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Is Christianity Correct For Rejecting Yoga?

Photo: weekswell.com

You would think Yoga is a harmless exersize focused on relaxing your body, mind and soul whilst working on your flexibility. Practiced by thousands around the world daily, yoga has been one of the main fitness trends made popular by Hollywood celebrities. According to Christian Priests, Yoga is a practice not to be followed by Christians.

The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece declared last year that yoga is “‘absolutely incompatible’” with the Christian faith, although not all Christians agreed with this statement. Fordham University professor, Aristotle Papanikolaou, condemned the declaration as “unwise”, “irresponsible”, and “dangerous”. According to Papanikolaou, himself a yoga practitioner, the rejection of yoga overlooks its scientifically-established potential to “improve problems with anger, depression, and anxiety,” as well as “positively affect such wide-ranging medical problems as high blood pressure, elevated stress hormone secretion, asthma, and low-back pain.”

However, Father Seraphim Rose explains the essence of Hindu religion, is rooted in the very practice of yoga, in which case “secular yoga” is an oxymoron to the Christian faith. “The person who uses Yoga only for physical well-being is already disposing himself towards certain spiritual attitudes and even experiences of which is undoubtedly unaware”  He goes on to explain that “even the purely physical sides of psychic disciplines like Yoga are dangerous because they are derived from and dispose one towards the psychic attitudes and experiences which are the original purpose of Yoga practice”

image via Anglican Network in Canada

Today, psychologists confirm the physical-spiritual example that Father Seraphim warned about decades ago. According to Duke University psychologist, Patty Van Cappelen, religions do not choose physical postures and gestures without reason, but rather do so “in order to promote the kinds of individual and collective feelings and attitudes that religions value.” Research suggests that these physical measures do, indeed, elicit such changes in people and their psyche. To give one of many examples, a 2015 study found that simply altering your position from a lower, contractive body posture to a higher, expansive one can impact the level of agreement with conventional religious beliefs. Not only do “our body’s postures exert a great amount of influence on how we feel and even think,” but they often do so, writes Yale University Psychologist, Emma Seppala, “without our own awareness.”

image via TimeOut

Not only are their spiritual risks that are in the practice of yoga, but there are also potential mental health risks that Papanikolaou overlooks. A 2016 study showed evidence that “meditation may … lead to psychosis or worsen it in some cases.” Also, in a 2017 survey of practitioners of “meditation and mindfulness-based interventions,” researchers found that as much as one in four practitioners had “unwanted experiences”.

Psychiatrist Richard Brown and Patricia Gerbarg note, the breathing techniques of a number of religious traditions—including that of Orthodox Christianity—“have been scientifically shown to be effective in alleviating specific stress and mood challenges such as anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many others.” Regarding use of the Jesus Prayer, a 2017 study found that the practice was linked to reduced tension, fatigue, phobic anxiety, and social discomfort among a group of non-conventional Catholics. The following year, another trial study reported a “significant decrease in perceived stress” among college students following use of the Lord’s prayer.

In short, no Christian should praise the scientifically-supported benefits of yoga without also pointing to what Vazquez and Jensen describe as “the burgeoning empirical support surrounding Christian contemplation and the Jesus Prayer itself.”

There are many scholarly supported tests showing the physical and mental health benefits of Christian fasting practices. According to a 2019 study based on monks and non religious persons, the Christian fasting discipline was associated with greater physical health and well-being. Another study, published this year, linked Christian fasting to lower levels of depression and anxiety, as well as improved cognition in middle-aged and elderly individuals.

The science confirms what the Fathers have always known through personal experience.