that Christians should not practice yoga because it has a spiritual aspect meant to connect with the divine.

“What he said is normal but the way he said it is totally ignorant,” Choudhury said “If you do yoga, you have good health. It’s a preventative medicine.”

And, he maintains, no one in the western world understands spirituality, anyway.

“So far in my life, no western man, including the Pope, can answer this question: ‘In one sentence, what is spiritualism?’ So when people talk about spirit in the western world, we Indians laugh because if people can’t learn A,B,C,D, how can you explain Shakespeare, Byron, Shelley and Keates?”

And he shrugs off criticisms that he copyrighted his 26-posture sequence, even though yoga is a 5,000-year-old tradition that cannot be owned, to create the “McDonald’s of yoga.”

“Nothing bothers me,” he replied. “I’m bullet proof, waterproof, wind proof, money proof, sex proof, emotion proof, stress proof, strength proof.”

Yup. You can read the full interview with CultureMap here.  And, if you enjoyed these…um…hard-hitting philosophies, you can check out some of my favorite quotes from him courtesy of YogaDawg via YogaDork.  Enjoy the full moon tonight and have a wonderful weekend!


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Last week, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted a blog essentially stating that yoga poses a threat to the Christian faith.  While I briefly discussed Mohler’s post on my blog, I failed to realize that his post was a reaction to his own interview with Stefanie Syman posted on his website.  You can go to his website and listen to her interview, but I’ve posted the highlights here:

Mohler: Can you separate the physical aspect of yoga from its spiritual foundation in Hinduism?

Syman: First of all, yoga is not just part of Hinduism, yoga is part of Buddhism and Jainism, too.  And Hinduism is a term that was applied pretty late in the game to really diverse Indian religious practices.  So, the answer is, in some ways, yes, since yoga isn’t really owned by a single religion.  And, as a practical matter, what people have done is to take pieces of it – the physical poses, the breathing exercises, meditation – and practice them in the context of their own faiths, or kind of in a more secular way. I do think it begs the question of what you get when you do that, because yoga has very specific aims and there are slightly different theologies depending on which type of yoga you’re practicing and which philosophical system it is associated with.

Later in the interview, Syman responds to Mohler’s confoundment over the “strange story” of yoga being practiced by millions of people in America:

Well, this is kind of at the core of what makes yoga so powerful in America, which is it [yoga] says you can use your body to transcend mundane existence. So even if you’re just practicing yoga as a form of exercise, in the back of your mind, you know that if you, perhaps, pursued it further, there’s this whole other dimension, this rich field of possibility of transforming your body and having spiritual realizations by using your breath and your body right now, here, in this life. And, I think that promise, whether or not many people ever take advantage of it, or attempt to get to those deeper layers of yoga, is what really makes it so appealing.

Mohler and Syman also discuss the role of sex in yoga.

Mohler: How does [the sexual aspect of yoga] get transformed in the United States?

Syman:  As with everything, because it’s not part of our culture, we tend to take a kind of superficial and sometimes trivializing and problematic view of it.  Yoga really posits – particularly Hatha yoga, and tantric forms of yoga – that you can transmute sexual energy into spiritual realization, and that is by using your breath and your body to move what’s called Kundalini up the spine, up the Chakra system, which many people may be familiar with, and it really transforms your consciousness.  That’s not using sex specifically, that’s using sexual energy.  But there are forms of tantra that involve sex. And much of it involves visualizing sex. So, its sex as a visual metaphor for the unification of divine principles. But there are some forms of tantra that really do enjoin the aspirant to use ritualized sex for spiritual realization. Now this comes in this very arduous ritual apparatus that is quite tedious and involved. And most people, most Americans, wouldn’t have the patience to go even a tenth of the distance of what it requires in terms of preparation, and purifications, and meditations, and chanting and years of spiritual labor. But it does involve ritual intercourse. Of course, that fact opened the way for less savory characters to exploit this dimension as they did – and I believe some still do – to seduce young women, somewhat gullible young women who believe that they’re doing something sacred, and that will give them deep realizations.  So, someone like Pierre Bernard, at the turn of the century, used tantra as a form of cover or rationalization for something like sexual predation, although his sexual partners were willing at the time.  But he really did use tantra to take advantage of women at a time when premarital sex could ruin a woman’s reputation for life.

Mohler ends his discussion with Syman by asking her views on whether or not practicing yoga can be consistent with practicing Christianity.

Mohler:  Let me ask you another question, which is going to press upon you perhaps something that you didn’t intend to address in your book, but I just have to ask for the purposes of this interview and for my own personal interest: When you have this background in yoga, and an almost unprecedented knowledge of how it came to the United States and was received here, when you hear someone talk about the possibility of something like Christian yoga, does that make any sense to you?

