Is there such a thing as “Holy” Yoga?

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.

However, reflecting the dominant religious and philosophical themes of this post-Christian age – religious pluralism and postmodernism, many Christians are now embracing what they have re-christened as “Holy Yoga” as an integral aspect of physical fitness and a devotional for connecting with God.

In 2012, the Purpose Driven author, Rick Warren’s Saddleback church announced to its members:

Holy Yoga is a worship experience combining the physical benefits of world class yoga with an intentional dedication to God through prayer, scripture, and contemporary Christian music. We breathe in His goodness and grace…and exhale tension and stress. It is coed, noncompetitive, and Christ honoring in fellowship. Come join us…!” [1]

The influx of this practice in the church and its prevalence among Nigerian Christians (many of whom are upwardly mobile and urbane) necessitated this piece.

Yoga: an unholy offshoot from an unholy tree

Many sincere Christians have asked: Is yoga simply an exercise that helps keep the body slim and healthy? Does it have occultic origins? Can it be practiced without its Eastern religious overtones? Is it suitable for Christians just to gain physical benefit without implications?

To answer these questions, one has to dig back to the very roots of Yoga, to the religion from which it sprang: Hinduism.

Once you have a proper understanding of the philosophy and principles of Hinduism, it won’t be difficult to make up your mind about yogic practices.

According to a reference work, Hinduism is ‘‘the major continuing and connected religions of India, which have now spread throughout the world.’’ [2]

Hinduism is not a monolithic or organized religion with a linear chain of history. “The paradox of Hinduism was its ability to adapt itself to a mass polytheism while simultaneously advancing monotheistic tendencies.” [3]

Another source explains it further:

“Hinduism is not really one religion, but many religions that interact and blend with one another. There is no known founder of Hinduism, no creedal statements of faith to sign and no agreed-upon authority. In fact, one can be a good Hindu and believe in one god, many gods, or no God at all!” [4]

Hindu scriptures include the four Vedas; their commentaries, called the Upanishads (also known as Vedanta); the Mahabharata (of which the Bhagavad Gita is a small portion); the Ramayana; and other lesser books.

The early vestiges of the Hindu religion have been found in an ancient text consisting of about a thousand hymns known as the Rig Veda, probably compiled circa 1500 B.C.

“This makes Hinduism the world’s second oldest religion after Judaism, which was established by God’s covenant with Abraham, somewhere between 2000 to 1800 B.C.” [5]

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 3600-1900 B.C. There have been many seals found at Indus Valley sites which had engraved upon them pictures that some have related to later Hinduism. The Encyclopedia of Hinduism explains:

“One is the ‘proto-Shiva’ seal, which shows a person, seated in a cross-lehhed position, with a headdress with horns on it and what appears to be an erect phallus. The headdress is said to relate to the later god Shiva’s title of ‘Lord of the Animals,’ … Some see his seated posture as being the yogic lotus position. Shiva is known for his yogic practices.” [6]

Note also that Shiva, one of the principal deities of Hinduism is called “the Destroyer” and the authoritative 15th century text Hathayoga-Pradipika, declares that lord Shiva was the first yoga teacher.

This connection is critical, because the assertion that yoga is a neutral practice that can be utilized by Christians who don’t worship the Hindu pantheon is at best disingenuous and at worst, spiritually dangerous.

The book, Hindu World, calls yoga “a code of ascetic practices, mainly pre-Aryan in origin, containing relics of many primitive conceptions and observances.”

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 today.

The work defines yoga 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.

A reference work has this to say about hatha yoga:

‘‘Originally a part of Raja-yoga as taught by Patanjali [perhaps second-third centuries A.D.], but now frequently detached as a yoga to seek mental and physical health. Its purpose is to locate and activate the cakras (centres of energy) and thus to raise the kundalini (dormant spiritual power) to life. It works especially through bodily postures (asana) and control of breath (pranayama), uniting the ha (breath of the sun) with tha (breath of the moon). The reputed founder is Gorakhnath.’’ [7]

Uncoiling the Serpent

The physical aspects of Hatha yoga are familiar to many Christians. Like most yoga, Hatha yoga also incorporates breathing, relaxation, and meditation (and there are musicals tailored to this end)

However it is the first five steps of the eight-step process of raja-yoga. It starts with the external and ends with the internal. It’s like peeling off the layers of an onion. A person begins with the physical and ends up with the more spiritual and occultic methods.

