There is a major trend in our eclectic western society that is gaining momentum. It involves a departure from our Judeo-Christian roots (quite often because people have become disenchanted with a powerless expression of Christianity) and a turn toward new age and far eastern concepts and practices that many hope will improve the health of their bodies, minds and souls. One of the chief indicators of this trend is the rise of interest in yoga. The word “yoga” means yoke or union. It speaks of being yoked with God or in union with God. Most westerners do not associate yoga with religion or an approach to the Creator, simply because they are unfamiliar with the deeper levels of practice and the religious doctrine that forms its base. Most westerners relate to yoga only in its simplest form—the physical exercises (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayama) that make up a practice called “Hatha Yoga.”
This type of yoga, on the surface, appears to be nothing more than a highly developed, low impact exercise regimen. What could be wrong with stretching, twisting, bending, breathing, sweating it out and getting the body in shape, regardless of the method used? Absolutely nothing—if that’s all there was to it. However, there are some definite negatives that are almost always, to one degree or another, attached to a yoga experience. Usually, this makes it, not only unwise, but ill-advised for Christians to participate. Before I elucidate on this, let me first share my spiritual resume—something that I believe qualifies me as an authority on this subject.
MY SPIRITUAL RESUME
Before my conversion to Christianity in the fall of 1970, I taught Kundalini Yoga at four universities in Florida. Several hundred students attended my classes. I studied personally under a guru named Yogi Bhajan and ran a yoga ashram (a commune where yoga devotees apply themselves more intensely to its practice). Each day was consumed with intense spiritual disciplines: from 3:30 in the morning until about 8:30 at night. In my classes, I incorporated many Hatha Yoga exercises, as well as other meditation and mantra techniques aimed at experiencing higher supernatural realms. Kundalini Yoga claims to be an amalgamation of many types of yoga, including Hatha. I was very devoted to the practice of yoga until I had an amazing encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. This pivotal experience revealed to me the vast difference between the biblical approach to God and any methodology offered in far eastern religions. Since then, I have never practiced Hatha or any other kind of yoga.
For over forty years of ministry, I have often been asked if it is acceptable for a Christian to practice Hatha Yoga. My answer is always in the negative. When I respond this way, those enquiring are often surprised by my reaction. But the love of God, the love of truth and the love of people all compel me to assume this posture. I believe this is an issue that we will face more and more as our culture evolves under pervasive, syncretistic influences.
THE FIVE REASONS
There are five primary reasons I advise Christians not to practice yoga. I categorize them as: (1) Spiritual Roots; (2) Spiritual Perspective; (3) Spiritual Transfer; (4) Spiritual Intrigue, and; (5) Spiritual Endorsement. Let’s visit each of these points in greater detail:
(1) Spiritual Roots—Hatha Yoga is based on a far eastern view of both the physical and spiritual aspects of a human being. Be assured, these exercises are not just for physical well-being. They have been specifically created to supposedly “open up the chakras.” According to yogic lore, there are seven chakras or spiritual energy centers in the body. The first five are located along the spine. The sixth is the “third eye” and the seventh is the crown chakra, located at the top of the head. Adherents believe that something called “the kundalini” (the latent “serpent power” supposedly coiled at the base of the spine) rises through the chakras especially during deep meditation. This “awakening of the kundalini” is considered essential in bringing a person to “God-consciousness” (which in the New Age or Far Eastern vernacular means a conscious awareness that we are God—which is the absolute opposite of the truth). It is also important to note that each “chakra” is associated with a certain Hindu deity. These deities are all mythical beings, full of human-like frailties and faults.
Practitioners may have no knowledge of these things, but ignorance does not sanctify or purify the system from its attachment to spiritual falsehood. Those who believe in the one true God—if they are faithful to their belief system—cannot involve themselves in anything that accepts the worship of false deities. It may seem like too strong of a statement, but to do so smacks of idolatry and blasphemy.
It is also taught that a yoga practitioner can exit his body through the “chakras,” especially the third eye or the crown chakra, and experience higher, spiritual realms. Hatha Yoga allegedly prepares one for these kinds of experiences. No promises like this are attached to aerobics, isometrics, weight lifting, jogging or other methods of exercising. If these out-of-body experiences were legitimate, leading a person to a real relationship with God, there would be no problem. However, I discovered the opposite to be true. Without a doubt, during those out-of-body experiences I had during extended periods of yogic meditation, I was overtaken by demonic beings that granted me false experiences of the supernatural world. Upon receiving Jesus as Lord of my life, I was delivered from these spirits.
In traditional Hindu teaching, Hatha Yoga is the third stage in Patanjali’s eight-stage plan toward enlightenment (Samadhi).1 The first two stages are Yama (restraint) and Niyama (observance, devotion). In a book titled The Book of the Vedas, Timeless Wisdom from Indian Tradition, we find the following description:
The word Hatha is an amalgam of “sun” (ha) and the word “moon” (tha), and symbolizes the positive (sun) and negative (moon) currents in the body. The balancing of the two is seen as the means to harmonizing and mastering these currents so that “vital force” (prana) can be controlled. In so doing, the mind will be cleared and the path open to experiencing higher states of consciousness.2
According to the Bible, the presence of God can only be accessed through the soul being washed in the blood of Jesus and a person being “born again.” This regenerative experience definitely leads one to a “higher state of consciousness” (a conscious awareness of the reality of God), but it is totally different than anything offered through eastern religions. Biblical salvation is not the result of some “serpent power” traveling up through the spine from within; it is the result of the power of the Holy Spirit entering a repentant person from without. The contrast of these two approaches to spirituality reveals two very different views of God in His relationship with creation (Pantheism versus Theism).
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