An American pastor has provoked a religious row with Hindu leaders after denouncing yoga as a 'pagan' and 'demonic' practice.
Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, Seattle, is waging a campaign against the increasing popularity of yoga in sports and church halls throughout the United States, warning that it is 'pagan' in its roots.
"Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots?
"Totally. Yoga is demonic. If you just sign up for a little yoga class, you're signing up for a little demon class," he said, according to The Seattle Times.
His comments appeared to reflect a growing concern among Christian preachers in the United States as the number of people practicing yoga has soared beyond 15 million.
Last month Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler warned his followers of the dangers of chanting 'Om' – the droning sound used by Hindus to praise the divine – and inward meditation.
"Christians are not called to empty the mind or to see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine. Believers are called to meditate upon the Word of God – an external Word that comes to us by divine revelation – not to meditate by means of incomprehensible syllables," he wrote.
Their campaign provoked an Indian backlash, and ridicule from Hindu and Christian leaders.
"Yoga kills stress, violence and hatred. How can it be called demonic?" asked Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, one of India's leading Hindu spiritual leaders, while a Catholic spokesman said his American colleagues had misunderstood yoga.
Father Emmanuel, of Delhi's Catholic Archdiocese, told a television channel that "many in western countries do not understand what yoga is or how it helps."
"There is a view in some churches that yoga is anti-Christianity. While it is a Hindu practice, it is certainly not anti-Christianity or demonic. One can be a practising Christian and still do yoga," he said.