Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler Jr. recently denounced the idea of “Christian yoga,” arguing that the origins of the practice are incompatible with Christianity.
In an episode of his podcast “The Briefing” that aired last Friday, Mohler described the origins of yoga, which hail from Hindu and Buddhist practices and philosophy.
“It is deeply based in both Hinduism and Buddhism and the traditional meditative practices that are inseparable from yoga as physical movement involve those traditional Buddhist and Hindu teachings, and it shows up not only in the word ‘Namaste,’ it shows up even in the basic philosophy of what the body is doing,” said Mohler.
“It also shows up in a distinct theological understanding of the body in motion and the body in pose. It also shows up in a deep conflict between Christianity and both Hinduism and Buddhism and yoga as a dimension of both when it comes to the purpose of the mind and how we are as Christians to exercise the mind.”
While acknowledging that there are many churches that have yoga classes, Mohler cautioned that “the mainstreaming of yoga in the United States was driven at least in part by groups such as the Transcendentalists and New Thought, and they were intentionally trying to create a spiritual practice and spirituality that would serve as a clear alternative to biblical Christianity.”
“The Bible doesn't have a list of acceptable and unacceptable stretches, exercises, or poses, but the Bible does make very clear what is to be a Christian understanding of the relationship between the soul and the body and furthermore, what it means to meditate,” he continued.
“Christians ought to agree that if we have an understanding of yoga and its historical context and in its religious origins, then at the very least we have to understand that there really is no such thing as Christian yoga. If it's Christian, it's not yoga. If it's yoga, it's not Christian.”
Mohler’s comments came in response to a proposed bill in the Alabama Legislature that would lift a ban on the practice of yoga in public schools, albeit without the overt religious content.
Known as House Bill 235 and introduced last month by Representative Jeremy Gray of Opelika, the proposal was recently approved by the House education policy committee.
The bill would allow local school boards to approve yoga classes under certain conditions, among them making the class an elective rather than a requirement.
“All instruction in yoga shall be limited exclusively to poses, exercises, and stretching techniques,” stated HB 235 in part. “Chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas, and namaste greetings shall be expressly prohibited.”
Currently, the State Board of Education Administrative Code bans the practice of yoga as part of a broader prohibition on “the use of hypnosis and dissociative mental states.”
“School personnel shall be prohibited from using any techniques that involve the induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, meditation or yoga,” reads the Code in part.
The Code defines yoga as a “Hindu philosophy and method of religious training in which eastern meditation and contemplation are joined with physical exercises, allegedly to facilitate the development of body-mind-spirit.”
Representative Will Dismukes of Prattville expressed support for HB 235 and felt that it did not constitute an endorsement of a specific religion, saying he knew of “churches that do yoga.”
“We talk about prayer and meditation a lot. I think you can pray to God and do yoga, or you can think about whatever you want to,” stated Dismukes, as reported by al.com.
But Joe Godfrey, executive director of the conservative Christian group the Alabama Citizens’ Action Program, made similar arguments as Mohler, contending that "you can't separate the exercises from the religious meditation aspect of it."
Mohler’s podcast comments echo sentiments he expressed in a 2010 opinion column in which he argued that “yoga cannot be neatly separated into physical and spiritual dimensions.”
“The physical is the spiritual in yoga, and the exercises and disciplines of yoga are meant to connect with the divine,” wrote Mohler at the time.
“There is nothing wrong with physical exercise, and yoga positions in themselves are not the main issue. But these positions are teaching postures with a spiritual purpose.”