by Craig Branch –

A major concern of Christian apologists and pastors is the slow and subtle seduction of people toward anti-Christian ideas and values through the deadly influence of our culture. Some writers characterize the process as the “frog in the kettle” phenomenon. The bar of righteousness continues to gradually move downward, analogous to a frog in a kettle of water that ever so slightly continues to heat up until the frog is dead, never realizing that he is being boiled to death, and so never jumping out.

Another literary analogy that fits is the story of the Trojan horse. The people of Troy worshipped the horse. Therefore, their enemies (the Greeks) built a huge horse idol and hid inside of it until the Trojans themselves brought it past the walled barriers into the city. As a result, the Greeks were able to enter the city and destroy it. Yoga is an effective “Trojan horse” of the New Age occult philosophy, entering the gates of a culture that was largely formed on Christian values. And our people are like the frog in a kettle—slowly dying due to the steady, almost imperceptible, meltdown of our values.

It helps to hear it from the Trojan horse’s mouth. One of the most popular and respected authorities on yoga in America is Richard Hittleman. In his book, Guide to Yoga Meditation, Hittleman discusses the dynamics of the growth of yoga in the United States: “The growing impact of yoga upon Americans in all walks of life is one of the extraordinary phenomena of our time. . . .[I]t has proven beyond any doubt its effectiveness in bringing about a greater sense of physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being.”1 Hittleman goes on to reflect on the American “personality,” which is characterized by chasing after the practical and materialistic, the technical and computerized, and leaving a big void with its accompanying “physical and mental ailments.” He writes, “The deeply spiritual view of life which permeates yoga has struck a responsive chord in the hearts and minds of Americans of all outlooks and occupations.”2

Hittleman bemoaned the fact that to Americans by and large yoga had a “foreign stigma” and an image of “weirdness.” So he “began to present the yoga science in a different light,” and began to emphasize the very great physical benefits derived from Hatha yoga, in order, “to erase the erroneous image from the American mind.” Hittleman then reveals his discovery that “Americans could indeed identify more readily with the physical—with exercise, sports, and health.” He concluded: “If the student were drawn into the physical practice, the health benefits would be so pronounced that he would then desire to learn more of the philosophy and to practice the meditation techniques; these were, after all, the entire ‘essence’ of the subject.” In other words, because of the deep void in our nation resulting in and from “tension, anxiety, emotional instability, craze for physical fitness, a search for real values and Self-realization,” there exists a greenhouse for the growth of yoga.3

A second issue that serves to make yoga a new age/occult Trojan horse are the meditation techniques practiced as part of yoga. When meditation techniques are labeled as mere “relaxation exercises,” people are mislead. It is very important also to not confuse biblical meditation with eastern mystical meditation. Biblical meditation is the conscious, focused, reflective, cognitive attention to Scripture and our relationship with God. Eastern meditation (transcendental meditation or TM) results in an altered state of consciousness in which one is very vulnerable to suggestions and even to the demonic. In another context, it is the same as self-hypnosis.

The induction techniques for TM include any combination of the following: deep breathing, focusing intently on an object, the repetition of a word (mantra), alternate nostril breathing, guided imagery or visualization, and progressive relaxation. Roger Walsh, former editor of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, and Frances Vaughn, former president of the Association for Transpersonal Psychology state the purpose of meditative practice in the context of eastern religious philosophy:

[Meditation] is a profoundly transformative process, for when practiced intensely, meditation disciplines almost invariably lead into the transpersonal realm of experience. . . .A progressive sequence of altered states of consciousness can occur, which may ultimately result in the permanent, radical shift in consciousness knows as enlightenment or liberation.4

Can a person practice relaxation, deep breathing techniques and mantras without entering into a self-hypnotic state? Yes, but the demographic reality is that a significant number of people are moderately or highly suggestible and will therefore find it difficult to avoid self-hypnosis or an altered state of consciousness. In effect, they will be surrendering control of their wills to the ethics and motives of the leader/trainer or the occult/mystical context.5

But can’t a person use Jesus as his mantra or seek to enter into a relaxed, focused communion with God, using yoga or “contemplative prayer” as a vehicle? It is my view that such syncretism walks on very thin ice, and is a perversion of Biblical principles. Again, this compromise is another example of the horse and frog.