“When this [first five steps is done], one is to begin the three internal steps of raja-yoga. The first five steps of Yoga have been conscious external methods of preparation for the internal goals of raja-yoga.” [8]

There’s also Kundalini yoga, which is supposedly meant to awaken the serpent goddess from the base of the humsn spine to produce an altered state of consciousness and trigger violent manifestations.

The late El Collie, a Kundalini enthusiast and blogger, wrote:

“When the Kundalini awakens, tremendous power is unleashed. The resulting expansion of consciousness affects every element of our being, from our biological functions to our personal relationships to our concept of reality to our influence in the world. We are irrevocably changed in ways we could not have imagined and in ways we may never fully comprehend.

“For some of us, the risen Kundalini gives us our first or most unmistakable contact with the Spirit… Kundalini is Shakti, the Great Mother Goddess, the living energy that daily make her vibrant presence known in my body and my psyche. She is as fierce and powerful as she is mysterious and enticing.” [9]

However, it’s agreed by all practitioners that:

“All paths [of Yoga] lead ultimately to the same destination – to union with Brahman or God…” [10]

So it doesn’t really matter whether one practices a physical or non-physical yoga, inasmuch as it the overall purpose of yoga is aimed towards attaining a “higher state of consciousness” or “self-realization” with a spiritual force, it opens up the door for one to interact with the spirit realm.

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

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.

In an article on ‘‘Yoga and Hinduism,’’ the authors wrote:

‘‘In ancient Indian philosophy yoga was not meant to be a fitness regime. Rather, it was a means to salvation or liberation (moksha) through the isolation of the soul from the body. Out-of-body experiences are still the goal of some popular forms of yoga. Later, after other schools of Indian philosophy had adopted yoga, its goal was reinterpreted as the union of the human self with the cosmic self, or God” [11]

The unholy feet of the Eastern gurus

It must be noted that Yoga was not shipped directly from India to Africa. With the exception of the Kemetic Yoga, much of it was imported to Africa from the west.

The spread of yoga to the west started in the latter half of the 20th century. In 1965, the U.S. immigration law was rewritten to cancel racial qualifications and restore rights of naturalization to Asians.

Through this, many Hindu gurus found their way to America giving rise to the Hare Krishna movement, and Transcendental Meditation, a close adjunct of yoga, which was popularized by Maharishi Yogi and Hollywood stars.

The India-born journalist, Caryl Matrisciana, in her book Out of India: A True Story About the New Age Movement, points out that classic Hinduism was not as mission-minded as evangelical Christianity, but during centuries of British rule learned several effective missionary strategies from British missionaries.

As a result, by the beginning of the 21st century there were over 70,000 yoga instructors active in more than 20,000 locations across America, including business centers, hospitals, and education facilities, spreading Eastern mysticism throughout the entire country.

In a 1993 publication, an American-born Hindu monk named Palaniswami predicted:

‘‘A small army of yoga missionaries – hatha, raja, siddha, and kundalini — beautifully trained in the last 10 years, is about to set upon the Western world. They may not call themselves Hindu, but Hindus know where yoga came from and where it goes.’’ [12]

Holy Yoga’ – an oxymoron

In the 20th century, a large percentage of Western including many American churches, fell prey to the dubious syncretism championed by the ecumenical movement and as more churches were mired in liberalism and pragmatism, the concepts of Hinduism began to find their way in.

These Christians while seeking for means to straddle two opposite concepts and revelations to birth what they call “Christian Yoga,” were also attempting to detach yoga from Hinduism by turning history on its head.

Brooke Boon, the founder of Holy Yoga Ministries and an active Christian Yoga instructor wrote:

’’…yoga predates Hinduism by at least one thousand years. Yoga was not created by Hindus but was indeed co-opted by Hindus as a major part of their religion.” [13]

Let’s accept for the sake of argument that yoga did predate Hinduism by a millennium, the basic question still remains: did it originate from an Abrahamic worldview or ancient paganism?

