7th Nov 2012. By Rev Dr Steven Kau –
Yoga exercises sound so beneficial. Books shops and libraries are full of yoga books. Doctors, clergy, teachers and professional people practice it. Yoga claims to work on the muscular, glandular and physical nervous systems. Wonderful physical and emotional benefits are promised. Indeed, yoga is a complex subject, with many different types but this article will be confined to the Christian perspective.
Many Christians practicing yoga have expressed indignation when its connections to Eastern Mystical Religions are pointed out. Some Christians even declare that when they are relaxing or practicing yoga postures, they keep their thoughts on Jesus and are therefore protected. Both Christians and yoga teachers are heard to loudly deny that yoga is any kind of a religion but rather a beneficial exercise.
“Yoga purists are bent out of shape.” This was the headlines of a recent article in the Minneapolis Star tribune newspaper. The article explained that traditional Yoga “experts contend that spiritual elements are being profaned by fad versions of the ancient practice.’ So what are these “fad versions” of yoga that are upsetting ? The article cites as an example the “millions of Americans practicing yoga to improve flexibility, strengthen muscles and relieve stress.” The problem with this, according to the yogis quoted in the article is that yoga was never designed to be an exercise, yet alone an exercise fad. Rather, yoga is an ancient Eastern religious practice, intended to unite a person’s soul with the impersonal, universal force called “god.”
PRINCIPLES BEHIND YOGA EXERCISES
In truth, yoga exercises are NOT just of a physical nature. They cannot be separated from their mystical purposes. Yoga teaches that there are some 72,000 invisible psychic channels called nadis, which constitute another dimensional body. This “subtle” body is claimed to connect to the real body in seven predominant places, ranging from the base of the spine to the top of the head. The teachings of Hatha (physical) Yoga teaches that at the base of the spine lies coiled a great serpent power called Kundalini.
A former yoga teacher for ten years and former vice-principle of a large yoga school, now a Christian comments: “Every posture is designed to stimulate this power to uncoil itself and rise up through the nerve centres in the spine, which are closely related to the endocrine glands, until it finally reaches the pituitary gland – the thousand petal lotus – and when this occurs after long and disciple practice, perfect enlightenment is achieved.” A Christian need not be instructed on the significance of the original serpent, the Devil.
THE PURPOSE OF YOGA
The purpose of the yoga exercises is to align the “subtle” body with the real one and thereby altar the consciousness of the practitioner in a specific way. The positioning of the body in the yoga postures opens up the practitioner to “vibrations’ which teaches him/her the “wisdom” of yoga. As a person proceeds with the physical yoga exercises, it will not be long before he is asked to practice the “meditation” along with the postures. Often, this begins with just an urging to “empty the mind of all thoughts,” and then progresses into real Eastern meditation. Christian meditation as taught throughout the Bible is a FILLING of the mind with the words and precepts of God and is the exact opposite of yoga meditation.
PHYSICAL BUT NOT SPIRITUAL – REALLY?
Skeptical Christians should go to their public library and read ANY authoritative book on Hatha Yoga (physical yoga). These various books will make it clear that physical yoga is just the first step to spiritual yoga and its roots are mystical. The Sanskrit word “yoga” literally means to be yoked in union. And the goal of every yogi is to use the mystical practice of yoga to lose their personality and individuality and to become one with the monistic-pantheistic spiritual force. This is done through Hatha Yoga (the physical disciplines) where one seeks to call up what the Eastern religion say is the Kundalini or spiritual force described as a “coiled white serpent of light” to aid them in their transcendence to impersonal spiritual monism. There should be no doubt about it, yoga is a 2,000 year old practice for very specific spiritual and occult purposes.
Many Christians practicing yoga say, “I only go for the exercises only; I don’t practice the spiritual part.” That’s impossible because the postures themselves (asanas) are acts of worship. It is the first methods of arousing the Kundalini (coiled serpent) The poses that they so diligently practice in their stretching are named after deities and what one is actually doing is calling on them. In that wonderful pose, they are bowing and for all intents and purposes worshipping that deity and don’t know it. No one can deny that stretching helps the blood flow; that breathing in oxygen helps our overall health.