In fact, yoga promoters will occasionally appeal to early “Christian” mystics as a bridge to the Christian clientele. For example, in Yoga Journal, one finds an extensive article pointing to Augustine, Roman Catholics like Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, Francis of Assisi, and others who taught and modeled contemplative prayer or meditation.6 The yoga apologists confuse the devotional dimension of the Christian life, which is a neglected and needed discipline, with eastern mystical techniques, parameters and goals. The extra-biblical accretions to monastic Catholicism are perversions or additions to Scripture.

Christian meditation is a quiet reflection on God’s revealed truth in the Scriptures, with the conscious mind under the influence and power of the Holy Spirit. It is not a “going inward” for a mindless experiential contract with the God-Self. Dying to self in Christian understanding is not denying self and seeking to “know” one’s own identity, but it is the surrendering of self-will and a willingness to submit, trusting in God’s revealed will and way in our lives.

When one seriously reads the works of contemporary Roman Catholic contemplatives like Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington, and even the Quaker Richard Foster’s popular book, Celebration of Discipline, one can see that they explicitly draw from and derive their version of meditation from the eastern mystical religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc.). This view of meditation is not the same as the biblical view.

The practice of yoga can be illegal in certain cases. For example, public schools cannot legally make yoga a part of the curriculum. Additionally, businesses or corporations cannot require employees to participate in yoga if the employee objects on religious grounds. The latter point is based on an Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission’s decision in 1988 (when the now Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas headed that agency). The EEOC decision was based on the 1964 Civil Rights Act and is law. The policy reads in part:

Employers are increasingly making use of training programs designed to improve employee motivation, cooperation, or productivity through the use of so called ‘New Age’ techniques. . . .These programs utilize a wide variety of techniques: meditation, guided visualization, self-hypnosis, yoga, producing altered states of consciousness.7

The policy/law forbids forcing employees to take these programs. The ultimate basis for both the policy and the law is based on the current Supreme Court decision on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution, building a wall of separation between church and state.8 Whether or not the Constitution is here correctly interpreted; it is nevertheless the law of the land.

The same rationale is applied to the use of yoga in public schools. The most relevant case is Malnak v. Yogi, decided in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey and upheld on appeal in the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in 1979. The case involved the use of the “science of Creative Intelligence” (aka Transcendental Meditation) in the public secondary schools in New Jersey. Parents challenged its use. The proponents of yoga argued that the exercises were purely secular and not religious. They argued that the elements and practices had no reference to a God or a supreme being and that is was not a religion.

The Appeals Court affirmed that religion can be defined in other than theistic terms. The Court laid down these criteria for deciding if a practice is religious: (1) does the nature of the ideas in question relate to matters of ultimate concern, such as the sum of one’s basic attitudes to the problems of human existence; (2) evaluation of the comprehensiveness of the ideas in question—do they constitute a systematic series of answers that might begin to resemble a religion, and; (3) what are the formal and structural elements of the particular group or activity and are there external or surface signs that may be analogized to those of accepted religions?9

When one objects to the practice of yoga on religious grounds, either because of its adversity to Christianity or its illegality in public schools, or if a business requires participation, the frequent ploy is to claim that yoga is not a religion. Yoga promoters attempt to make a distinction between yoga being “a religion” and yoga being “spiritual.” For example, the Birmingham News ran an article about “Christian” yoga instructor Tina Hill (or should I use her spiritual name Shiva Dasi, given to her by her guru Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati). Ms. Hill expressed that she originally “had some doubts about the name chosen for her.” Shiva is a Hindu god and “dasi” means devotee. Her idea of making her yoga compatible with Christianity is to reinterpret her spiritual name as “devotee of God.” She also repeats the rather shallow mantra, “Yoga is more about spirituality than religion.”10

But this is a false distinction. Yoga is a religious practice just like prayer is a religious practice, embodying all manner of religious dogma and purpose. For example, suppose I was a new teacher for the sixth grade in a public school and on the first day of class I announced that each day we would all participate in an exercise that would help us learn better and perform much better on tests. What if I then told the class to bow their heads, close their eyes, and put their hands together in front of their faces, and in their minds ask silently for help, strength and success in their studies today? Further, I then instructed them to say, “Thank you for hearing my request.” How long would it be before the A.C.L.U. would be at the school demanding that I cease from leading public school children in prayer? But I never said “pray,” nor did I mention God or gods. But, of course, the postures I used and the content, meaning, and purposes behind the postures are religious. Yoga is no different.

