Orthodox Churches on Yoga: “Have No Place in the Lives of Christians”

A spiritual danger?
Orthodox churches speak out against yoga: “have no place in Christians’ lives”

A few years ago, Muslim religious scholars in Malaysia criticized the practice of yoga. Similar voices are now being heard from Greece.

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Orthodox Christians from Greece have warned against practicing yoga. It is said that yoga is absolutely incompatible with the faith of Orthodox Christians. The German Association of Yoga Teachers sees it quite differently.

In Germany, yoga has become a kind of popular sport. More than eleven million people report practicing it regularly. The reasons for this seem obvious: Yoga makes the joints more flexible, strengthens the muscles and allows the breath to flow more freely. But can there be something completely different behind the practice? In June, the Orthodox Churches in Greece and Greek Cyprus warned their believers against practicing yoga. Years ago, Muslim religious scholars in Malaysia declared yoga a matter of faith and banned the practice of Muslims.

Are you turning to God or yourself?

As soon as the corona restrictions to go out were eased, yoga groups appeared in parks or on beaches in Germany and elsewhere: in the fresh air, they practiced sun salutation (Surya Namaskar), positions as warrior (Virabhadrasana), cobra (Bhujangasana)) or capital (Shirshasana). In Greece, this has called the church into action. “Yoga is absolutely incompatible with the faith of Orthodox Christians and has no place in the lives of Christians,” the synod decided in early June. The synod in the Greek part of Cyprus issued a similar statement shortly after: What is happening? One person who can explain the motives, however, is the Hessian priest Stefanos Athanasiou. He is an associate professor of Orthodox Christianity at the University of Friborg in Switzerland. “The Kynods consider yoga to be spiritually dangerous because it does not achieve what Christian Orthodoxy wants to achieve,” he says. In prayer, believers strive to open their hearts to God and their fellow human beings, while yoga is about going into oneself.

“Yoga is a prayer practice”

The professional association of yoga teachers in Germany sees it differently. “The idea that yoga is something ascetic, unworthy, or religious-Hindu is, in fact, hardly widespread anymore,” said spokeswoman Jessica Fink. The association says “THE Yoga” because the word is masculine in the ancient Indian learned language Sanskrit. “Of course, yoga is first and foremost about looking inward and reflecting on oneself. But the knowledge one gains from it must then be shared with society,” says Fink. “We stand for a yoga that is open to people of different faiths and to the world.”

Yoga as a sport? It does not work for Athanasiou. “Yoga has a religious edge, it’s a prayer practice,” he says. “Yoga transports the intention to go inside. It can be dangerous because spiritual changes can take place that are not compatible with the faith of the Orthodox Church.” Athanasiou emphasizes that the Orthodox Church does not condemn Hindu prayer practices. Instead, it is about the spiritual care of one’s own believers. “Anyone who strives for the spiritual goals of the Orthodox Church would rather stay away from yoga.” On the other hand, Fink says that there is a minority who practice yoga of spiritual interest. Critics from the church corner might see yoga as competition if people find more spirituality in it than in their religious community.

Evangelical institution sees useful aspects

The Evangelical Central Office for Worldview (EZW) differentiates. “It always depends on the purpose of the yoga offer,” says psychologist Michael Utsch, a research fellow at EZW. “From a Christian point of view, such procedures are certainly useful for relaxation and improved body awareness.” But there is an increase in spiritual offerings where ideological content must be transported through physical exercises. It must be made transparent.

A spiritual danger ?: Orthodox churches speak out against yoga:

The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising also try to make a clear distinction when it comes to offerings, as the Catholic theologian Axel Seegers, who is responsible for philosophical issues there, says. Many years of experience have shown the value of eg yoga “in relation to today’s people’s search for paths to inner peace and mental balance with the aim of being able to cope better with the often hectic everyday life,” says the archdiocese’s framework. With Far Eastern forms of movement and meditation, it depends on the interpretation: It is important to interpret what is experienced from a Christian faith in God.


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