Seems that Americans will try to do just about anything these days, so I guess it is no surprise that I get funny looks when I tell friends I won’t go to a yoga class with them, let alone even consider it as an acceptable form of “exercise” for myself. And with so many church-going folk spending more time on a yoga mat than in church (or maybe even in the word) without even a second thought to it, we don’t have to wonder long why the American church is in such disrepair.
The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning “to bind, join, attach, and yoke – to direct and concentrate one’s attention on, to use and apply.” It also means “union” or “communion.” It is generally translated as “union of the individual atma (loosely translated to mean soul) with Paramatma, the universal soul.” This may be understood as union with the divine by integration of body, mind, and spirit. In essence, one who attempts yoga may loosely be referred to as a yogi.
Yoga is a path for transcending the ordinary mind (basically suspending thought) in order to merge with your “higher self” or “God self.” So when yoga means “to yoke,” this is to yoke with Brahman (i.e., the “Infinite,” the “Universal Spirit,” the impersonal force that the Hindus call “god”) via the realization of an altered state of consciousness, thereby theoretically releasing oneself from the bondage of endless reincarnation. Yoga comes out of the Hindu Vedas. It can be traced back to a religious leader, Patanjali. Shiva, one of Hinduism’s three most powerful gods, was known as “The Destroyer” and he’s called Yogi Swara or the “Lord of Yoga.”
There are many forms of yoga today. Of roughly the 10 most common in America, hatha-yoga is one of the most popular practiced by those looking for relaxation and stretching exercise. But there is a common misconception in the West that hatha-yoga is just a neutral form of exercise, an alternative for those who hate to run or lift. But hatha-yoga is one of the six recognized systems of orthodox Hinduism and is at its roots most definitely religious and mystical. It is also one of the most difficult and potentially spiritually dangerous forms of yoga.
While there a number of translations, the term hatha is derived from the verb hath, which means ‘to oppress.’ Hatha-yoga is designed to suppress the flow of psychic energies through channels (symbolic, or psychic passages on either side of the spinal column), thereby forcing the ‘serpent power’ or the kundalini force to rise through the central psychic channel in the spine (the sushumna) and up through the chakras, the supposed psychic centers of human personality and power.
Yoga scholar Hans Rieker declares, “Kundalini [is] the mainstay of all yoga practices.” Swami Vivekananda summarizes the kundalini experience as follows: “When awakened through the practice of spiritual disciplines, it rises through the spinal column, passes through the various centres, and at last reaches the brain, whereupon the yogi experiences samadhi, or total absorption in the godhead.”
Despite the health benefits it proponents claim, 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, 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.”
Westerners mistakenly believe that one can practice hatha-yoga apart from the philosophical and religious beliefs that undergird it. This is an absolutely false belief. … You cannot separate the exercises from the philosophy. … ‘The movements themselves become a form of meditation.’ The continued practice of the exercises will, whether you … intend it or not, eventually influence you toward an Eastern/mystical perspective. That is what it is meant to do! … There is, by definition, no such thing as ‘neutral’ Yoga” (Like Lambs to the Slaughter, pp. 93-95).
Yet a significant number of American Christians either experiment with yoga or become adherents of some yoga discipline. Most seem unaware that yoga cannot be neatly separated into physical and spiritual dimensions. The physical is the spiritual in yoga, and the exercises and disciplines of yoga are meant to connect with the divine.
Douglas R. Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and a respected specialist on the New Age Movement, warns Christians that yoga is not merely about physical exercise or health. “All forms of yoga involve occult assumptions,” he warns, “even hatha yoga, which is often presented as a merely physical discipline.” While most adherents of yoga avoid the more exotic forms of ritualized sex that are associated with tantric yoga, virtually all forms of yoga involve an emphasis on channeling sexual energy throughout the body as a means of spiritual enlightenment.
Dr. Albert Mohler cites in a recent blog, “When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga. The contradictions are not few, nor are they peripheral. The bare fact is that yoga is a spiritual discipline by which the adherent is trained to use the body as a vehicle for achieving consciousness of the divine. Christians are called to look to Christ for all that we need and to obey Christ through obeying his Word. We are not called to escape the consciousness of this world by achieving an elevated state of consciousness, but to follow Christ in the way of faithfulness. . . . The embrace of yoga is a symptom of our postmodern spiritual confusion, and, to our shame, this confusion reaches into the church.”
If you are interested in physical exercises that are designed to improve your health, you should not consider yoga, which is designed for death, and teaches how to reach this state of consciousness where you achieve a better reincarnation. Even the physical yoga positions come directly from Hindu scriptures, and are designed to put you into a state of consciousness where you imagine that you are God. If you are a Christian who thinks you are getting relaxation or exercise, you are really getting Hinduism! If you think you are getting science, you are actually getting religion. This is NOT a practice that should be embraced by Christians or anyone who wishes to remain free from seducing spirits.