Another way some yoga promoters attempt to nullify the objection is to claim that even though yoga is infused with many forms and concepts that have a Hindu, Buddhist, or Jaina connotation, one need not actually believe in karma, reincarnation, etc., in order to practice yoga. They claim that yoga is compatible with and can enhance any spiritual path. George Feuerstein makes such a claim:

Yoga aids all those who seek to practice the art of self transcendence and self-transformation, regardless of their persuasion, by balancing the nervous system and stilling the mind through its various exercises. . .so that anyone can find just the right technique that will not conflict with his or her personal beliefs.11

Yet this conclusion is totally divorced from the facts. As Keith Gibson explains, “It must also be kept in mind that the various practices of Yoga were designed to produce a pagan and occult experience.” He notes also that “[t]he posturing alone may lead [practitioners], unintentionally, into a trance-like meditative state that may include occult experiences.”12

While some popularizers of yoga attempt to finesse away the obvious religious nature of yoga, let’s observe how the religious authorities and the “high priests” of yoga describe its historical essence. Dr. Rammurti Mishra from India, authored the book Fundamentals of Yoga, which is billed as “the most authoritative and complete manual on the theory and practice of yoga.” In it he states that through many reincarnations mankind has ignorantly “hypnotized” himself with his body. He goes on, “When, through the practice of yoga, his ignorance is destroyed and he removes his hypnotism of finiteness, the Self, which is infinite. . .reveals itself by itself. . .[and] one realizes the true form of the Self, which in omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience.”13

The past editor of the prestigious Yoga Journal, Stephan Bodian wrote, “We are all aware that yoga means union and that the practice of yoga unites body, breath, and mind, lower and higher energy centers, and ultimately, self and God, or Higher Self.”14 One of the most respected yoga authorities, George Feuerstein, answered the question, “What is Yoga?” by writing,

Yoga is the current of spirituality that has developed on the Indian peninsula over a period of some 5,000 years. Its three major cultural branches are Hindu Yoga, Buddhist Yoga, and Jaina Yoga. . . .Underlying all forms of yoga is the understanding that the human being is more than the physical body. . . .Hindu Yoga speaks of the transcendental Self, which is eternal and inherently blissful, as our true identity.15

The Dictionary of Comparative Religion defines yoga as follows:

Yoga emphasizes purification of consciousness through various physical and psychological techniques. . . . Yoga proposes methods of meditation to bring about purification of consciousness in such a way that the nature of the underlying soul (purusa) will be apparent; so the individual will see the otherness of the soul from material nature, thereby gaining release from the latter’s bonds. The methods of yoga are divided between Hatha yoga and Raja (Royal) yoga—the former concerned with the physiological side and the latter with the higher process of meditation and contemplation. The distinction is somewhat artificial in that in principle the two sides are interdependent.16

The Dictionary of Asian Philosophies presents yoga as “one of the six orthodox systems of Indian Philosophy” which “aims at freeing mankind from pain.” The freedom from pain is accomplished by “(1) non-attachment to the world; (2) restraining the mind and imagination, purifying the manifest consciousness; and (3) attaining the union of the individual with the universal soul.” The dictionary goes on to state:

Yoga seeks to unite the inner and outer force, Life and Death. When the individual soul reaches its own essence, it is freed from such emotions as pain and joy . . . .The ‘yoke’ of yoga is discipline and self-denial which a believer takes upon himself in order to cleanse himself of all material limitations and achieve supernatural [occult] powers.17

Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience states in its entry on yoga,

In yoga one seeks to become bound to divine reality. Yoga has developed into a philosophy, but is origins and essences are non-intellectual, even anti-intellectual, and entirely experiential. It is meaningful only if practiced. In yoga the search for the mystery of the universe is undertaken in a search for one’s own true self.18

Writing specifically about Hatha yoga, this Encyclopedia explains that yoga is the “purification of the body through physical exercise, consisting of thousands of postures called asanas. Purification of the body leads to harmony with, and growth of, mental and spiritual processes.”19

I rest my case.20


It is important to know how to effectively respond to the faulty rhetoric of yoga promoters. As we have seen, when Christians object to the use of yoga in public schools and churches, they are met with the following rejoinder: The practice of yoga does not teach any particular religion. Rather, it can deepen one’s own personal beliefs, whatever those may be.

