Is Yoga Like Worship?

Are you refusing to do a yoga-based thigh stretch just because it’s called trikonasana (Triangle Pose)? Are you refusing a whole mode of wellness just because it comes from another part of the world, is spoken in another language, or has ancient roots in a different belief system? Some might label that mentality with strong words which start with an “R” or maybe a “B” and guess what!? I’ve been accused of being both just for writing this blog…

Frankly, I think we are all entitled to our beliefs without being labeled which is exactly why I’m writing this candid, cheeky blog: To move us past the labels and stigmas of whatever we think Yoga is or is not.



Is YOGA like worship?
Here’s some history: The origins of Yoga go clear back to ancient tribal Indus who spoke Vedic Sanskrit, which is still the language of Yoga. While many associate it with Hinduism, it actually predates that polytheistic faith. It’s original writings are quite monotheistic, holding space for worship of one creator god. The movement practice of Yoga – the positions, poses, or asanas – were co-opted by Hindus as that belief system became popular. Thus, as Yoga evolved on the continent of India, its prominent teachers who boosted its popularity were Hindu Yogis who inserted their faith into their practices and taught their beliefs to their students. Yoga has also been co-opted by other religions including Christianity, such as Holy Yoga.

The martial arts have Eastern roots as well: Kickboxing originated in Thailand. Tai Chi – a slower martial art – began in China. Heavy athletics like weightlifting were first recorded by Scottish people who worshipped the Celtic pantheon of gods and goddesses. Yet we don’t refuse to defend ourselves nor do we don’t avoid carrying heavy loads because the creators of kickboxing believed differently than we do!

However, Yoga is very different than higher impact styles of training. Due to its low-impact nature, scalable intensity levels, variety of positions, and approachability for all ages, Yoga can be an amazing fit for the young, the old, the pregnant … For everyone!

Yoga is scientifically proven to:

  • improve balance
  • reduce falls
  • lower blood pressure
  • improve mental health
  • lower cholesterol
  • help flexibility
  • balance hormones
  • elevate lymphatic flow
  • build core strength
  • increase overall strength 

Here’s my issue as a core fitness specialist, personal trainer, fitness program manager, and human: If we reject any method of movement due to its origins because the country or people who founded it worshipped different gods (or didn’t worship at all) then we can never move a muscle.

You can’t squat because Yoga calls that Utkatasana which translates to “chair pose” so chairs are also out. You also better not stand up straight because that’s called Tadasana or “Mountain Pose,” and better not raise your hands into the air because that’s a yoga pose called Utthita Hastasana which translates to “Upward Worship Pose.” 

Oh… but wait… there it is right there: space to worship! No other form of fitness provides for that! 

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If you consider that no other western group workouts such as step, pilates, kickboxing or weight workouts like The Lift or Body Pump even contain any spiritual language at all, isn’t it wonderful to finally see group fitness classes offering Yoga and Tai Chi which can – if the instructor or participants wish – contain time for meditation and prayer?

Of course, Yoga can definitely be about the moves alone, with no deep spiritual thought involved, but it can also be about connecting the mind, body and soul in a peaceful flowing way. That’s the simplest definition of Yoga: Union. Uniting body, mind and spirit. It’s also about separating those things: Non-attachment. Detaching from that itch we feel or that nagging worry while we’re trying to meditate.

Now, here’s where I’d like to take a moment to disclose that I, Beth Learn – the founder of this online fitness studio – am a practicing Christian. I don’t push Jesus in my workouts here on Fit2B. I don’t get preachy on this website, but for the sake of this article, the backlash I’ve faced, and the religious overtones and overwhelm associated with Yoga, please allow me a hot minute to get real personal.

Straight up: I’m a baptized, born-again, church-going, worship-leading, children pastoring, communion-taking follower of Jesus Christ! I believe Jesus is the resurrected son of God and my personal Lord and Savior who has gone to prepare a place for me in Heaven and will return one day. Those are my beliefs. And I don’t think Yoga as a form of exercise and meditation is big enough or powerful enough to interfere with my God.

