It’s still making headlines in magazines and on television, it’s still being touted by healthcare professionals, and it’s still enticing consumers at local department stores. What am I talking about? Well, yoga, of course.
Praised by many for its calming effect and wellness benefits, yoga is gaining cultural acceptance — even in some Christian circles.
But should Christians be practicing yoga, considering the questionable Hindu underpinnings? If not, is there a safer, Christian alternative that could keep our physical bodies in top shape?
These are the kinds of questions I posed to actress, singer, public speaker, personal trainer, and author Laurette Willis, simply because so many Christians have been confused about this same subject. And knowing that Laurette had been involved in yoga and the New Age for 22 years before coming to Christ, I figured she would know the spiritual ramifications firsthand.
Plus, she is also a certified personal trainer who has developed a stretching exercise program that incorporates Scripture called PraiseMoves™ that she considers “the Christian alternative to yoga.” I was curious how her postures differed from those of yoga and how she infused Scripture into her workout routine. She covers much of these details in her latest book BASIC Steps to Godly Fitness (Harvest House, 2005) and on her DVD PraiseMoves (Harvest House, 2006).
Why You Should Stay Away from Yoga
We are bombarded by messages of yoga’s peaceful and healthful benefits, but what we don’t hear, specifically in the United States, is the true origins of this type of lifestyle. Laurette made it very clear to me in a recent phone interview.
“These are postures that are offered to the 330 million Hindu gods. Yoga postures really are; they are offerings to the gods. If you do these postures and you do this breathing technique and this meditation, then you will be accepted by a god, little “G.” That’s the real danger,” she said.
Laurette told me that one of her PraiseMoves certified personal trainers visited India for three months on a mission trip, and she would often see people in the streets doing yoga poses in front of the statues of the gods.
“Romans 12:1-2 says we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God,” added Laurette. “Here they are doing something very similar with these postures to their 330 million gods, and it is scary. So we abstain from things offered to idols — Acts 15:29.”
In yoga they do what they call pranayama breathing. Prana is the Hindu word for life force, the same concept as the word chi in some martial arts. Yoga breathing attempts to manipulate that life energy, which Laurette believes is perilous. “That is a dangerous thing,” she said, “because I think that we are coming out from under the blood of Jesus when we do stuff like that, and we are no match for the enemy in those areas. I think of what Paul said in Ephesians 2:2, that Satan is the prince of the power of the air. We are not talking about oxygen.”
A third area of concern in yoga is the concept of emptying the mind, which is contradictory to what Christianity teaches. As Laurette explained, “We are transformed by the renewing of our minds, not the emptying.”
Along with emptying the mind, yoga guides people into astral travel, which is where people actually leave their bodies, a practice that Laurette was familiar with and has since questioned. “I wonder with those experiences when I left my body what got in there when I was gone?” Laurette posed. “As a Christian with the Holy Spirit in there, we are not going to be possessed, I don’t think. But one could easily be oppressed.”
Clearly, with this understanding of yoga, Christians should think twice before heading to the local gym for a yoga class. But if you are a Christian who thinks it’s all right to attend yoga classes because you think you are strong enough not to fall prey to the spiritual deception that’s being taught and you enjoy the physical benefits, Laurette pleads in all seriousness that you to please consider a younger believer or weaker Christian who is watching your lifestyle. If you go to a yoga class, chances are they might be inspired to go also, and they could fall completely off track in their walk with God.
The ‘Christian Yoga’ Controversy
Can yoga and its religious roots be separated? Some who have been concerned about Eastern influences of yoga have looked to hatha yoga for answers, since hatha yoga is supposed to simply be the flexibility exercises without the spiritual influences. But Laurette is convinced that yoga and Hinduism are inextricably linked, and beyond that, there can be no such thing as Christian yoga.
“Christian yoga is an oxymoron,” said Laurette. “It is like saying someone is a Christian Buddhist or a Christian Hindu. What some people are doing is that they are trying to make yoga Christian. Even Hindus are saying that you cannot do that.”
