What is the difference between Christianity and yoga? (part 2)

· author: Thomas · reading time: ca. 12 min.

As a former employee of a large yoga center, I experienced that spiritual progress was equated with professional commitment. I am grateful that – as a Christian – I have the certainty of going to heaven without any prior achievement.

In this second part of the article, I share my personal story with yoga. If you haven’t read it yet, you can find a small introduction to the religious worldview behind yoga in the first part “What is the difference between Christianity and yoga? (part 1)”.

The introduction

As I indicated in the first part of this article, at first glance, yoga philosophy appears as if it could unite existing religious views under one umbrella, thereby bringing hope of eternal salvation to more people.

Christianity, on the other hand, sees itself as an exclusive religion, with only devout Christians going to heaven. This point had bothered me so much that I began to look into yoga myself.

In order to better understand the philosophy behind it, both theoretically and practically, I had first completed a short training course to become a yoga teacher. About half of the participants entered this training, as I did, for personal growth, without a specific (professional) goal in mind.

The training was designed so that participants could learn the basics within a few weeks. This meant that the lectures, yoga classes, practical exams and so on started early in the morning and lasted until late in the evening.

With this tight program, the participants soon reached the limits of their physical and mental endurance, and on top of that, from the second half of the training, we all caught a cold, since it was winter.

However, having completed this challenging training was a clear booster for our own self-confidence. So I was initially very much convinced of yoga. A short time later, when a suitable full-time position was advertised in the same yoga center, I applied for it.

The everyday life

My application to one of the largest yoga centers in Europe was, after a short internship, accepted surprisingly quickly. I have to explain that in such a large yoga center only a fraction of the employees are actually full-time yoga teachers.

So I was hired in my original line of work (IT) and was then responsible for taking care of the computer workstations of over a hundred employees from, again, different areas (from yoga teachers to cleaners). This was also important to me, because it allowed me to continue gaining work experience despite doing yoga.

In theory, the daily schedule was arranged in such a way that, in addition to the professional work, there would still be enough time to try out yoga practice myself and, as part of the compensation, to participate in a wide variety of seminars that had some connection to yoga, free of charge.

In order to be fully immersed in the yoga world as a full-time employee, we were housed on the same premises as the overnight guests from the seminars. We passed through the same hallways decorated with paintings of Hindu deities as our guests each day and ate the same meals from the dining hall with them.

These living arrangements were also intended to reduce the amount of time spent on mundane tasks (such as cooking), thereby allowing more time for yoga practice, and also to foster fellowship among the staff through livinging together closely in both daily as well as recreational activities.

The reality

Already in the first weeks it turned out that the close interlocking of professional activity and the individual yoga practice would not work out that way in reality. To understand this better, I will briefly explain the so-called “paths of yoga”:

In yoga, four branches, which can also be combined, are classically distinguished: hatha yoga are the physical exercises, which are mainly known in the West. Jnana yoga is “philosophical” yoga, in which ancient scriptures and one’s own mind are studied.

Bhakti yoga is “emotional” yoga, where Hindu gods are worshipped and mantras are chanted, for example. And finally, there is action-oriented karma yoga, in which the consequences of old karma are to be reduced through selfless deeds.

Meanwhile, a variety of yoga styles and schools of different gurus have emerged. So I am not writing here in general, but only in relation to my own experience at the yoga organization I worked for.

In our everyday life as employees in the yoga center, our professional work, in my case computer support, was itself labeled as yoga practice, namely as karma yoga. Our work was also described with the religious term seva (“service”).

It was always emphasized by the leaders how important seva was, especially for beginners, in order to make progress in yoga. So our “service” became more and more the justification why we should work more and more overtime in our understaffed IT team.

Just a few weeks after I started the job, the overwork culminated in our team leader dropping out due to burnout after repeatedly spending sleepless nights in the server room fixing urgent problems.

We were also suddenly required to be available for on-call duty at night, which was far beyond the daily schedule with which working at the yoga center was originally advertised. After all, the daily schedule was supposed to leave enough time for what is actually understood by yoga – i.e. mainly physical exercises and meditation.

But almost even worse was the fact that there was no way of knowing when one would be “advanced” enough to be allowed to do less seva and more “real” yoga. Especially the leaders of the yoga center seemed very busy, more like managers in a for profit company from the private sector.

The exit

The high workload in our team with the label of “spiritual development” not only bothered us personally, but also had a huge impact on the dynamics in the team itself.

Because of our different professional backgrounds, the IT team had different ideas about how we could have contained the workload and possibly made our workflows more efficient.

After only a few months, I had to realize that the daily routine with professional activities on the one hand and free time for yoga on the other could never work out that way. In addition to the extended working hours, it turned out that everyday tasks also took up much more time than expected.

Not least because of the long walking distances on the yoga center site compared to a private rented apartment, for example to the communal laundry room, the times accumulated so much that there was no more time left for yoga than would have been the case at home.

Even a former employee who once visited us in the office gave us the advice that we should not only work, but also not forget to practice yoga. In retrospect, I find it remarkable that this advice had to be given in a yoga center of all places.

In order to still find time for spiritual practice, I occasionally led the early morning meditation, which began at 5 a.m. and lasted almost one and a half hours. There, at least, I had some rest and relaxation from the hustle and bustle created by the hundreds of guests in the house.

However, my meditation could not solve the division in our team, and the management level could not provide us with more staff, nor was there any prospect of improving the processes. Everything was to be kept as simple as possible, so that theoretically lay people interested in yoga could also have done the tasks that arose in the IT team.