If it’s true that “Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world,” and true that I can “take every thought captive for Christ,” then me and you can focus our minds and hearts on Ephesians 6 where Paul wrote about wearing the armor of God while we hold Warrior Pose (Virabhadrasana) and take deep, cleansing, belly breaths.

Indeed, I think almost every wholesome activity can be worship of the One who created our bodies to move and exercise and breathe when we tune our hearts to prayer, praising and giving thanks while we do it: Gardening, riding a bike, birdwatching, singing, dancing, hiking, playing a musical instrument.

However, I’m not trying to say Yoga is always worship, but it can be. Sometimes it is just “exercise.” Sometimes it’s both exercise and worship. Hang with me…

Just like gardening is sometimes just pulling weeds with no thought beyond uprooting things that don’t belong in our garden, or gardening can be a way to meditate on many spiritual things related to the metaphors of weeding, pruning, watering, etc.

My concern is for people who worry that Yoga will make them become Hindu (or Muslim because they get the two mixed up) or that Yoga might possibly make them worship false Gods.

My simple answer to that is, if going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, then going to Yoga won’t make you a Hindu. It doesn’t work like that. 

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Perhaps this is why many mainstream Christians avoid Yoga altogether: they have never investigated Yoga for themselves, and they are fearful of it. That’s how I once was: Ignorant and fearful because I hadn’t taken the time to study it for myself.

Is it better to omit soulwork from fitness or to make room for it? If you aren’t comfortable with chants and mantras find a studio or online workout source (like us) that offers the basics. Personally, I teach a pose-driven blend of movements that combines exercises from many movement schools. Sometimes I offer some spiritual imagery to facilitate a more meaningful, deep experience.

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Many come to me with no faith at all, and I see Yoga as a “gateway drug” for new spiritual seekers. It’s not intimidating. It’s not preachy. It’s not church. It feels safe and non-dogmatic.

Yet it points to something bigger. It encourages worship. It encourages introspection, and that’s more than you get in step class, although I love teaching step, too 🙂

In a few of my workouts, especially the yoga-focused ones, I’ll say “Namaste” at the end. Recently a member asked me what this means. Books have been written on that one greeting, so it’s hard for me to boil it down. Screen shots are marvelous, and this image captures how I responded to her question in our private member forum:

My interpretation of “Namaste” above is different than how others may use that term. For me, I simply refuse to govern my speech and life around the concept that “it was once used for evil.”

Fire can be used to warm a house or burn it to the ground. Water can float a boat or drown you. Television can be “Leave It To Beaver” or pornographic exploitation of women. How you use everything in this world is your choice. Just because something was perhaps meant to be evil, that doesn’t mean God can’t use it for good (Genesis 50:20).

Everyone I talk to who is casually or deeply involved in Yoga interprets it differently. Aren’t we like that with most things in life? Everything in this world can be used for good or ill. It’s your choice where you focus your thoughts and energy while you go about ANY task.

  • Some cars carry people to dark, nasty places while they listen to dark, nasty music while high or drunk, so do we stop driving cars? Are cars evil?
  • Some music is dark and awful with foul language, so do we stop writing music? Is music evil?
  • Sometimes sex is used to hurt people, but do we stop making love to our husbands? Is sex evil?
  • Sometimes plants are used to unsafely drug people, so do we stop taking flowers to the sick? Are plants and medicines evil?
  • Food is overused to the point of obesity, so should we stop eating? Is food evil?
  • Some nameless moves that we do every day were given names by a different tribe of people with different beliefs thousands of years ago, so do we stop moving in those ways? Is movement and exercise evil if we give it different names?

Of course we will grow flowers and eat and keep moving! We cannot avoid lunges, squats, overhead reaches, sitting up straight, standing still…. Whatever position you are in right now has a yoga term… except maybe that one where you’re leaning to one side with your elbow propping your head up?

The real question, though, is NOT “What position is my body in right now?” Rather we should be asking, “What position is my heart in right now?”