Yet, for a Christian (or anyone else) to make a distinction between spirituality and religion is meaningless, as noted above. Spiritual techniques or practices are designed to deepen one’s connection to God. Yoga’s presuppositions, definition and goals are all in conflict with biblical goals and definitions. Christians are not to seek to produce an altered state to “tune in” to the inner spirit which is the God-Self. Peace, fulfillment, and the reduction of anxiety and stress come from consciously seeking God through the propositional truths of Scripture, trusting in the love of God through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the gradual transformation which comes from obedience to objective revealed truth.

Christians are not to engage in the drugless “drug” of yoga, which offers only a placebo, a temporary escape from stress through altered states. Even the temporary relief from stress gained from the physiological exercise does not justify yoga’s perpetuation. In fact, just practicing the breathing and stretching exercises alone is not yoga. They are just stretching exercises.

Classic examples of intentional deception are the tactics of the organizations called Gaiam Yoga for Life, led by Tara Guber, in California, and the American Yoga Association (AYA). Guber developed Yoga Ed specifically for integration into public schools, first through fourth grades. She has clients in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and in Columbus, Ohio. When she took the program to Aspen, Colorado she met some resistance from Christian parents who rightly objected that it was a violation of the establishment clause (separation of church and state). The school board called upon the AYA for support. In their defense of the school board, the AYA claimed that “yoga is not a religion. It has no fixed set of beliefs, nor is there a prescribed god-like figure to be worshipped in a particular manner.”21

Unfortunately, there is a two-fold duplicity in the AYA statement. First, as we have already seen, yoga is a religion. Secondly, the AYA officially opposes yoga being practiced by children under 16. Their website states that “yoga exercises are not recommended for children under 16 because their bodies’ nervous and glandular systems are still growing, and the effect of yoga exercises on these systems may interfere with natural growth.” Yet, they came to the defense of a school board that teaches yoga to young children.

In any case, Guber and her Yoga Ed program have a clear religious agenda. We find on her website, under the heading “A Vision for the Future,” the following statement: “We all recognize that children hold the future in their hands. . . .It’s our responsibility to provide them with the necessary tools to shape their lives.” It describes the “Yoga for Life” physical education curriculum thus: “the program will provide training for yoga teachers and assistants, and aims to expand the philosophy of yoga and holistic living into the teaching and school communities. . .based on the principles of yoga to all schools.” Gaiam employs meditation and describes the yoga philosophy as teaching children “to access their own resources by helping them develop a mind-body connection. . .that they will be able to live their lives from a place of inner wholeness and balance, relying on themselves for strength, guidance and support throughout their lives.”22 Their concepts are all derived from a New Age, mystical and religious base. It is unconstitutional for public school teachers to lead students in prayer, yoga, meditation or other religious practices (even Tai Chi).

Yoga in America is experiencing exponential growth due to two major factors. First, with the retreat of the Christian Church from the culture there is a spiritual vacuum being filled with the New Age Movement’s old lie from Genesis 3, that God is not distinct, sovereign and worthy of our obedience. Instead, man is like or equal to God. Second, man’s autonomous fallen pursuit of meaning and purpose and his worship of the idols of creation (Rom 1:18-25) has led to anxiety, stress and the pursuit of self-gratifying sensuality, including personal fitness and health as chief ends.

Based on the rudiments of the age old occult philosophy popularized in some major eastern mystical religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, etc.), yoga has made its way into America these past decades in at least 27 popular forms. However, even if there are some differences, there is a core belief system common to them all. Westerners and Christians may find it difficult to understand what physical exercise has to do with one’s spiritual salvation. Yet, even Hatha yoga, one of the most popular “exercise” forms, is intrinsically spiritual or religious. The leaders or gurus of yoga consistently admit that Hatha yoga (like all yoga) is concerned with physical and spiritual purification and training to bring the physical body into a perfect state of health so that the soul has a fitting vehicle. As is described on the website of the Yoga Research and Education Center,

Hatha yoga is a comprehensive system of bodily and mental training, with an unwavering emphasis on meditation and spiritual awakening. . .fashioning a temple worthy of experiencing the divine union of Shiva and Shakti—suprapersonal consciousness and suprapersonal power—not simply trying to improve his or her personal fitness.23

The site goes on to bemoan the fact that because some Americans pursue only the physical benefits, “it is no longer obvious that the goal of yoga is a spiritual one. . . .If we believe it is not, we need to reconsider why we are practicing it, and even whether we are practicing it. . .or merely a form of fitness training or stress-relief management.”24

So, if people are just doing the stretches and some mild relaxation breathing, they are not doing yoga and it shouldn’t be called that. But there are other issues that complicate even this scenario. One issue is that some yoga promoters are subtly attempting to smuggle yoga into people’s lives with the idea that when people experience positive benefits from the physical regimen, they will then be open to the spiritual component. And they will!