Syman: In some ways it does.  I mean, if you look at yoga as a technology that can be used to transform your consciousness, used to get closer to the divine, then it does make a lot of sense.  If you’re looking to have the specific realizations outlined in the yoga scriptures, I think it makes a little bit less sense because you then have to take on more metaphysics and theology that those scriptures posit. And those are a bit different from what you’d find in Christianity, or Judaism for that matter, or Islam. So, I think it makes sense up to a point.

The conversation between Syman and Mohler was friendly and engaging; however, Mohler follows his interview with Syman by interviewing Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and a “specialist on the New Age Movement”, who warns Christians that yoga is not merely about physical exercise or health.  During the interview, Groothuis states: “All forms of yoga involve occult assumptions,” he warns, “even hatha yoga, which is often presented as a merely physical discipline.” 

Mohler’s blog post was picked up by USA Today online, and spread like wildfire thereafter.  In fact, Mohler’s hometown newspaper Louisville Courier Journal printed a story stemming from Mohler’s post, and letters to the editor posted in today’s edition of the newspaper about Mohler’s statements weren’t very supportive.  Here is what the letters said:

Given the social, political, economic and environmental issues that society and churches are grappling with today, I was astonished to read Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler’s recent comments regarding yoga. I have practiced yoga for 12 years, and many of my fellow practitioners are some of the most compassionate, reverent, spiritual, selfless, and ethical people I have ever met.  

As with the case of which sports team emerges victorious, who wins an Oscar, and where you left your car keys on any given day, I’m pretty sure that God (or whichever Deity you prefer) has bigger fish to fry than condemning those folks on their mats, pursuing health of mind and body. I would suggest that President Mohler follow suit and focus more on the tasks associated with his position, and less on passing judgment of others. Namaste.


Why The Courier-Journal thinks that Albert Mohler’s opinion of yoga as a threat to Christians is newsworthy is beyond me. He is certainly entitled to his own personal beliefs as much as any other person. My objection is to the C-J giving over the space to his views, which for many of us elicit a “who cares?” response. To devote paper space to his bizarre beliefs provides him with a free platform to proselytize a version of Christianity which is anything but Christian. He has a blog already. Let’s leave it at that.


As many athletes know, concerted physical activity induces a state of mind similar to meditation. This suspension of our conscious separation of mind/body can result in feelings of calm and oneness with the universe. I expect that this is also possible with the vigorous pursuit of dance, walking, and even work. But at the least, I can attest that by Albert Mohler’s theology, basketball and jogging are un-Christian.


It has been and continues to be an interesting dialogue.  And while some suggest that Mohler’s ideologies aren’t worth the discussion, I wonder just how “fringe” his beliefs are.  Thoughts?

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Can Christians practice yoga?  If you are searching for the answer to that question, you definitely will not find it in this blog post.  In fact, this blog post delves very little past the asking of the question.

Let me back up a bit.  So, I ask this question because the head of Louisville’s Southern Baptist, Albert Mohler, recently blogged about his thoughts after reading Stefanie Syman’s book, The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America. He stated very clearly that the practice of yoga is at odds with the beliefs of Christianity.  His blog post is…interesting…and the gist of it seems meant to warn Christians that “we are not called to escape the consciousness of this world by achieving an elevated state of consciousness, but to follow Christ in the way of faithfulness.”  However, given some of the ideas which Mohler interpreted as the focus of Syman’s book, I am more interested than ever in reading it (Syman’s book, that is).

Mr. Mohler’s blog post was picked up by USA Today online, and several online and printed periodicals. The USA Today post identifies several Christian organizations providing a Christian “twist” on yoga and a defense of Christians who practice yoga.

Mohler’s post, of course, is not the first time that the question has been raised.  In 2005, Time magazine explored the fast-growing movement of Christian yoga.  And the Time article noted that books on the topic have been published as early as 1962.  While it is not mentioned by the Time article, Paramahamsa Yogananda wrote in his book Autobiography of a Yogi, that Jesus and his disciples likely traveled to India and were introduced to the practice of Kriya Yoga.  But that’s a “whole ‘nother show, Oprah!”

The Time article is rather abbreviated, but it does offer some interesting while-you-wait-in-your-dentist’s-office takes on the answer – from the good old “yoga is for heathens,” to a quote from Patricia Walden warning against the use of yoga by Christians to evangelize.   My favorite response was that of the Catholic priest described as the head of the Christian yoga movement, who, in reference to a document issued by the Catholic church warning of the practice of yoga, stated: the church’s position is not a denunciation of yoga but rather a reminder to “respect Christian logic” in its practice.  Another Catholic mother of two stated that the logic behind Christian yoga is simple. “It gives me time alone with God,” she says. “As a mom of two small kids, I don’t get that–even in church.”

I’m not a Christian, so I fortunately will not be experiencing any inner turmoil related to this topic during savasana.  So, I’m wondering…and I know this might be a sensitive topic…but are there any readers out there who might like to share how they reconcile being a Christian and a yogi?

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