The Concise Dictionary of Religion defines Yogic religions as “those religions, ultimately of Indian origin, that have at their core one or another form of the practice of Yoga. The major Yogic religions are Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.” [14]

The same author in another reference work notes that, “Yogic religions are the main rivals to Abramic religions,’’ which he defines as: “Religious traditions that trace their ancestory to the patriarch Abraham. The major religions in this grouping are Christianity, Islam and Judaism.” [15]

Since yoga emerged from a religious system that stands opposed to the Judeo-Christian faith, mixing it with Christian worship doesn’t alter its nature. It’s still unholy. Mixing milk with dung will not produce chocolate fudge.

The Bible directly warns against this adoption of pagan traditions among the nations:

And after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates… ” (Deut. 12:30-31) see also 2 Kings 16:10-16.

It’s interesting to note that Boon admits that yoga opens people up to spiritual influences but claims that by rebaptising it as “holy,” it will somehow connect people to Jesus Christ. Definitely not the Jesus of the Bible.

“Yoga absolutely does open a person up to spiritual influences. But in Holy Yoga, the only spiritual influence we are open to is that of Jesus Christ. … We must completely co-opt the amazing gift of yoga for Christianity. That’s what we’re doing with Holy Yoga.’’ [16]

Proper breathing techniques have always been very important in yoga practice. Traditional, non-Christian yogis teach that deep breathing can translate into deeper meditation and union with a divine being. Christian Yoga instructors also teach that proper breathing skills are crucial to meet with God.

In their desperation to legitimate this with the Bible, they appeal to Genesis 2:7 where God breathed into the nostrils of Adam making him a living soul. But that was describing creation, it is not about relationship with God (which Adam lost later).

Elliot Miller points out the components of yoga that grate against the Christian faith:

“There are some rather sneaky elements in hatha yoga that help explain why enrolling in the neighborhood yoga class would be a dubious decision for the Christian. First, teachers and students typically greet each other with the Sanskrit namaste, which means, ‘I honor the Divine within you.’ This is an affirmation of pantheism and therefore a denial of the true God revealed in the Bible. Furthermore, hatha yoga classes typically conclude with ‘a 10-15 minute relaxation period to relax the body and still the mind.’ As part of this process students often are given a mantra to repeat in meditation or chanting. Hindu mantras are generally the names of Hindu gods and goddesses.” [17]

Not only has Hatha yoga found a place within the body of Christ, Bhakti yoga which had been utilized as a tool of devotion to Hindu deities has also been snagged on as a technique to encounter “the One” (a New Age term for God).

Nancy Roth, an assistant priest at Christ Episcopal Church in Oberlin, Ohio, attempted to describe “an incarnated Yoga theology.”

She said, “[i]t did not matter that we had chanted ‘OM’ or that the exercises had Hindu names. My awareness of my own ‘incarnated-ness’ drew me closer to the Incarnate One … The One I encountered, as I lay on the gym floor with my body relaxed and my mind and spirit attentive, was the God I knew in Christ Jesus.” [18]

The “OM” mantra is regarded as the most sacred syllable in Hinduism. It is said that the syllable contains three sounds, a, u, and m, sometimes written “aum” in English.

“The three sounds stand for very many things, including the three parts of the universe (earth, atmosphere, sky) and the three major gods (Brahma, Vishnu, Siva).” [19] Chanting it is an implicit endorsement of polytheism (Exodus 20:1-3).

The spiritual experiences described by these yogis (whether ‘Christian’ or otherwise) and the beings they encounter measure up with the kingdom of the occult.

Rabi R. Maharaj, an ex-Yogi who became a Christian wrote:

“Although the peace I experienced in meditation so easily deserted me, the occult forces that my practice of Yoga cultivated and aroused lingered on and began to manifest themselves in public. Knowing that without these displays of the supernatural my following could never be very great, I welcomed this growing spiritual power” [20]

David Purseglove, a therapist and transpersonal counselor mentioned some of the crises common to people who get involved in Eastern meditation:

“Frightening ESP and other parapsychological occurrences… [spontaneous] out-of-body experiences or accurate precognitive ‘takes’… profound psychological encounter with death and subsequent rebirth… the awakening of the serpent power (Kundalini)…energy streaming up the spine, tremors, spasms and sometimes violent shaking and twisting… ” [21]