A second issue is that we find Christians who will attempt to inject Christian meaning into the forms of yoga and thereby legitimize it. Pardon the pun, but that is a stretch. For example, Christianity does not teach that we “breathe in the Holy Spirit” or that spirituality is enhanced by relaxation and meditation so that we feel or “supra-consciously experience” union with God. The placebo of yoga exercises and relaxation is not the way Christians are to achieve the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus said, “My peace I give you—not the peace the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27).

The clear command of Scripture is that even if we who are strong can practice things with a clear conscience, “it is not good to eat meat or drink wine, or to do anything [e.g., yoga] by which your brother stumbles” (Romans 14:21), and “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block for the weak. For if someone sees you who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed by idols?” (1 Cor. 8:9-10). Paul admonishes that in so doing, we sin against Christ (v. 12).

Should Christians regularly take time to get apart, alone with God, “being still and knowing that He is God,” reflecting on His truth, His love, His nearness to us (biblical meditation)? Yes, indeed, though we too often do not. But that is not yoga. Paul elsewhere exhorts us: “Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good reputation, if there is any excellence, and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” And the context says that through the prayerful pursuit of God we will experience the “peace of God which surpasses all understanding,” being “anxious for nothing” (Phil. 4:4-8).

Craig Branch is the director of the Apologetics Resource Center in Birmingham, Alabama, and one of the authors of the book Public Schools: The Sorcerer’s New Apprentice?


1 Richard Hittleman, Guide to Yoga Meditation (New York: Bantam Books, 1969), 9.
2 Ibid., XXX
3 Ibid., 10-13.
4 Roger Walsh and Frances Vaughn, Beyond Ego: Transpersonal Dimensions in Psychology (Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, 1980), 136-137.
5 Yoga, meditation, its induction techniques, and the new age/occult purposes are thoroughly documented and described in my book Public Schools: The Sorcerer’s New Apprentice? (formerly titled Thieves of Innocence), available through ARC.
6 Kirk Bottomly and Jim French, “Christians Meditate Too!,” Yoga Journal (May/June 1984): 27-31.
7 “EEOC’s Policy Statement on Training Programs Conflicting with Employee’s Religious Beliefs,” EEOC notice N-915 (February 22, 1988).
8 Everson v. Board of Education, 1947; and Engel v. Vitale, 1962.
9 Malnak v. Yogi, 440F.SUPP.1284, 1977.
10 “Body, Mind, Spirit” Birmingham News (November 5, 2003).
11 George Feuerstein, “Is Yoga a Religion?” Internet article found at the Yoga Research and Education Center (
12 Keith Gibson, “It Isn’t Just Exercise: The Religious Nature of Yoga” found in this issue of Areopagus Journal, pp. 8-13.
13 Rammurti Mishra, Fundamentals of Yoga (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1974), xxi.
14 Stephan Bodian, Yoga Journal (May/June 1984).
15 George Feuerstein, “What is Yoga?” Internet article Yoga Research and Education Center (
16 Dictionary of Comparative Religion, ed. S.G.F. Brandon (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1970), s.v. “Yoga.”
17 The Dictionary of Asian Philosophies, ed. St. Elmo Nauman Jr (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1978), s.v. “Yoga.”
18 Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience, ed. Rosemary Ellen Guiley (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1991), s.v. “Yoga.”
19 Ibid.
20 For further evidence of the religious nature of yoga see The Donning International Encyclopedic Psychic Dictionary, 2nd ed., ed. June Bletzer (Norfolk, VA: Donning Company Publishers, 1987), s.v. “Yoga”; The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion (Boston, MA: Shambala Publications, 1986), s.v. “Yoga”; and Edward Rice, Eastern Definitions (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978), 407.
21 See “Yoga Causes Tension for Public Schools,” Fox News (October 2, 2003).
22 “A Vision for the Future.” Internet article found at
23 Mikel Burley, “Yoga in the Modern World: Questions of Authenticity and Purpose.” Internet article found at
24 Ibid.