Guest Posts

Guest Post: Why Not Yoga?

If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (as outlined in my “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs in the blue menu bar at the top of this page) and you’d like to contribute a guest post, drop me an e-mail, and let’s chat about it.

Why Not Yoga?
by Michal Russo

Most people in the world are familiar with, or have at least heard of, “yoga”. Whether it’s simply wearing yoga pants, or actually practicing and teaching, the notion is widespread and accepted as a pillar of wellness and spirituality. A practice that is often referred to as uniting the mind, body, and soul through asana (poses) and pranayama (breathing techniques) has evolved widely over the centuries. Beginning with ancient times and pre-classical yoga, all the way through modern day westernized schools of “yoga”. However, one thing remains the same, and that is: it’s all deeply rooted in connecting your spirit to other spirits.

First let’s make sure we fully understand, and agree, on what yoga truly is.

What is yoga?

The origin and the name of the word “yoga” dates back to roughly 5,000 years ago and comes from two sanskrit roots: (1) yujir and (2) yuj, with its first mention coming in the Rig Veda, an ancient and sacred text used by the Brahmans, or Vedic Priests. The Veda used the word ‘yoga’ with the meaning of ‘yoking’, ‘joining’, ‘coming together’ and ‘connection’. These priests were considered mystic seers, and they documented their beliefs in a collection of hundreds of scriptures called The Upanishads, culminating in the Bhagavad-Gîtâ around 500 B.C.E. They went on to become the very foundations for Hinduism, and Yoga.

Now, many will argue that over time, and most especially in the Western World, Yoga has lost this yoke, or connection, to the religion, or spirituality.

B.K.S. Iyengar (one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world and founder of Iyengar Yoga) wrote about it quite succinctly in the preface to his book, “The Illustrated Light on Yoga” by stating:

Yoga is a timeless pragmatic science evolved over thoughts of years dealing with the physical, moral, mental and spiritual well-being of a man as a whole.

The first book to systematize this practice was the classic treatise The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali dating from 200 BC. Unfortunately most of the books published on yoga have been unworthy of both the subject and its first great exponent, as they are superficial, popular and at times misleading.

The Western reader may be surprised at the recurring reference to the Universal Spirit, to mythology and even some philosophical and moral principles. He must not forget that in ancient times all the higher achievements of man, and knowledge, art, and power, were part of religion and were seen to belong to God and to his priestly servants on Earth. The Catholic Pope is the last such embodiment of divine knowledge and power in the West.

But formerly, even in the Western World, music, painting, architecture, philosophy and medicine, as well as wars, were always in the service of God. It is only very recently in India that these arts and sciences have begun to shake off the Divine – but with due respect, for the emancipation of man’s will, as this thing from the Divine will, we in India continue to value the purity of purpose, the humility of discipline and the selflessness that are the legacy of our long bondage to God. I consider it important as well as interesting that the reader should know the origin of asanas, and I have, therefore, included legends handed down by practicing Yogis and Sages. All the ancient commentaries on yoga have stressed that it is essential to work under the direction of a guru (Master), and although my experience proves the wisdom of this rule, I have endeavoured with all humility in this book to guide the reader – both to teacher and student – to a correct and safe method of mastering these asanas and pranayamas.

Can I Break The Yoke and Still Practice Yoga?

So, I ask you, is it still possible to practice yoga but not submit to this “yoke” or “connection”, which is the very name and essence of this ancient “science”, “art”, “ritual”, “practice” or whatever name chosen to describe it?

Does it not raise the very question as to what you are yoking to at the very least? If the answer is ambiguous, does that not alone irk your very soul? The answer seen most often to this question: You are connecting to whatever belief, power, or God you have (if you ask a Westernized teacher). Clearly, Iyengar had different feelings.

Further, the very nature of a practice is to make it become a ritual, so routine that it is automatic.

Perhaps that sounds like offering ourselves wholly to something, while “opening our mind, our body, and our soul”. You are commiting to serve something.

Perhaps that means becoming a bondservant, or slave.

What Does The Word Say?

To prepare this answer I prayed for the Holy Spirit to coat me in the armor of God and grant me the wisdom to discern and learn the Word, not with eisegesis (not to read it out of context or read into it my own cultural biases), but with evangelistic power, and the wisdom of apologetics.

Notice Iyengar’s direct usage of the term “bondage to God”, and understanding that “yoga” means to connect or to yoke, and a bondslave, or a bondservant, is one that makes a long lasting and permanent commitment as a slave.

In the Book of James, chapter 2, we see James the Just use the Greek word for “bondservant” – doulos- to describe his relationship to Jesus. While this may have been a gesture of humility coming from the very brother of Jesus himself, I am sure, there is no humility in shrugging off the clear and defined yoke and connection to any other god, or actively practicing a bondage to a god other than the One and Holy God of Israel.

Matthew 11:28-30
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Joshua 24:15
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Psalm 32:8
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

My Personal Journey

Through practicing and teaching yoga, I thought I was contributing to the overall positive well-being of myself and others. I was in pursuit of calm and peace and tranquility. This was the way, I thought.