Laurette’s Story: Sucked into Yoga and the New Age
Laurette first got involved in yoga as a little girl. Her mother used to give free yoga classes to the college students, and Laurette was the demonstration model. Laurette loved being the center of attention, so yoga was fun. In addition, the exercises really relaxed her mother.
But Laurette warns that yoga’s ability to bring a sense of calm is one of its deceptive charms: “That’s one thing people look at, too,” said Laurette. “They say, ‘My doctor, my chiropractor, my physical therapist says to do it. It helps me. I feel less stressful.’ Well, it wouldn’t be a hook if it didn’t have something good in it.”
Yoga also fulfilled a spiritual need in Laurette’s life. Though her family went to church, Laurette says she never heard the message of salvation preached there.
“We didn’t know about living the victorious Christian life,” she explained. “We were not aware of the deception that is inherent within yoga and its connections to Hinduism. It seemed so spiritual, so it was fulfilling a void that was in our lives. I have found that any part of our lives that is not submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ is an open door for the enemy… As I look back, that was the open door to the New Age for us. We began getting into Edgar Cayce, Ouija boards, crystals, and all kinds of things.”
Finding Christ on April Fool’s Day
An only child, Laurette lost both her parents within the span of a couple of years while she was working as a struggling actress in New York. Grieved and lonely, she decided to move to Oklahoma and join a New Age community there to start her life over. A year after her move, Laurette says she came to the end of herself. That’s when she cried out to God.
It was April Fool’s Day 1987, and as Laurette likes to tell it, “I went from being a fool for the world to a fool for Christ.” Laurette prayed, surrendering her life to God. “I fell on my knees and on my face, and I felt a physical weight lift off of me that I learned later was the weight of sin,” she said.
Laurette was delivered from years of alcoholism, an addiction that began at age 13. And four days after praying, she met her husband to whom she has been married for almost 19 years.
“I found that everything that I was looking for in the New Age and metaphysics and the Occult, the wisdom of God was in the Bible,” she said. “I had no idea there was so much in the Bible. I thought that Christianity was just kindergarten, and I was into the higher things.”
PraiseMoves: The Christian Alternative to Yoga
Laurette remembers keenly the day God brought her the idea for PraiseMoves™. She says it was February 25, 2001 at 10:35 a.m., and she had just finished working out to a Denise Austin video. Laurette was contemplating in prayer an idea for a form of exercise besides aerobics that wouldn’t be yoga but that would be gentler on her 40-something body. “I thought that something would involve stretching and praising and moving and Scripture, and suddenly the idea of PraiseMoves™ came.”
For the next two years, Laurette prayed about the idea and put it together. The foundational Scripture for PraiseMoves™ is 1 Corinthians 6:20, which says, “You were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
PraiseMoves™ postures are stretching exercises with an accompanying Scripture verse. “Every posture in PraiseMoves™ is tied to a Scripture, so that while we are stretching and strengthening the body, we are also being transformed by the renewing of our mind, nourishing our spirit, and praising the Lord,” said Laurette.
As you do the strengthening posture, you are supposed to think about the correlating verse. For instance, there is a posture called the vine, a pose that strengthens the spine and arms. The matching Scripture verse is John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”
Just how important is it for the Christian to incorporate Scripture into daily living, even into such mundane endeavors as exercise? Well, for Laurette, the Word of God has been the key to a transformed life.
“I look at how my life has changed over the years since I turned my life to Christ,” she said, “and it was really after I made a conscious decision to memorize Scripture, to get it on the inside of me, to begin to allow myself to be transformed by the renewing of my mind on the Word of God, that I really noticed a tremendous change in my life.”
Laurette believes that as Christians we should view exercise as something that can and should be godly. After all, the term “godly fitness” is part of the title of her latest book. What exactly does godly fitness look like at its most basic level?
“Whatever we do, we do as unto the Lord by focusing on Him, by realizing that this is not a cult of the body. I am not trying to get my body to look a certain way to meet the world’s standards. I want to be a fit witness for Him,” Laurette said.