What is the difference between Christianity and yoga? (part 1)

· author: Thomas · reading time: ca. 6 min.

Yoga is a popular sport, but also a religious system. Yoga states that the soul passes through many lives and is rewarded and punished by karma for its past deeds. Christianity teaches a personal God who gives eternal life after death.

Yoga is popular. You probably had an image in mind right away when you read the word “yoga”. But in this article we will take a look behind the scenes. I will first describe the philosophy behind yoga and in the second part I will take you with my on a journey through my personal experiences with yoga.

What is yoga?

Since the first Indian yoga teachers came to the U.S. and Europe in the 1960s, yoga has been marketed in the West primarily as a health-promoting sport or simply as a technique designed to improve one’s general well-being.

Certainly, some yoga studios sincerely try to offer their yoga classes as an ideologically neutral method. As a participant in a yoga class, depending on the yoga studio, one is not confronted with the religious content of yoga during the first visit.

In fact, however, there is a religious system behind yoga, that is related to Hinduism. Yoga is an ancient Indian philosophy that is described, for example, in Patanjali’s Yogasutra. This text dates back to the fourth century or earlier, depending on the dating.

One God – Many Gods

Like many Hindu worldviews, yoga is “syncretic” – that is, yoga is not exclusive, but allows connections to other religions and worldviews. The tendency here is to let all religions stand side by side on an equal footing.

In this way, yoga fits well into our current epoch – postmodernism – in which different views and “truths” are also willingly allowed to stand side by side in the name of tolerance, and the concept of an “absolute” truth is considered old-fashioned.

In this way, yoga differs greatly from Christianity, where it is assumed that there is one – that is, a single – true God who revealed himself in Jesus. This difference alone shows that it is not so easy to let different religions stand side by side as “basically the same”.

The afterlife

The fact that there is only one true God in Christianity also means that, according to Christian understanding, only believing Christians can be certain that they will join God in heaven after their death.

In detail, there are different views on this within Christianity, but essentially the consensus is that people who have not clearly professed God in their lives or have actively rejected the Christian faith will not experience the eternal love that emanates from God after their death.

Yoga offers an apparent way out of this by assuming, in accordance with Hindu philosophy, that all people will eventually achieve final redemption – more precisely, even all living beings, such as cows, which are therefore considered sacred in India.

Salvation – called “moksha”, “samadhi”, or “kaivalya” – in yoga means a state of eternal bliss (“ananda”) that is achieved while still alive on earth and becomes permanent upon death (called “leaving the body”).

In the Upanishads, one of the most important Hindu scriptures, this salvation is depicted as virtually indescribable; as an impersonal state of endless bliss, while in the Christian Bible the arrival in heaven is described as a personal reunion with the Creator.

The soul

A personal reunion with the creator as in Christianity would not be possible in yoga or Hinduism, because they are based on a different world view: The individual soul (Atman) and God (Brahman), are seen as two different manifestations of the same, original divine substance.

The goal of all yoga practice (or more generally of Hindu religious practice) is to re-establish this original unity between the individual soul and the all-encompassing divine, which is also formulated in such a way that the unity merely has to be recognized again.

The moment the merging of Atman and Brahman is achieved, there can be no more separation between man and God. Man is God, and thus the individual no longer has a Creator to confront.

In Christianity, on the other hand, the individuality of the soul is preserved, both during life on this earth and during the resurrection and eternal life in heaven. Thus, man and God can enter into dialogue and live in an everlasting relationship with each other.


Christianity assumes that the life of a believing Christian proceeds in a straight line, from birth, through life here on earth, to eternal life in heaven. And this process takes place exactly once.

In the Hindu worldview, on the other hand, people often speak of a “wheel” of rebirth that individual souls pass through again and again. This process is called reincarnation, which means that the same soul slips into a new body again and again, comparable to putting on new clothes.

Strictly speaking, reincarnation is more like a spiral through which the individual souls (of humans and animals) spiral higher and higher until – incarnation after incarnation – they finally reach salvation.

With each new incarnation, that is, with each new body, the souls “forget” again what happened to them in the last incarnation. Instead, Hinduism assumes that there is an abstract force (karma) that gives back to souls at a later time according to what they have “earned”.

Good deeds lead to a soul (at the latest in a later life) having pleasant experiences itself, and developing closer to salvation, while bad deeds lead to the soul having to go through a lot of suffering itself again.

There are different views within yoga about the extent to which a soul can descend again on the “incarnation stairs” through bad deeds and, for example, a human being can incarnate again in an ant.

However, the consensus is that every soul can be reborn very often. Thus, in principle, every living being has the possibility of achieving salvation at some point through its own efforts or fortunate circumstances, even though this path may take thousands of lifetimes.

Also in Christianity the term “rebirth” is used, but it does not mean a new incarnation, but the moment when a human being converts to God in his present, only life – hence the term “born-again Christian”.

Thereby not the body is exchanged, but the spirit – the believer receives the “Spirit of God” (also called the “Holy Spirit”), through which he can understand God and act according to God’s will. (Further reading: John 3:1-13; Romans 8:1-17; 2 Timothy 1:14)

Instead of karma, in Christianity it is God personally who holds a judgment at the end of time on the humanity He created, evaluating each person’s choices in life. God then decides the eternal destiny of each individual.

Preliminary conclusion

Yoga differs from Christianity in essential basic assumptions about reality. While Christianity assumes a personal God who created human beings as counterparts, at the end of the yoga path there is the union with an abstract primordial source.

The main practical difference between the two worldviews is that in yoga each soul can have thousands or even millions of lives, whereas in Christianity there is only one life for each soul.

As a result, there seems to be much more room in yoga for every soul to eventually find salvation. This tempting aspect led me to look more closely into yoga – much more than I would have liked in retrospect.

You can find the whole story in the second part of this article, “What is the difference between Christianity and yoga? (part 2)”