Our team leader had recovered from his burnout only a few weeks before I left the yoga center and began a slow reintegration only after I had already made the decision for myself to end my contract as an employee.

Another try

Even after I stopped working for the yoga center because of the heavy workload, but went back to work for an IT company in the private sector again, yoga didn’t let me go.

At this point, I was already so influenced by the yoga beliefs that were repeated over and over again at the yoga center that I thought I just hadn’t practiced yoga seriously enough.

After all, as employees at the yoga center, we really didn’t have much time for actual yoga practice, so I ambitiously wanted to give it another try: As recommended in the books of the already deceased yoga master, I jot down exactly how long I meditated, did asanas or studied the Bhagavad Gita in the morning before work.

Most evening yoga classes only scratched the surface of yoga compared to my serious efforts to meditate, sometimes several times a day. So I found it difficult to connect with other people until I started a meditation group myself and led another one temporarily.

This also allowed me to put some of my knowledge from the yoga teacher training to practical use in introducing others to meditation techniques. Although my time at the yoga center should have been a fast track to enlightenment due to all the “karma yoga”, my own meditation experiences were limited.

Friends told me that I had somehow become more relaxed, but to this day I don’t know if that was actually from the meditation or simply because I had left the stressful time at the yoga center behind.

My personal feeling of the meditation practice was that on the one hand there was actually a certain relaxation, but on the other hand I was more afraid of losing this calm again, so basically I had become more sensitive than before.

In order to better understand my negative experience in the yoga center and my own attempts, I then also attended two seminars in the Czech Republic and Hungary with a “real” Indian guru who toured Europe for a time.

His followers believed that he actually had supernatural abilities such as clairvoyance or healing, which I personally found hard to believe. In fact, when I first saw his followers rallying around him, I had to think of something completely different: I thought it must have looked something like this when Jesus was on this earth and the many people came to him with their requests.

The consequences

Where the yoga practice had led me only really became apparent to me when I was put to a real test: For reasons that were unclear at first, I could no longer eat properly within a few days, whereupon I was first simply told to recuperate at home for a few days.

However, I had such problems swallowing that I could hardly drink anything anymore – at the next visit to the doctor, I needed an infusion to stabilize my fluid balance.

In such a situation, the human body initially reacts with a massive drop in performance. I could no longer work, actually only lie down, and certainly no longer practice yoga.

So while I had to wait for my blood results, I realized the full implications of action-oriented religions like yoga: in order to make progress in yoga, I would have had to do something, and now I had like a wall in front of me through which I could do nothing at all.

But even worse than the physical consequences of this involuntary fasting were the mental ones: I literally became so thin-skinned and irritable that I became very difficult for those around me and also could no longer concentrate on spiritual practices like meditation.

On top of that, there was the fear – you know that a person can actually only survive a few days without drinking, and a few weeks at most without eating. But what I didn’t know was: What would now await me after death? How many incarnations would I have before me until enlightenment? Ten? A hundred? A thousand?

After further days, which seemed like weeks, I was diagnosed with an inflammation of the stomach lining. This slowly clarified the cause of my physical complaints.

But also spiritually, through these experiences, I was now able to give myself a clear diagnosis: The yoga practice had destroyed any hope I had previously had of a beautiful life after death.

The return

I cannot report any “special” miracle with which God healed me from my illness. I had the banal realization: If I don’t eat again now, I will die, and if I want to live, I have to eat something.

After having been able to drink only a small amount of juice or milk for more than two weeks, I slowly began to tolerate “solid” food (like mashed potatoes) again from that point on, even before the inflammation was actually treated.

But it would be several months before I regained the strength to manage my daily life normally and gradually return to work full time – and to close the yoga chapter, I had one more thing to do:

Although I was still struggling with intolerance to various foods, I went to Austria to a yoga center of the original tradition, from which the center in Germany where I had done my yoga teacher training four years earlier had split off.

I wanted to know if I was really practicing the “right” yoga or perhaps I had simply been mistaken. And indeed, the focus there was more on traditional yoga, rather than offering seminars on various spiritual topics. But the essential practices were the same as I had learned in the yoga teacher training.

With that, I had exhausted all my possibilities to get involved with yoga, but I still hadn’t found peace from the difficult phase I had been in when I was sick.

On top of that, I had to move twice at that time. It wasn’t until I was sitting on the bed in my new, minimalist apartment in a quiet moment that I really realized the dead end I had gone to.

Suddenly I realized that the only possible way was to go back, to the God I already knew and who knew me better than I knew myself. After a long time, I prayed to Jesus again for the first time.

After confessing to him all my mistake of getting so involved in yoga, I got the feeling of a true inner peace for the first time again. In the next few days, I cleaned my apartment of the Hindu symbols I still possessed and sought contact with the Christians in my city.


My personal experience with yoga is strongly influenced by the fact that when working at the yoga center, it was mainly performance that counted. Whether intended or not, I took away the impression: those who work more than others also make the most progress “spiritually”.

In any case, this reflects well the religious worldview that stands behind yoga: Through the cycle of reincarnation, you have to “work your way up” through your own efforts until you finally achieve salvation.

In retrospect, I am not only grateful to God for preserving me through the complicated period of illness that eventually led me to become aware of the impasse I had reached through yoga.

I am also grateful that through all this involvement with yoga, I have come to better understand the practical implications of worldview differences – it has also sharpened my view of the Christian faith.

Now I again have the certainty of going to God in heaven after this life, and I don’t have to worry about how many more “incarnations” are ahead of me and what suffering might be included in them.

I have realized again that the true God is a God of forgiveness who accepts us again, even if we ourselves have gone astray. All this not through my own efforts, but through God’s love.