So I began to study it, and not just any form – I began in the College of India School of Bikram where the whole theory was that 90 minutes in this heated room was better than an eternity in hell. My emancipation and salvation would come after Savasana, or the final resting “dead man’s pose”, and I thought nothing more of this, even then, even as a believer.

Ten years passed and I traveled across the world to get my yoga teacher training. I sought out more than a teacher. Now, I wanted a guru. I got my teaching certificate and Yoga Alliance membership and started offering classes. Again, I thought I was helping people. Helping them relieve pain, stress, tension. I thought that when I put a Buddha in my home, it was harmless. We had them in the studio and so I thought it was a harmless symbol that represents peace, but it was an idol.

I eventually even built a small altar in my basement with my yogic books, chakra stones, guides and incense. Again, every studio I worked in had these at the front of the room so I thought that it wasn’t wrong. When I led chants, mantras and Ohms I thought they were harmless, even though they directly called out auspicious goodness, or Shiva, or other gods by name.

When I wore “yoga pants” I never thought twice about what I was truly calling them or adorning my body in. When I bowed down on my yoga mat, I never considered myself bowing down to other gods or submitting myself in connection by yoking to anything at all. I was just breathing and stretching… right?

Again, this wasn’t and isn’t an easy assignment, answering this call to renounce and repent from the practice of yoga entirely. The further I pursued my faith in Jesus Christ, the block came. It was like a spiritual stop sign that no longer allowed me to continue practicing yoga, and definitely to stop teaching it.

Like any ritual, especially one that involves the body, mind, and even my soul, I longed for that time where I could flow but now I knew it needed to be clear and intentionally in His mercy and grace. I can worship Him safely and without unintentionally leading others into the very slippery slope I found myself in by teaching and practicing yoga.

Now, all I want is to practice Christianity with my entire heart, mind, and soul: free and uncompromised by deceptive practices.


Michal Russo is a wife and mother of two teens, a toddler, and one baby on the way. She moved back to her small hometown in Ohio after she renounced her life as a yoga teacher, and founded a ministry called WorshipFlow, bringing the message of Christ and His healing deliverance to those who may have fallen into the snares of Yoga and New Age mysticism. Follow her on Instagram.

If you’d like to know more about yoga and why Christians shouldn’t practice it, please click here.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Potpourri (Breast cancer resources, What does “cruciform” mean?, Yoga-ta find a new church?…)

Welcome to another “potpourri” edition of The Mailbag, where I give short(er) answers to several questions rather than a long answer to one question. I also like to take the opportunity in these potpourri editions to let new readers know about my comments/e-mail/messages policy. I’m not able to respond individually to most e-mails and messages, so here are some helpful hints for getting your questions answered more quickly. Remember, the search bar can be a helpful tool!

In these potpourri editions of The Mailbag, I’d also like to address the three questions I’m most commonly asked:

“Do you know anything about [Christian pastor/teacher/author] or his/her materials? Is he/she doctrinally sound?”

Try these links: 
Popular False Teachers /
 Recommended Bible Teachers / search bar
Is She a False Teacher? 7 Steps to Figuring It Out on Your Own
(Do keep bringing me names, though. If I get enough questions about a particular teacher, I’ll probably write an article on her.)

“Can you recommend a good women’s Bible study?”

No. Here’s why:
The Mailbag: Can you recommend a good Bible study for women/teens/kids?
The Mailbag: “We need to stop relying on canned studies,” doesn’t mean, “We need to rely on doctrinally sound canned studies.”.

“You shouldn’t be warning against [popular false teacher] for [X,Y,Z] reason!”

Answering the Opposition- Responses to the Most Frequently Raised Discernment Objections


Should women serve as the worship leader/minister of music of a church?

No.

If I answer a question in a co-ed Bible study/Sunday School class, am I “teaching” men in violation of Scripture?

No.

Is it biblical for a woman to lead a prayer during the worship service?

It is not technically a violation of the letter of 1 Timothy 2:12, but I would discourage it for other reasons.

I’ve heard people say it’s OK for women to preach or teach the Bible to co-ed groups as long as they are doing so under their pastor’s and/or husband’s authority. Is this true?

No.

I’ve received the first three of these questions again recently, so I thought it would be a perfect time to take the opportunity to remind everyone of a little resource I think might be helpful for you: my article Rock Your Role FAQs. The first question is answered in #16, the second in #4, and the third in #15. I just added the fourth question to the article. It is #20. And don’t forget to read the other articles in my Rock Your Role series, too!


Do you have any book recommendations for a woman just diagnosed with breast cancer?

Let me just start my answer by saying two things. First, I’ve taken a moment to pray for you (or whoever the woman is), that God will help you through this difficult journey and bring you comfort and peace. (Readers, will you also please take a moment to pray?)

Second, it drives me absolutely batty when I ask for a recommendation on social media for a Christian book on a particular topic and people answer in a joking, or smart aleck, or holier than thou way: “the Bible.” Obviously, the Bible is our first “go to” for every issue in the Christian life, but sometimes we need a book that can also teach us about the Scriptures that pertain to our issue.

