Can Yoga Be Redeemed?

I must state as clearly as possible that anyone who gets involved with yoga, and kundalini energy which is the aim of all yoga, is making a very, very big mistake. No matter how committed a Christian may be, pastor or lay person alike, when a believer chooses to involve himself or herself with the world of the occult, including any and all levels of yoga practice, for “exercise” or otherwise, very powerful spontaneous demonic manifestations can and do oftentimes occur. Many ignorant people say that yoga exercises can be separated from yoga philosophy. This simply is not true. It is a well known fact that yoga postures/poses are the outworking of occult philosophy. Yoga is an occult practice. It is the basis of the Hinduism. Westernized as “Breath Religion”, “The Science of Breath”, and “Transcendental Meditation” it leads individuals to believe the great lie of human “godhood”. Yoga is demonic in origin, it comes from the teachings of demons, and it stands vehemently opposed to the God of the Bible and to every Christians’ faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Yoga, even done as merely an “exercise”, has the power to produce occult phenomena dangerous enough to undo the human psyche. Sadly, countless people, including many undiscerning Christians, believe that yoga can be done as exercise or as an integrative worship practice – as part of a “transformative process” of drawing “closer to the Divine”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Kundalini is the mainstay of all yoga practices.” – Hans Ulrich Reiker, The Yoga of Light: Hatha Yoga Pradipika, New York: Seabury Press, 1971, p. 101

Before moving on to anything further, let’s establish the agreed upon background.

  1. There is another realm every bit as real, perhaps more real, than this realm. We can say this with confidence for a variety of reasons, but including the command to Moses to build the Tabernacle as a copy or pattern of what he would be shown: the real in the heavenly realm.
  2. These two realms are interconnected, as evidenced (among other things) by Jacob’s Ladder (and Daniel’s vision where Michael had to come rescue Gabriel, etc., etc.)
  3. Our daily, tangible lives are indissolubly linked to the spirit realm as evidenced by Paul’s statement, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Second, let’s establish that neither myself nor the quoted author are arguing that any movement is inherently evil. There is nothing inherently evil about raising the middle finger. But… what is it that makes that gesture evil?

Theoretically (and realistically) someone could not know the significance of that gesture and raise their middle finger with no malicious intent. But here’s the point… for some time folks who perceive the lack of comprehension will not respond to that gesture, but at some point someone is going to punch them.

The answer to my previous question is that there is contextual agreement upon the significance of a movement. I raise my palm up to you when you’re running toward me and you will know that I am indicating you should stop, though that same movement would have meant, “Greetings,” if you met a Lakota Sioux in 1824. The yoga postures were designed and communicated by spirit entities and they, in agreement with previous and contemporary humans, have invested those movements with significance that the demonic entities treat very legalistically. This significance has persisted for millennia, and is not about to be let go of by those behind their revelation to humans (c.f., 1 Enoch 9:5-7).

A yoga pose, accidentally struck, is a non-thing, a triviality, an accident. But yoga poses regularly practiced are the waving of a flag in the spiritual realm. They will attract attention, whether you wave that flag with intent or not.

But there is more to it even than that. Just as few know much about Kinesiology and yet is has an effect, just as putting one’s shoulders back will enhance breathing compared to doubling over and hunching one’s shoulders, the yoga postures are designed with an awareness that humans rarely possess about the effects each pose has on receptivity to spiritual activity, and the enhancement or alignment of “energies” in the body that are often unperceived.

The entire thrust of God’s commandments suggest that His children are to be aware of the spiritual realm but permit God alone to mediate our interaction with it. The practice of sorcery, divination, necromancy, and pharmakeia for man-initiated connection/communication with the spirit realm is prohibited with prejudice. While we want to deny it, the adversaries know that this is precisely what yoga is for, and they are encouraging its growth among us at every opportunity.

Swami Sivasiva Plani wrote in 1991,

A small army of yoga missionaries – hatha, raja, siddha and kundalini – beautifully trained in the last 10 years, is about to set upon the western world. They may not call themselves Hindu, but Hindus know where yoga came from and where it goes. (“An Open Letter to Evangelicals,” in Hinduism Today, January 1991)

Sannyasin Arumugaswami asserts, “Hinduism is the soul of Yoga….A Christian trying to adapt these principles will likely disrupt their own Christian beliefs.”

As I mentioned previously, the argument is not that any movement (or breathing pattern) is in and of itself inherently evil. No, everything God created is good, and every good and every perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights who is above.

