A vicar has said that Christians cannot do yoga. Meanwhile, one couple just bought a church to covert it into a new yoga studio.

If you have ever wondered whether Christians can do yoga, or whether it is against the Christian faith to practice an exercise created through Hinduism, then the answer is no. At least according to one vicar and his wife.

Reverend Dan Brown kicked a yoga class out of Wadsley Church Hall in Sheffield, England, because he and his wife claim that Christians should not do yoga.

The yoga class had been held in the church for six years. The focus on the class was on using gentle exercises to relax the mind while also working out the body. Now, after Thursday, the group of yogis have been exiled from their church by its reverend and his wife, Sarah, who claim yoga is not physical enough.

Mrs. Brown wanted to investigate yoga and the group at their church, so she joined a class. She was insulted by the references to Hinduism. Mrs. Brown refused to meditate, in particular, because she claimed it was against her faith. This despite the fact that there are specific meditations used in Christianity.   

Mrs. Brown claimed that yoga is not real physical exercise and is “more of a nice lie down” [perhaps she should have tried a different form of yoga].

Mrs. Brown briefed her husband, Reverend Dan Brown, about the yoga class. He decided to kick the group of yogis out of his church. He wrote, ‘We find the style of yoga used doesn’t go along with our Christian values or constitution of the Church of England. There are lot of active Christians in the church who attend other yoga groups which are just about the physical exercise without the spiritual dynamic.

‘The church is a Christian venue and cannot be used for other religious practices in the same way you would not hold communion in a mosque.’

Many believe that yoga should not be considered a religious practice because it is considered more of a physical exercise with scientifically proven benefits. The spiritual view of yoga is a largely outmoded one. One yoga enthusiast at the church found it ludicrous that yoga should be dismissed because of spiritual ties from thousands of years ago.

One of the members of the group, nurse Miss Milson, said she was ‘stunned and outraged’ by Mrs. Brown’s decision.   ‘We use [incense] because the church smells of old dinner and bleach. I do chant sometimes, but that’s it.’

She states that she believes that Christians can do yoga. ‘To me, spiritual practice is about looking after yourself and being connected to nature,’ she said. She told a Zumba instructor who uses the same church that she should expect similar treatment.

Meanwhile, in another part of the world, one couple is converting a church into a yoga studio, in a way that surely would outrage Mr. and Mrs. Brown.

The couple purchased Perryville United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania to turn it into a new yoga studio, Fairy Moon Yoga. The church was vacant and will now be used for yoga practice instead of religious practice. It will be interesting to see whether local Christians believe yoga should be practiced in a church building.

The couple purchased the 3,200 square-foot space for $68,000 last month.  ‘We love the area… We enjoy being here because there is so much to do. We like the historical presence,” Joe Valdez said.

“It’s not often that people purchase real estate in the form of a church because we’re not going to be using it for religious purposes,” Valdez said.

As well as a yoga studio the church will also host art exhibitions and other aspects of wellness. ‘We’re incorporating things that have to do with wellness,’ Valdez said. They are also considering Reiki, the Japanese practice used for wellbeing and stress-reduction.

Unlike Mr. and Mrs. Brown, the couple believe that a church is perfect for yoga practice. ‘The church is a sanctuary in and of itself and is perfect for practicing mindfulness and meditation,’ they said.

The are actively seeking yoga instructors to teach in the church [READ: How to become a yoga teacher].

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Can Christians Do Yoga?

Clearly there are different views about whether Christians should do yoga. Is it against the religion or inline with it?  It’s really a matter of perspective.

On the one hand, there are specific yoga poses that are traditionally used to show devotion to Hindu gods. Some Christians argue that by doing asanas (yoga poses) and yogic breathing techniques, individuals show acceptance to Hindu gods. Many yoga teachers have also had instruction on Hindu mythology and some Christians argue that this could influence a person’s beliefs.

Romans 12:1-2 says we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Yoga asanas traditionally were viewed as a similar way to offer the body to Hindu gods.

Pranayama is also a Hindu concept. Prana is a Hindu word that means “life force.” The spiritual view of pranayama is that it is a technique used to influence prana, and therefore by practicing pranayama we are practicing Hindu exercises, not Christian.

This is the traditional, spiritual view of yoga that completely ignores what yoga is today. It is estimated that over 20 million people practice yoga in the U.S. alone, and the vast majority of those people do not practice yoga for spiritual reasons; they practice yoga because it is relaxing, good for the body, and helps combat stress.

Go to a yoga class and ask why participants do yoga, and you are very unlikely to hear, “To show devotion to Hindu gods.” You’re far more likely to hear, “I do yoga because it’s good for me and makes me feel great.”

In this way it is very similar to meditation.  Most of the modern meditation practices used today are originally from Hinduism and Buddhism. Yet non-Hindus and non-Buddhists meditate every day. Why? Because it is scientifically proven that meditation is good for us, just as yoga is.

And so, the answer to “Can Christians do yoga” is not clear. It really depends on your perspective. If you’re a Christian who wants to do yoga, you can either focus on the old-fashioned spiritual view of yoga, or you can focus on the modern, scientific view.

Yes, if you want to keep your head locked in the ancient view of yoga, then Christians shouldn’t do yoga But if you want to accept the modern understanding of yoga, as a form of exercise with over a hundred scientifically proven benefits, then you might as well go grab your yoga mat and rock your best Downward Dog.

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Written by Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.