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All of that said, I do not want to hinder the faith of others. What I feel confident in, you may feel weak in. What I have learned and researched, you may not have yet discovered. I do not want to place a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 8) in front of other believers, so I do have non-yoga routines that I’ve cordoned off into their own section {click here to see my non-yoga routines}

You shouldn’t have to choose between Yoga and strength for your body. There are so many ways to work the body beyond Yoga, and it’s not for everyone.

Seriously, I could take it or leave it. I like to take it and pull what is useful from it; take what serves and leave what doesn’t serve me.

And I feel I have the freedom to do that. But you might feel you don’t have that freedom, and I “Namaste” that. I see and respect you and where you’re at in your divine journey, and I hope you’ll do the same for me. Blessings!!!

Tree Pose is great for balancing, and I was worshiping my Lord here on the beach, offering thanks for a healing knee and a weekend with friends. Or was I not worshiping simply because of the yoga position in which my body stood?

9 thoughts on “Is Yoga Like Worship?

  1. Traci says:

    My mind opened up to the world of yoga watching a yoga for dummies video. The instructor explained that she was just doing the poses and had no intention of meditating or chanting. Then she said all track stretches began as yoga stretches. I realized at that moment that I had been doing “yoga” for years as a student and had no idea.

    Someone else pointed out it is much like eating meat that had been sacrificed to other god’s in Paul’s day. Do it or don’t do it. Just don’t fuss about it. It won’t change who God is and what your relationship to Him is.

    The position of my body has no power over Jesus who is Lord of my life. : )

    Paul said we should not be a stumbling block to other believers. If you have a freak out reaction to yoga you should keep it to yourself; your freakout could really be a stumbling block to someone who is trying to obey God by getting their temple into shape and honoring God with their body.



    • Coral Nigolian says:

      But equally so you could be a stumbling block to those who have been saved from Eastern Mysticism! That is not an easy one size fits all answer.

  2. Jean Kelsey says:

    Bethany I’ve never thought of yoga in the ways you have described of what others think! To me yoga is that mind body connection. I am a Christian and to be honest, even with what you have described it still wouldn’t keep me away from yoga. Yoga is a good thing and who doesn’t want good things in their lives especially when it connects the mind, body and soul? Thanks for enlightening me!

    • bethanylearn says:

      Jean, you be amazed at the flack I get just for saying Namaste. Many Christians think it means I’m saying “I’m a god, and you are a god.” It really means, “The divine in me sees and respects the divine in you.” I suppose the self-centered could take that to mean that they ARE God, but I take it to mean that I am imprinted by God’s touch. The Bible says male and female were created in the image of The Creator. My children have pieces of me, and I have pieces of God. As a Christian, a christ-follower, someone who has invited Jesus to live in me and through me, the word “Namaste” really takes on added meaning. I love thinking in these terms, and I get so sad when people limit themselves and don’t do their own research.

  3. June Stoyer says:

    I LOVE your pictures in this post! Very beautiful and also a reminder that it is a great way to connect with God, The Creator! Thank you for talking so openly about the connection to God here. It is beautiful. I am going to get back into yoga thanks to this post. Very inspirational! Great job, Bethany! You are amazing!

    • bethanylearn says:

      That’s great, June! It was a blog that was brewing in my brain for quite awhile after one of my members took some flack on facebook for joining my site. Did you see my response to Jean about the word, “Namaste.” But to be honest, I used to think the same things. I avoided yoga because I was so skeptical of it’s hindu roots. It took another christian lady in the fitness world to “wow” me with how it puts people in touch with their spiritual needs. It is a journey…

  4. FatinKhwarizmi says:

    The ways to God are several but everybody is taking the way which he is feeling close to his heart and soul, as the aim is the almighty God never mind which way we do cross it is always bringing you to God’s presence !
    I love Youga and I did try to practice for a while…

    I love your choices in writing your articles 🙂

  5. Melissa says:

    Yoga IS demonic. Just because you have accepted something into your personal doctrine, doesn’t remove its spiritually negative impact. It IS worship, and worship of demonic, pagan gods. Since yoga is a physical form of worship to pagan gods, you do not need to particpate in the chanting in order to be actively worshipping. ‘Just’ doing the poses is an act of worship.

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