I think, however, that we too often forget what evil is: the twisting of what was created for good away from God’s intent. The variety of ways in which this truth works itself out in our lives is too seldom recognized, which is unfortunate because its contemplation is quite revelatory.

To establish the interplay at work here, let’s take an extreme example, so clear and evident that it will illumine our perception when analyzing more murky examples. Marital intimacy and fornication are the same movement. God created this “movement” and He clearly intended it for good, so what is it that makes marital intimacy one of the greatest goods we can experience and extra-marital relations wrong—with a spectrum of wrong extending to some of the worst evils we can contemplate, and yet still the same movement?

Clearly intent is a major factor, but it is not just intent. For example, had we lived in 1st century Corinth, we would not have imagined that we could wander into the local temple with our spouse, and in the midst of the thousand courtesans the temple housed, engaged in marital intimacy with our spouse to the glory of God, while all around us worshipers of Aphrodite coupled to the glory of a rebellious spirit. And let’s be honest, despite the best of imaginary intentions, if we made that our regular practice, how long do you think it would be before our perspective on what is permissible began to be impacted? Humans are hard-wired to accept what is familiar as acceptable.

Let’s try the typical arguments in favor of yoga out in this context… So if a couple goes to the Temple Aphrodite with no intent to connect with or interact with demonic powers, does not pray to anyone but YHWH, and puts themselves in postures of intimacy only with their spouse, this would be somehow wrong? Well, perhaps not, strictly speaking. Can we agree that it would be at least unwise, and at best confusing? And when one considers that the spiritual powers are territorial in nature (cf. Deut 32:8-9, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his alloted heritage.”) it becomes evident that place and context matter.

Because of this Deuteronomy 32 worldview, we can understand that location in the Bible has cosmic significance. Ground is either holy, meaning dedicated to Yahweh, or it is the domain of another god. This is why the terms used to refer to the rebellious spirits in Scripture are often those of geographic dominion: “the prince of the kingdom of Persia,” “principalities,” “rulers” (Daniel 10:13; Eph 6:12).

This worldview is reflected in many places in the Bible. For instance, in the Old Testament the book of Daniel refers to foreign nations being ruled by divine “princes” (Dan. 10:13, 20–21). Another example: When David was running from King Saul, he was forced out of Israel into Philistine territory. In 1 Samuel 26:19, David cried, “They have driven me out from the LORD’s land to a country where I can only worship foreign gods” (GNT). David wasn’t switching gods. He also wasn’t denying that God was present everywhere. But Israel was holy ground, the place that belonged to the true God. David was stuck in the domain of another god. [Michael Heiser, Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World And Why It Matters]

Old Testament era people knew this: think of Naaman taking Israeli ground back with him to Syria (2 Kings 5:17-18). This was clearly Paul’s view as well, “No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. [or stretch the stretch of demons in the house of demons] You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” No, rather, “flee from idolatry”! (1 Corinthians 10:14-22).

So, while we might call it a “yoga studio,” the reality is that this is a pagan temple, and we are as proscribed from engaging in what God intended for good there as we are at the temple Paul refers to. Eating and drinking, moving and stretching, and sexual intimacy are all created by God for good, but location, intent, association, and community all matter.

But what about this question? “What happened to the redemption theology we discussed back in the day – Christians through the Holy Spirit and practice can redeem the intents of evil, turning for good what Satan intended for bad?”

Indeed! We were redeemed in order to be redemptive. Nothing has happened to this imperative in my theological understanding. However, context, intent, location, association, community, and culture all make a difference. In the case of sexual intimacy, redemption means pulling it out of the public eye. In the case of eating and drinking, redemption means doing so in God-honoring settings, according to the rules He gave, and in accordance with needs and balanced desires. In the case of movement, it is theoretically possible to imitate yoga moves in your own home, independent of anyone else’s intention and practice, except…if you do some research you will discover not just that these movements themselves are flag signals in the spiritual realm, but that they are intentionally designed to open one up to influence and interaction. The details of this go beyond what I am comfortable discussing in a public forum, and frankly, if you decide to look into it, I would recommend doing so with another trusted brother or sister. This will take you some very uncomfortable places.