Gopi Krishna also warned of the dangers of the practice of seemingly innocuous Hatha Yoga:

“In Hatha Yoga the breathing exercises are more strenuous, attended by some abnormal positions of the chin, the diaphragm, the tongue, and other parts of the body to prevent expulsion or inhalation of air into the lungs in order to induce a state of suspended breathing. This can have drastic effects on the nervous system and the brain, and it is obvious that such a discipline can be very dangerous. Even in India, only those prepared to face death dare to undergo the extreme discipline of Hatha Yoga.” [22]

He also stated that the reason why Hatha yoga is very dangerous is because it can cause Kundalini arousal.This arousal typically results in temporary states of insanity, radical changes in the physical body, and possession by a demonic spirit.

Caryl Matrisciana explained that the exercises and breathing techniques of yoga actually do release the same neurological energies that are released by abuse of certain narcotics, and by other mystical practices.

Very often the goal of both drug abuse and Yoga meditation is to escape from the intense pressures of real life. Both produce physiological changes in the body and brain, and euphoric experiences. She pointed out that Christian Yoga meditation brings about the very same state of altered consciousness produced by Hatha Yoga, New Age meditation, and several hallucinogenic drugs. [23]

From the facts presented, it’s clear that Yoga – in whatever guise – opens the door of people’s lives to demonic bondage. Instead of being yoked to vicious spirits, Jesus invites all to Himself:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28)

Yoga constitutes a “pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God,” and as good soldiers, we should fight the good fight against all demonic lies, including the one that says that Eastern-born yoga is compatible with Bible Christianity (2 Cor. 10:5)

Christians need to say “No” to Yoga, no matter how popular it may be or whoever is offering it to them.

Notes

[1] https://muddystreams.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/saddleback-church-and-holy-yoga/

[2] The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, John Bowler, editor, Oxford Univ. Press, 1999, 430.

[3] Encyclopedic Dictionary of Cults, Sects, and World Religions, Larry Nichols, George Mather and Alvin Schmidt, Zondervan 2009, p. 426

[4] Fritz Ridenour, So What’s the Difference? Regal Books, 2001, p. 91

[5] Ronald Enroth, Evangelizing the Cults, Vine Books, 1990, p. 21 “Hinduism”

[6] The Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Constance Jones and James Ryan, Facts in File, 2007 p. xviii

[7] The Oxford Dictionary, p. 415

[8] Ronalson Carlson, Transcendental Meditation: Relaxation or Religion? Chicago: Moody Press, 1978, 41-42

[9] El Collie, “Kundalini: Danger – High Voltage Kundalini Awakening,” http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/kundalini/id/35190

[10] Lucy Lidell, The Sivananda Companion to YOGA, Fireside Books, 1983, p. 18

[11] Ronald Enroth and Vishal Mangalwadi, A Guide to New Religious Movements, InterVarsity Press, 2005, 45

[12] Stan Guthrie, Hinduism Gains a Foothold in America, Christianity Today, Feb. 8, 1993, p. 50.

[13] Holy Yoga: Exercise for the Christian Body and Soul, NY: Faith-Words, 2007 p. 31

[14] Irving Hexam, Vogelstein Press, Canada, 1993 p. 237

[15] Irving Hexam, Pocket Dictionary of New Religious Movements, InterVarsity Press, 2002, p. 120

[16] Holy Yoga p. 33

[17] Elliott Miller, The Yoga Boom: A Call for Christian Discernment, Christian Research Journal vol. 31, no. 4 pp. 35-36.

[18] An Invitation to Christian Yoga, Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 2001, p. 1

[19] The Encyclopedia of World Religions (Revised Edition), Robert Ellwood and Gregory Alles, Facts on File, 2007, p. 328.

[20] Ravi Maharaj and Dave Hunt, The Death of a Guru, Harvest House, Oregon, 1977, 75.

[21] Naomi Steinfield, “Passages In: For People in Spiritual Crisis,” in AHP Perspective, Feb. 1986, p. 9

[22] Gopi Krishna, “The true aim of yoga,” Psychic (Jan.-Feb. 1973):13, in John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs, 605.

[23] Out of India: A True Story About the New Age Movement. Silverton, OR: Lighthouse Trails Pub., 2008, p. 187

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