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TEXAS FAITH 31: Should Christians (and other non-Hindus) beware of yoga?

Dallas Morning News,

Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.

Here's what we posed this week to the Texas Faith panel:
The president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Albert Mohler, caused a stir with a recent column decrying the practice of yoga by Christians. He did a follow-up, not backing down, but noting the fierce reaction to his original piece.
Mohler wrote the column after reading Stefanie Syman's book The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America, which describes how yoga has been adapted and secularized here.
Mohler concluded the column this way: "Christians who practice yoga are embracing, or at minimum flirting with, a spiritual practice that threatens to transform their own spiritual lives into a `post-Christian, spiritually polyglot' reality. Should any Christian willingly risk that?"
If you agree with Mohler, why? If you don't, do you see anything objectionable about how a Hindu spiritual practice has morphed into something quite commercial and secular in this country - including "power yoga" and "hot yoga"? Are there cautions you would give to Westerners who want to borrow from non-Western religious traditions?
Or should everyone, including Al Mohler, just limber up and chill out?
After the jump, you'll find the panelists' responses:

NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas

The word yoga and religion have the exact same meaning. Yoga means to connect with God. Our English words "union" and "yoke" come from the Sanskrit root yoga. The Latin root of the word religion, means to re ligare - to reconnect with God. In the Bhagavad Gita, which is the ultimate exposition on all the yoga sciences, Lord Krishna describes, "And of all yogīs, the one with great faith who always abides in Me, thinks of Me within himself, and renders transcendental loving service to Me -- he is the most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all. That is My opinion."
The branch of yoga that most people are familiar with is the physical and intellectual yoga known as the hatha yoga or ashtanga yoga system. This is an extremely ancient spiritual practice but very few often touch on the actual goal of that yoga or even know of its purpose. Hatha yoga, although very healthy for the body, is meant to bring one to higher level of consciousness, realizing the soul different from the body. One with such a vision does not seek happiness through the temporary body but rather invests their sense of happiness in that which is eternal. According to the ancient Patañjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras & the founder of hatha yoga, one must become surrendered to God before one even begins the practice of asana, physical poses. This form of yoga requires one to live in a secluded place and to observe complete celibacy, and many other yamas and niyamas, or rules and regulations. Therefore this type of yoga was traditional done by monks and renunciates who have completely left family life behind in their old age. It not a generally recommended spiritual practice and in fact, the primary student of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna, was never known to take up this practice although he is known as the best student of yoga.
There is the mechanical process of yoga, the process of purifying ones consciousness and mind, elevating ones behavior and mentality so one can ultimately mediate on God. The ultimate outcome of such mediation is the desire to serve God. One can take stairs or one can also take the elevator. Taking the elevator means to start with the natural yoga, the organic yoga of the soul, Bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. This is practice of loving God with all one's heart, mind, and soul in service. This is the ultimate recommendation of the Bhagavad Gita. So if those practitioners who are in contact with yoga are brought to that ultimate purpose of service in devotion then that is wonderful; otherwise, it is just gymnastics.
To see all the responses from the Texas Faith Panel click here