So, God created movement, envisioned stretching, and wanted us to glory in exercising the bodies He created and the wonder that they are: all to His praise and His glory. He also revealed some information and hid other information. It was rebellious spirit-realm-dwellers who began to reveal additional but only partial information that God had not revealed (cf. Gen 3:1-7; 6:1-5; 1 Enoch 6-10), and I think we are wise to remain within the boundaries of what God prescribed and proscribed.

That having been said, there is something called Praise Moves, which takes the idea of healthy movement and stretching and intentionally situates those movements within worship of the One True God. I have felt very ambivalent about this organization, even though the founder is a former yoga master, and is adamantly opposed to the yoga. But your challenge, Will, confirmed to me as I thought this through that it is possible to redeem the concept of healthy movement, so long as it is entirely disconnected from the practice of yoga, and situated within the context of Christian worship, rather than demonic obeisance. It’s still not my thing, but that’s neither here nor there.

Considering Tassels

This post was originally written in 2016, but I was having considerable formatting issues with it that I couldn’t seem to resolve, so I decided to start over from scratch, and it is therefore now re-posted. I remain in complete agreement with what I wrote back then.

Abstract: Wearing culturally-developed tzitzit on one’s belt loops is a valid manner of honoring the command of Num. 15:38 and Deut. 22:12, but is not a literal fulfillment of the commandment. All things considered, for Gentile believers it is likely not the most well-advised manner of honoring this instruction. Additional reflection may yield a more advantageous and multiple-commandment-balancing approach.

“Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner.” Numbers 15:38

“You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself” Deuteronomy 22:12

The command regarding tassels ought to instruct all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile. The question of how it ought to instruct may depend upon on one’s ethnicity, time or place.

I would assert, for example, that a Jewish man (or woman, potentially) wearing a tallit kitan or using a tallit gadol with tzitzit attached is a valid keeping of this command, and that a Gentile doing so may be a valid keeping of this command.

I would also posit that a Gentile wearing culturally-developed tzitzit on one’s belt loops is a valid manner of honoring the command, but not a literal fulfillment (or keeping). All things considered, I would also suggest it is likely not the most well-advised manner of honoring this instruction due to reasons of potential misunderstanding, misapplication, and offense.

Nevertheless, we see from the text that God considered it important for His people and we might observe that the principle behind this case law related to: remembrance, identity, and witness. Furthermore, that the keeping of the command assisted the Israelites in the practice of walking in godliness, and promoted a sense of belonging and community. Could anyone argue that today’s Gentile believers don’t also need this?! Additional reflection may yield a more advantageous and multiple-commandment-balancing approach to honoring this instruction.

I am, therefore, seeking an application of the command regarding tassels that is:

  1. consistent with God’s original intent,
  2. consistent with the significance of the command in the milieu of the original implementation,
  3. inoffensive to as many parties as possible,
  4. consistent with a professional image (be in the world but not of the world), and
  5. feasible for wide-scale adoption across the people of God in the United States (our milieu).

Historically speaking, it is of great interest to note that at the time when God gave this commandment, everyone in the Ancient Near East (ANE) wore tassels on their garments—Israelite and non-Israelite. The fringe functioned as one’s signature (pressing the fringe into clay in the same manner as signet rings came to be used), as a sign of your prestige, and were a method of identification or sign of belonging (to a class, family, or tribe). The Israelites’ fringes were to be a distinctive application of a normative cultural expectation.

If one were to argue that wearing tassels on one’s belt loops is a direct fulfillment of the command and that this is necessary, I would ask, “Where is the parapet around your roof?” (Deuteronomy 22:8)

Similarly, wrapping teffilin is a valid method of honoring, or helpful symbolic application in the interest of keeping the commands of Deut. 6:8; 11:18, but it does not—in and of itself—fulfill the commandment. How can we prove this? Because we are also told in the same language that the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the redemption of the first born “shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes” (Ex 13:9, 16).

In my personal edition of the Morning Prayers I attempted to capture the heart of these commands in the following manner: “Today, Father, may your words be always in front of my eyes; may my hands be engaged in the practice of your commands.” There is a wide variety of ways in which to keep this injunction; observing Unleavened Bread is among them, and the phrasing of the commandment to let this observance be a sign on your hand and memorial between your eyes speaks more to observing the festival with intention than with a physical practice of writing the date of Unleavened Bread on our hand or something similar.

So long as one recognizes that wrapping tefillin is not the actual keeping of the commandment, it remains a helpful spiritual discipline, but once one begins to think that in the practice of wrapping tefillin you have satisfied the intent of the commandment, problems develop.

