In today’s culture yoga and meditation are commonly recommended as some of the best ways to relieve stress, and they have been heavily glamourized in our society. It certainly begs the question – should Christians practice yoga or meditation? In order to answer this question we must investigate what yoga and meditation are and where they come from.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a composition of mental, physical and “spiritual” practices derived from ancient India, and is historically tied to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The word “yoga” means “to yoke” or “to unite”, and traditionally aims to create spiritual, physical and mental unity and peace. It focuses on neutralizing thoughts and behaviors to cause a sort of “spiritual awakening”.
There are a variety of yoga styles. Modern-day yoga, though, is more focused on the physical exercise, more specifically on asana (or hatha practice). There are also vinyasa, power, ashtanga, bikram and iyengar.
- Hatha or Asana: Combines series of breathing and basic movements and poses
- Vinyasa: Series of poses that flow together
- Power: Higher intensity and faster paced, designed to build muscle
- Ashtanga: Special breathing techniques with poses
- Bikram: A series of more difficult poses done in a hot room, also known as “hot yoga”
- Iyengar: Incorporates items such as straps, blocks and chairs to assist with proper movements and alignments
Yoga is a fantastic physical exercise that targets your core, arms, legs, glutes, and back depending on the techniques you use. It also focuses a lot on flexibility and strength training in a low-impact format. Each type of yoga can be done in a range of difficulties, and can also be done just about anywhere.
There are many studies that indicate some yoga practices could be helpful in managing stress, anxiety and depression, as well as more physical health conditions such as back pain, improving quality of life during cancer, post-stroke conditions, ulcerative colitis, and rheumatoid arthritis. It has also been found that yoga may improve memory and brain function, emotional responses, and possibly help improve mental flexibility and awareness. Yoga might also aid in reducing some risk factors of heart disease such as blood pressure, BMI (body mass index) and cholesterol.
There are a wide range of studies done to identify yoga as a potentially beneficial practice for one’s health. In short, studies show the possibility that yoga can aid with physical, mental and even emotional health and wellbeing. (See Disclaimer at the end of our study.)
What is Meditation?
Meditation can be compared to intentional contemplation, pondering, reflection or even prayer. Culturally, meditation is the practice of intentionally clearing one’s mind. Spiritually meditations would be the practice of prayer and contemplation of God and His Word. Most sources identify it as intense concentration on something to promote calmness, relaxation, or even spiritual growth.
Traditionally, meditation is also said to stem from ancient Indian origins, but it is also something that is believed to have been practiced throughout human life. We see that “meditation” and its concept is found in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
- Strong’s H7742 – suwach – to meditate, muse, commune, speak, complain
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Joshua 1:8 ESV
but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. Psalms 1:2 ESV
- Strong’s H1897 – hagah – to murmur, ponder, mourn, meditate, mutter, roar, speak, study, talk, utter
- Strong’s H1902 – higgayown – meditation, resounding music, musing
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Psalm 119:97
- Strong’s H7881 – siychah – meditation, reflection, prayer, devotion, complaint, musing
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise. Psalm 119:148 ESV
- Strong’s H7878 – siyach – (Polel) to meditate, consider, put forth thoughts
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. Psalm 143:5 ESV
- Strong’s H2142 – zakar – to remember, recall, call to mind
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 ESV
- Strong’s G3339 – metamorphoō – to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure
- Christ appearance was changed and was resplendent with divine brightness on the mount of transfiguration
- Strong’s G342 – anakainōsis – a renewal, renovation, complete change for the better
- Strong’s G3563 – nous – the mind, comprising alike the faculties of perceiving and understanding and those of feeling, judging, determining
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 ESV
- Strong’s G3049 – logizomai – by reckoning up all the reasons to gather or infer
- to consider, take account, weigh, meditate on
Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Revelation 3:3 ESV
- Strong’s G3421 – mnēmoneuō – to be mindful of, to remember, to call to mind
- to think of and feel for a person or thing
- to hold in memory, keep in mind
According to Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, meditation is:
“1. To keep the mind in a state of contemplation; to dwell on anything in thought; to think seriously; to muse; to cogitate; to reflect.
2. To contemplate; to keep the mind fixed upon; to study.
3. To purpose; to intend; to design; to plan by revolving in the mind; as, to meditate a war.”
Typically people hear the term “meditation” and immediately think of it in relation to Buddhism, but meditation is not in itself a Buddhist practice. However it is something Buddhist’s practice in a way that focuses on freeing the mind to create “space”. Our culture leans toward meditation as a practice of clearing your mind, but meditation is not about “zoning out, or having earth-shattering experiences, or even controlling the mind” as Mind Works explains. Meditation, when used Biblically, is to train your mind according to God’s Word and improve your awareness of and connection with God. It is about contemplating or dwelling on God with intention and a prayerful heart.
Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.Proverb 4:23 NASB
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.1 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV
Meditation has also been studied as to its medical benefits. It has earned a reputation for helping manage anxiety and stress, and improve mental health. It may promote self awareness and help in training your mind to be more intentionally positive, fighting off negative thoughts about one’s self or others. There are studies to indicate it might be helpful with sleep and fighting addictions, as well as reducing pain.
Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security.Jeremiah 33:6 ESV
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6-7 ESV
While we find many variations of “meditation” from the original languages, they all circle back to the concept of pondering or contemplating, and can also be described as the transforming renewal of the mind such as we find inRomans 12:2
What are the “spiritual” aspects of yoga and meditation?
Yoga and meditation are traditionally said to stem from Hindu, Buddhist and Jainist origins and as such the spiritual aspects taught in many traditional settings relate back to these roots. The traditional spiritual focus of both is to “unite” one’s mind and body with the inner self as well as being a form of worship and prayer.
While the traditions arise from these cultures, it is important to understand that yoga and meditation in themselves are not religious practices, therefore when you come across practices that include techniques considered in themselves to be Hindu, Buddhist or Jainist that is the individual’s choice of bringing that into the practice, not the practice itself.
Should Christians practice yoga & meditation?
Here is where the controversy and difficulty occurs. Yoga and meditation are derived from Hindu and Buddhist origins, and as such both practices can come from a variety of sources and teachers that will feed back to these traditions. The question arises whether you can practice yoga or meditation without the influence of their Hindu and Buddhist roots.
Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them;Deuteronomy 11:16 ESV
Much like when picking a church or a study group you must ensure that they are Biblically accurate and honoring God, that is what must be done when choosing a yoga or meditation practice as well as in every other area of our lives. That said, a Christian can easily reject the false gods that other cultures bring into their practice, as well as the dangerous teachings of “clearing one’s mind” and being focused on one’s self, and instead intentionally focus on God Almighty in their practice to pray, worship and meditate on Him and His Word.
God uses all things for the good of those who love Him, and much like so many of the things we do and practice every day, God can and does take things from other cultures, religions, and purposes and turns them into something good for us as His children.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28 ESV
Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”1 King 3:9 ESV
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.1 John 4:1 ESV
Whether a Christian should practice yoga or meditation truly lies with the individual and their relationship with God. What I mean by this is that as you grow in your faith, your relationship with God, and your knowledge of God’s Word, you are better able to discern what is of the world and what is from God. For example, I have personally practiced yoga off and on for years and began before I knew Christ and was saved. I easily fell into the “emptying your mind” and finding “my center” commentary in a lot of the videos I watched and was always left spiritually confused.
Now that I am anchored in my faith in Jesus and much more knowledgeable about scripture I understand that those parts of the practice are dangerous to one’s faith and relationship with the One True God, BUT I also recognize that this is an opportunity for God to use something unexpected for His good. I have changed the sources and teachers I use for my practice and strive to only learn and practice from sources that do not violate God’s commands and His Word.
‘And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ‘Romans 8:28 ESV
While yoga and meditation may be derived from unBiblical traditions, the practices themselves are not unBiblical. Biblical meditation happens when we intentionally focus on God and His Word, and allow the mind to be renewed and transformed by it. Looking at the potential benefits of the practices can be overwhelmingly positive and maybe even helpful to one’s mental and physical health. As such, we can incorporate Biblical meditation into a yoga practice, replacing the cultural and unBiblical methods, traditions and techniques, and use both practices Biblically to strengthen our connection and relationship with God and His Word, as well as honor Him with our bodies.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?1 Corinthians 3:16 ESV
There are so many things in this world that have been perverted, warped, and used to place rifts between people and God. Like anything else in this world these practices can be used that way, or they can be used with the fully conscious intention to serve, worship, and meditate on God with our whole being while we surrender our complete health – mind, body and soul – to Him.
Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.Malachi 3:18 ESV
I use both yoga and meditation to focus on my relationship with God, as I strive to do in all things. I believe the answer to our question is that we should do all that we do fully intent on bringing God glory and praise. We should be surrendering to and relying on Him completely in every aspect of our lives and if He has given us the gift of meditation and yoga then we must set the intention every time we practice to serve Him completely in it. This is a constant and vital intention we must set for ourselves every single day in literally everything we do, these practices being no exception.
When we consider all of this and the fact God uses all things for the good of those who love Him, we can discern that by using these practices in ways that honor and glorify God, and to strengthen our relationship, focus and reliance on Him, they can be good for us and our faith.
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.Psalm 119:97 ESV
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord , my rock and my redeemer.Psalm 19:14 ESV
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.Philippians 4:8 ESV
Christians can and should absolutely meditate on God, His Word, and in prayer and worship to Him every single day, in all things. The techniques of yoga are primarily stretches, breathing, strength training, and low impact movements designed to calm the mind and body. Meditation is intentional concentration on something specific. As such, they can be beautiful practices done Biblically to slow yourself down, take care of your physical and mental health, while also giving that time and practice to the One True God, using that time to pray, worship and meditate on Him.
The author is not a medical professional. This post is for information purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. By providing the information contained herein we are not diagnosing, treating, curing, mitigating, or preventing any type of disease or medical condition. Before beginning any type of treatment regimen, it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional. Any application of the information provided is at the reader's discretion and is his or her own responsibility.