An encyclical was issued on June 4, 2013 by Metropolitan Markos of Chios on Christians who practice Yoga and whether or not it is merely a physical exercise. In this encyclical he explains that the Hindu religious practice of yoga was established for the sole purpose of entering into a spiritual state, and never had anything to do with exercise until a few decades ago when Hindu yogis explained it this way when they were trying to win converts in the West.
Because he makes some very interesting points, I am publishing the full text of the encyclical on this blog:
Encyclical 14: Is Yoga Exercise?
To the Sacred Clergy and Pious People of our Sacred Metropolis,
A key feature of our time is the confusion observed in various aspects of human life. A characteristic example of this spiritual and existential confusion is the fact that yoga is fundamentally a religious technique of Hinduism, advertised in our country, in Europe and in the United States as an exercise-fitness solution which is offered to release us from the numerous problems stemming from a stressful lifestyle.
But what is yoga? The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yujwhich means to “unite”, meaning the union of the individual soul with the impersonal Absolute One of Hinduism (see P. Schreiner, Yoga: Wörterbuch des Christen-tums, 1995, p. 1376). This union is considered a liberation and redemption of mankind from karma, that is, from the consequences that result from our choices and actions in supposedly previous lives.
Moreover, concerning the term yoga, we must stress that it is used as a qualifying term of one of the six classical orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy (see H. Baer, ”Yoga”, in the Lexikon der Sekten, Sohdergruppen und Weltanschauungen, 7th Ed, 2001, pp. 1166-1174).
But is yoga exercise? Can one isolate the practical exercise from its religious content and background? Can one ignore the purpose for which it is used? Unquestionably no.
And what about the claim of various centers, institutes, schools, groups, journals and gyms, that present it as lacking a religious nature, alleging it to be a “scientific” psychosomatic practice, or a practice for a simple existence and spiritual self-knowledge? Without doubt these assertions are inaccurate. They oftentimes misinform and confuse using an extremely attractive vocabulary (see R. Hauth, (Hrsg), Kompaktlexikon Religionen, 1998, p. 366).
On the contrary, yoga is a religious systematic theory, technique and method that evolves in stages and practices, one of which is meditation, which leads those who use it, with the guidance of a teacher (guru), to a singular life joined to the impersonal Absolute of Hinduism. In this way a person is redeemed and atones for the errors and mistakes made during the source of all supposedly previous incarnations.
From the above, therefore, we observe that the view of yoga simply as an exercise is incorrect. And this 1) because it is a fundamental feature of the Hindu system, 2) it cannot be stripped of its religious character according to the conditions of the content and purpose of exercise, 3) it is intrinsically linked to the anti-Christian concept of reincarnation, and 4) because it constitutes a humanistic effort towards redemption through techniques and exercises.
Why are the various techniques of yoga dangerous? The answer is given to us in an article on yoga from an authoritative encyclopediaΔο¬μή. It says there: “It is known that the practice of yoga creates for the individual not entirely physiological properties – and parapsychological – because it reverses certain physical and mental functioning” (Δο¬μή, vol. 4, p. 199).
To conclude this brief offering of ours on whether or not yoga is exercise, we must again remind all of the obvious. The value of our identity as Orthodox Christians is incompatible with the use of Hindu religious practices in any aspect of our lives.
The salvation of man which is freely housed within the Church, is the work and offering of the love and grace of our Christ. For us does Paul say with all gravity: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27), and: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14-15). With warm fatherly prayers, The Metropolitan of Chios, Psara and Oinouses, Markos
Editorial Note: The Metropolis of Chios, Psara and Oinouses, is within the jurisdiction of the Church of Constantinople which is headed by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Archbishop of Constantinople, not Pope Francis.