Yoga has gained a worldwide appeal today because having a slim and healthy body is a current concern. More people are hitting the gym and turning to health clubs and are being introduced to yoga. In the medical field, yoga is at times prescribed for people suffering from stress and frustration.
Some churches have even embraced “Christian yoga!” Now, is yoga simply an exercise that helps the body slim and healthy? Can it be practiced without the religious overtones? Is it suitable for Christians?
The word yoga literally means “to yoke” or “bind together” or to harness or control. To a Hindu, yoga is a technique or discipline that leads to union with a great supernatural force or spirit (called Brahman). Its goal is “self-realization” to realize that atman, the individual soul is identical with Brahman, the universal soul i.e you and god are one. The spread of yoga to the West started in the 1960s. Transcedental Meditation (TM), a close adjunct of yoga, was equally popularized by Maharishi Yogi and Hollywood stars.
Historically, yoga dates back many centuries. Figures of people seated in various yoga positions appear on seals found in the Indus valley (present day Pakistan). The Indus valley civilization is dated by archaeologists to 3rd-2nd milleniums B.C. Hindus claim those ancient figures on the seals are images of Shiva (called “the Destroyer”), one of the 3 main deities of Hinduism. The authoritative 15th century text Hathayoga-Pradipika declares that lord Shiva was the first yoga teacher.
The book Hindu World, calls yoga “a code of ascetic practices, mainly pre-Aryan in origin, containing relics of many primitive conceptions and observances.” The yogic methods were handed down orally and later put into detailed written form by the Indian yogic sage Patanjali as the Yoga Sutra which is still the basic yoga instruction book. In it, yoga is defined as “a methodical effort to attain perfection, through the control of the different elements of human nature, physical and psychical.” Thus, yoga cannot be separated from the Eastern religions from which it originated.
There are different types of yoga: Raja, Karma, Bhakti, Jnana, Tantra and Hatha yoga. The physical exercises yoga is Hatha yoga. In Sanskrit, ‘Ha’ means the sun and ‘tha’ means the moon. These exercises are meant to bring opposing yet complimentary occult forces (yin and yang) into balance to enhance physical health and strength. There’s also Kundalini yoga, which is supposedly meant to awaken the serpent goddess from the base of the spine. It’s agreed that: “All paths [of Yoga] lead ultimately to the same destination- to union with Brahman or God…” (Lucy Lidell, The Sivananda Companion to YOGA, 1983, 18)
Yoga was not designed or originally practiced for physical fitness. It’s meant to “yoke” a person to the universal force through a stage called moksha or liberation, which we call death. This is why in Indian ashrams, yoga is often prescribed for old people to assist their demise. Curiously, it is being promoted in Africa and Western climes as benign. Yoga expert, Ken Walker, in the Yoga Journal warns that Eastern meditation, no matter how carefully practiced involves “a whole series of deaths and rebirths…rough frightening times.”
David Purseglove, a transpersonal therapist, warns that Eastern meditation can produce “Frightening ESP and other parapsychological occurrences …out of body experiences … [encounters] with death … awakening of the serpent power (Kundalini) … violent shaking and twisting.”
A couple of years ago, I talked with a friend who practiced yoga in order to have a slim body. Within 2 days of practice, she began to experience intense body heat (and the weather was cold) and carried a large towel everywhere she went. I explained the origin of yoga to her, that as a Christian she needs to renounce the practice. “But it works” she argued. I said “Yes, I know it works, witchcraft spells also work. The point is, is it of God?” No, it’s not. God has forbidden us from abominable practices in His word – even if they work (Deut. 18:9-10). There are many healthy exercises that do not involve occult arts, go for them. Yoga may be effective, but the spiritual price attached to it is deadly.
Rabindranath Maharaji, an ex-Yogi said: “Although the peace I experienced in meditation [came] so easily … the occult forces that my practice of Yoga cultivated and aroused lingered on and began to manifest themselves in public” (Death of a Guru, 1977, 74). Some of these manifestations are described such as “violent shaking, hallucinations, murderous impulses, uncontrollable rage, suicide attempts” (Dave Hunt, Occult Invasion, 1998, 225).
Yoga is not merely a physical exercise. It opens the door of people’s lives to demonic bondage and Christians need to avoid it.