CAN YOGA BE HARMFUL?
Despite its touted health benefits, there are numerous warnings in authoritative yoga literature which caution that yoga can be physically, mentally and spiritually harmful if not practiced correctly.
For instance, Swami Prabhavananda warns of the potentially dangerous physical effect that might result from yoga breathing exercises: “Unless properly done, there is a good chance of injuring the brain. And those who practice such breathing without proper supervision can suffer a disease which no known science or doctor can cure.” (Swami Prabhavananda – Yoga and Mysticism Ca, Vedanta Press, 1972, p.18)
In addition, many yogis warn that yoga practice can endanger one’s sanity. In describing the awakening of “kundalini” (coiled serpent power) Gopi Krishna records his own experience as follows: “It was variable for many years, painful, obsessive….I have passed through almost all the stages of …..mediumistic, psychotic and other types of mind; for some time I was hovering between sanity and insanity.” (Gopi Krishna – The Awakening of Kundalini (New York: Seabury Press, 1971, p.101) Finally, however, from a Christian perspective it seems that yoga could also be spirituallt harmful. To understand why, let’s return to the experience of “kundalini”. Yoga scholar Hans Rieker declares, “Kundalini is the mainstay of all yoga practices.” (Hans Ulrich Rieker – The Yoga of Light : Hatha Yoga Pradipika (New York Seabury Press, 1971, p.101)
But what exactly is Kundalini and why is it so central to yoga practice?
Swami Vivekananda summarizes the Kundalini experience as follows: “When awakened through the practice of spiritual disciplines, it raises through the spinal column, passes through the various centers and at last reaches the brain, whereupon the yogi experiences Samadhi, or total absorption in the Godhead.” (Swami Vivekananda, Raja Yoga – (New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1970 p.17)
Reading such descriptions of the Kundalini or coiled serpent power, the Christian can almost hear the hiss of that “serpent of old….who deceives the whole world.” (Rev. 12:9) Swami Ajaya once said, “The main teaching of Yoga is that man’s nature is divine.” (Swami Rama, Lectures on Yoga: Practical Lessons on Yoga (Glenview, IL Himalayan International Institute of Yoga, Science and Philosophy, 1976).
Obviously this is not the Christian view of man. But if the goal of yoga is to realize one’s essential divinity (not exercise for your health) through union with god, then shouldn’t the Christian view the practice that leads to this realization as potentially spiritually harmful?
In the light of such evidence, it may appear that this question – “Can yoga philosophy be separated from yoga practice?” or say it another way, “Can I only do the postures and exercises and not be involved with the spiritual forces behind it?” The answer is no. And this is certainly the view of many yoga scholars. Dave Fetcho, formerly of the Ananada Marga Yoga Society, has written, “Physical yoga, according to its classical definitions, is inherently and functionally incapable of being separated from Eastern religious metaphysics.” (Dave Fetcho, “Yoga” cited in Ankerberg and Weldon, Encyclopedia of new Age belief, p. 596)
What’s more, yoga authorities Feuerstein and Miller, in discussing yoga postures (asana) and breathing exercises (pranayama) indicates that such practices are more than just another form of physical exercise; indeed they “are psychosomatic exercises.” (George Feuerstein and Jeanine Miller Yoga and Beyond: Essays in Indian Philosophy (New York: Schocken, 1972 p. 27-28)
As you read through Scriptures, you will not find one example of God tolerating His people participating in pagan religious activities. Rather, over and over again God explicitly condemns this. So, why should we think that just because yoga has some exercise benefits, that God’s standards have now changed? Why should we think that a pagan religious practice, even one that may work, is suddenly acceptable in God’s eyes?
God calls His people to be set-apart, to be salt and light to the world.
Rev. Dr. Steven Kau is the pastor of Faith Covenant Church ( FCC ). The church address is at 1-1 Jalan Putra Mahkota 7/5B, 47650 Putra Heights, Subang Jaya, Selangor. Sunday service in English starts at 10 am. His email contact – email@example.com
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