Given that:

  1. specifically knotted tzitzit have become an ethnic identity marker for the Jewish people,
  2. that unless I wear a cornered garment I cannot literally fulfill this commandment anyway, and
  3. that the commandment was given in the context of a distinctive application of a cultural norm,

I think it is more than well-advised to practice the command in a manner that does not potentially lay a stumbling block in the path of my brother the Jew (saved or unsaved: one thinks of the reaction of UMJC folks to Gentiles wearing tzitzit in general and specifically to wearing them on the belt loops) or the misinformed Gentile Christian, who perceives it as coming back under the law.

For the last couple of years I have worn a blue and white bracelet as my manner of honoring the tzitzit (and tefillin) command. I am not entirely satisfied (theologically nor practically) with a tzitzit bracelet, but it was a healthy step in the right direction (in response to having become a stumbling block to my Synagogue President neighbor, even though wearing tzitzit “properly” on a tallit kitan).

I am entertaining ideas like embroidering 3 white and one blue line on the sleeves of my shirts, or attaching a fringe that is clearly different from the traditional Jewish tying of the tzitzit to the corners created by the vents of a camp-style shirt. I don’t always wear un-tucked, vented shirts, however, so I lean toward the embroidery idea, as this is non-offensive and within the bounds of normative cultural expectation (one thinks of logos on shirt sleeves) that is nevertheless distinctive.

Imagine if every man in our congregations wore shirts with the “tzitzit logo” on the edges/wings (canaphim, c.f. Malachi 4:2 & Numbers 15:38) of their sleeves! Think of the identity-lending power, and the community-belonging power of this! Invest that practice with the significance of fulfilling Deut. 6:8 and one is keeping the commandment in a way that is faithful to God’s intent while also conscious of the commands, “You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD” (Lev 19:14), and “Build up, build up, prepare the way, Remove every obstacle out of the way of My people” (Is 57:14).

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this sleeve logo idea is probably the application most consistent with the spirit of the command regarding tzitzit. Think about it: our culture is familiar with all football jerseys being the same and yet having distinct identification markings, both in color and logo. Logos have become ubiquitous on a variety of culturally normative clothing styles. To put a distinct arrangement of white and blue threads on the sleeves of a shirt (sleeves being the closest thing to “wings/corners” we have on contemporary clothing) references a familiarity with the most recently common observance of the command (rabbinically defined tzitzit), honors the commandment, offends no one, and yet retains the reminding, identifying, community-building power of the original command in its Bronze Age context.

How shall today’s believing Laplander apply this command? I don’t know, but they ought to be asking that question. And the eventual result will be a culturally diverse, yet commandment-honoring keeping of God’s law that testifies both to the “house of prayer for all nations” reality of God’s people, but also to the coalescing power and identity-giving nature of being “imitators of God therefore like dearly beloved children.”

P.S. It occurs to me that I have elsewhere expressed some of what undergirds the above in a very succinct manner:

If love emphasizes people and law emphasizes principle, without the dynamic interplay of both aspects of God’s character, we get an unhealthy (i.e., sinful) imbalance. Therefore, if it is lawful, “so far as it depends on you,” to “live peaceably with all,” then it seems it would be loving to use language [or halacha] that puts, “no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry.”

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Background on fringes as normative ANE dress:

  • “The tassels, according to ancient Near East parallels, were threads of the embroidery and could be decorated with a flower head or bell. The more ornate the hem, the greater the social status and wealth of a person (Milgrom 1983: 61–65).” from Douglas R. Edwards, “Dress and Ornamentation,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 233.
  • “fringes (tassels, borders, hems), a common decoration on Near Eastern garments.” from Paul J. Achtemeier, Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 323.
  • “Fringes,” in J. Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902), 68-70.
  • Stephen Bertman, “Tassled Garments in the Ancient East Mediterranean”, The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol 24, No. 4 (Dec., 1961), pp. 119-128.
  • http://rzim.org/a-slice-of-infinity/from-the-fringes
  • J. Milgrom, “Of hems and tassels: Rank, authority and holiness were expressed in antiquity by fringes on garments,” Biblical Archaeology Review, v. IX, # 3, May/June 1983, pp. 61-65.
  • J. Milgrom, The JPS Torah Commentary, Volume 4 – NUMBERS, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1989 – 1996, p. 410-412
  • W. Gunther Plaut, et al. The Torah: A Modern Commentary. N.Y., Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981, p. 1123