So please understand that the first part of my answer is not meant to sound flippant or self-righteous, but to assist you in finding a good place in Scripture to park yourself. And my recommendation is going to be to get into Psalms and stay there for a while. You might also find that praying the Psalms back to God is very helpful. There is a great deal of comfort, peace, and strength for trying times in that book.

As for books outside the Bible, I have not read it myself, but I have heard trustworthy people say that John Piper’s¹ booklet Don’t Waste Your Cancer is very good. You may wish to check out Joni Eareckson Tada’s² Diagnosed with Breast Cancer: Life After Shock. Joni is a breast cancer survivor and has written a number of books on suffering that you might also find helpful, though most are related to disability, not cancer. Additionally, I would recommend anything John MacArthur has written on the topic of suffering, such as The Power of Suffering, as well as anything at Ligonier. If you’d like something short and free, I’ve written several articles on suffering that will point you to a variety of Scriptures you may find helpful.

You may wish to keep an eye on the comments section of this article, as other readers will probably also have some good recommendations.

(Note to readers recommending resources: I believe the lady who sent in the question is looking for theological resources on how to cope with breast cancer biblically, not medical/holistic/other treatment resources. I’m not qualified to dispense health advice, so those types of recommendations will not be posted.)

¹John Piper is not someone I normally proactively recommend. I’ve explained why HERE.
²Over the years I have received three or four questions about Joni’s actions and theology, but she is generally regarded as doctrinally sound. As with any Christian author, read discerningly.

I have a question regarding the Cruciform Conference that you’ll be speaking at. There is only one person I’ve heard use that term “cruciform” before and it was Ann Voskamp. What does it mean exactly? Also curious what you’ll be addressing there?

I actually had a couple of ladies ask me this question after I announced that I would be speaking at the Cruciform Conference this fall. I am so glad you asked rather than wondering if it had something to do with false doctrine!

The word “cruciform” simply means “cross-shaped“. I’m really excited to be speaking at a “cross-shaped” conference, where all of the teaching will center around the cross – we can’t let false teachers have all the good words! :0)

Also, lest anyone mistakenly think I will be teaching men at this co-ed conference, I will not. I will not be teaching any of the main sessions. I will be teaching two breakout sessions for women:

Faithfully Fighting Feminism:
Fighting the Good Fight by Walking Out Biblical Womanhood
and
Hooked on a Feeling: Living by God’s Word Instead of Our Emotions

Get your tickets quickly since space is already filling up! (This would make a great Father’s Day present!)


My church recently started having yoga classes. I spoke to my pastor about it and he didn’t see a problem with it because they use Bible verses and don’t use the lingo typically used in yoga. But they use the word yoga to promote their classes. Do I find a new church?

For those unfamiliar with the theological issues related to yoga, or “Christianized” yoga, as this reader’s church seems to be using, please see my article The Mailbag: Should Christians do yoga?

Since I don’t know all of the issues and circumstances at your church, I can’t definitively tell you whether or not you should leave this church.

If this is the only theologically problematic issue at your church and there are no other doctrinally sound churches within reasonable driving distance of your home, I would lean towards recommending that you stay where you are and wait out this class (it probably won’t last forever), praying your kneecaps off in the meantime, and kindly and gently explaining your biblical reasons for not attending the class to anyone who asks.

If there are multiple theological problems at your church (and I suspect there might be if your pastor sees nothing wrong with yoga) and there are other doctrinally sound churches in your area, I would lean more towards exploring those other options for a church. The Searching for a new church? tab at the top of this page may be helpful for you.

This is something you will need to pray for wisdom about, and possibly seek counsel on from a mature Christian friend. Of course, if you are married, you and your husband will need to discuss and pray about it together, and you will need to respect his final decision on the issue.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag’s Top 5

 

While I’m out of town this week, let’s recap The Mailbag’s greatest hits. Here are the five most popular Mailbag articles:


Should Churches Use Praise Teams?

It’s a decision each individual pastor has to prayerfully make as he seeks to do what is
best, wisest, and most godly for his particular church.


What is Calvinism? Semi-Reformed?

It’s OK to hold those things in tension while we’re here on earth. We believe what Scripture says God does, but, where the Bible is silent as to how He does it, His reasons for doing it, etc.,
well, we trust God and believe Scripture there, too.


Should Christians Do Yoga?

The reason the question “Should Christians do yoga?” is even being asked is because there’s doubt in the minds of the Christians asking the question that yoga is kosher with God.
That’s a healthy doubt because yoga is a Hindu worship practice.


False Doctrine in Contemporary Christian Music

Are there any CCM groups, artists, or songs I should avoid?
Can you recommend any specific doctrinally sound artists or groups?


What is the New Apostolic Reformation?

Since there’s no official NAR creed or statement of faith, beliefs and practices can vary from church to church, but, loosely speaking, the NAR takes the Word of Faith (prosperity gospel) heresy and kicks it up a notch with outlandish “supernatural” manifestations, blasphemously attributed to the Holy Spirit.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.