Integrative Nutrition Blog

Christian Yoga, Muslim Zumba? Finding Balance When Religion & Exercise Clash

March 27, 2012

What happens when one’s religious beliefs clash with making healthy lifestyle choices?

If there’s one thing that most religions around the world agree upon, it’s the importance of respecting one’s body. Ranging from the Christian tenet that the body is a temple created in the image of God to the Buddhist belief that a healthy body enables us to live longer in order to benefit others, most religious practices emphasize that caring for your health can in fact be a spiritual act.

As an essential source of primary food, spirituality not only offers a sense of community and comfort, but it also often explicitly rejects unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, excessive drinking, and overeating. Many studies show that religious people enjoy greater emotional and physical health than those who are nonreligious.

Yet clashes between religion and healthy behaviors can and do arise. A recent MSNBC article highlighted the conflict that some devout Christians feel towards yoga. Despite the exercise’s well-known physical, mental, and emotional benefits, there are concerns that yoga poses, interpreted as offerings to Hindu gods, are incompatible with Christianity.

A growing number of Christ-centered yoga practices have achieved what many Christians feel to be an acceptable solution. Classes begin with a Bible scripture that forms the theme for the class, and instructors replace the Sanskrit pose names with secular alternatives – Chaturanga is rather called “high-to-low push-up.”

Other religions have fitness struggles, too. A recent Washington Post article discussed the challenges that some Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women face when trying to exercise. The abaya or long skirts that women in both religions wear to maintain modesty are a major hindrance to working out. The solution? Special women-only Zumba classes that allow devout Muslim women to dress more comfortably and work up a sweat.

Other women, such as Orthodox Jew and passionate runner Diana Kurcfeld, are forming support networks to encourage religious women to jog and eat more healthily. Together they face issues such as running in long sleeves even on the hottest days and bringing kosher snacks and drinks to races. “In some Orthodox circles, it’s considered immodest for a woman to be out running,” she said. “It used to be really, really frowned on, but attitudes are changing.”

As always, living a healthy life is all about finding balance – not just between exercise and spirituality, but also in our relationships, career, and all other aspects of our lives, too. Just as there’s no one-size-fits-all diet, there’s no single type of lifestyle that works for everyone, so we encourage you to find the balance that works best for you.

Has your healthy lifestyle ever been in conflict with your religious beliefs? Have you found solutions to satisfy both your health and your faith?

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