Question: Please help me to figure out which position to take with regard to yoga as a physical practice. I did yoga for a long time, and I even trained a group. I regarded the clean-up of the body by physical exercise similar to the daily household chores that we all do. When I came to the church, I did extensive research on the Church opinion about yoga as a system of physical exercises and finally realised that it is alien to the Orthodox spirit. Four years have passed since I stopped teaching yoga but those whom I taught sometimes meet me and ask if I’m thinking of gathering a group again. They want to do some kind of exercise to improve their health and boost their energy. I’m in doubt: is it a temptation? Should I try to coach them, if what I teach is going to be closer to the Orthodox spirit?
Answer: People who are initially leading an external, emotionally-driven life want to remain lively and energetic, and they use physical exercise to be in shape, which helps them in their lives. Little by little, they discover that there is the soul living in that body, and in the same way that the body requires motion, the soul requires God, prayer, and repentance, too. The doctrine that lies at the roots of yoga is unacceptable for the Orthodox, in spite of the fine-tuned and time-honoured exercises that stimulate agility and make an individual more robust. This doctrine teaches that a human being can do everything; that he is able to climb Heaven using his own power. Its chief principle is “I can do it,” that is, an individual gets puffed up in his own eyes; he tries to exercise his huge potential, which is present in each one of us. It leads to pride. That is why you should avoid yoga at all costs. As far as physical exercises, in general, are concerned… There are people who suffer because they don’t get enough exercise: they have a sedentary lifestyle, while they are still young and their bodies need to be fit. If possible, everyone should keep fit. I think it would be great if you organise a group, find certain exercises, and combine them with Orthodoxy, with spiritual vigilance. It can be your ministry. If you are a good coach (apparently, people remember and respect you), you will be very helpful to those who join your group. You can do some exercises and then read the Gospel, for example, and then pray for each other or go and confess in the church. I would recommend you to gather a group of people. Perhaps, it may even become a fitness centre in the end. People need it because they need to keep fit. If it’s combined with Orthodoxy, it will be great!