I owe yoga a remarkable debt. It is the vehicle by which I arrived at my spiritual home. It changed my life both physically and metaphysically, leaving me with a deep sense of gratitude and reverence. Once I began to delve into the subject, I was amazed at its breadth and depth. There are many works available for the seeker who wants to probe beyond the scope of this introduction. Topics include among others, spiritual history, scientific origins, types of practice, and even a new Western fad, “doga”, practicing yoga with one’s dog. (Part one of a series)
This will be a multiple part article which I feel is the best way to give the subject justice. I will cover the most prominent aspects of this discipline that a yoga practitioner might want to know in order to expand their knowledge in how it relates to spiritual development. Hopefully, it might also help dispel some negative myths that might have tainted the practice by misguided souls, who perhaps through no fault of their own cannot understand the principles.
Yoga sinful, evil…I remember being told as a Christian that it was a sin to do yoga. It was said that Yoga instructors teach the participants to worship “false Gods.” There
Pope Francis, when asked about the spiritual aspects of yoga replied, “practices like yoga aren’t capable of opening our hearts up to God.” The Pope tells us that, “only the Holy Spirit can move the heart and make it docile to the Lord, docile to the freedom of love”. “If we are seeking a zen-like peace from yoga meditation, then we are seeking peace from the wrong source.” http://www.catholic.org/news/health/story.php?id=59107 1
Some evangelical protestants feel that yoga is a religion as one lady put it (albeit a “false” one) and that it encourages you to “empty your mind”. “The second you do that,” she insisted, “demons rush in.”
In researching the matter I saw several positions regarding yoga that did give me pause, but thankfully, my desire for my truth and spiritual clarity overruled the cynics.
The most dramatic admonishment against it described it as “the biggest and the fastest growing cult in the world. It is a spiritual pandemic that is contaminating the entire world, including our churches and our people. If you think you have never been exposed to these demonic forces, think again. If you have ever exercised, especially stretching exercises, or involved in any kind of relaxation, meditational,(sic) memory improvement, laughter therapy, stress reduction, Pilates or breathing techniques, you have most likely participated in yoga”. From <http://flavyanson.com/2015/05/18/yoga-is-satanic-worship/> 2
Really, this includes almost every exercise known. As an athlete, I have done some or all of them, especially stretching. Stretching protects muscles and helps them stay flexible and healthy. It helps blood flow to them enabling better mobility and helps prevent strains and sprains.
The writer farther states, “If you have been doing yogic practice, renounce this evil practice immediately. Repent of your involvement in yoga and ask the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive you and receive deliverance from every familiar spirit associated with yoga”. 3
No wonder then that I never considered it as a serious pursuit.
Curiosity overrules Eventually, curiosity replaced hesitance, and I decided to see first-hand what it was all about, so I enrolled in a yoga class. I figured that there was more to this “enigmatic process” than I had been led to believe. As the season progressed, I noticed that a nagging pain in my arm had disappeared. It had been there so long that I figured it would be there forever. Yet after about a month of yoga practice it was gone. I also noticed my balance was improving. I genuinely enjoyed the discipline and yearned to know more about it scientifically and historically, but especially spiritually.
Was it really a “demon” possessed endeavor that I should avoid? What about my arm, and my balance? Both of those could be explained scientifically. I was stretching the muscles in my shoulder, making them more flexible which relieved my arm pain. As for balance, well, many yoga postures challenge practitioners to assume positions which require concentration. These postures seem to defy the center of gravity until one masters them. Practice makes perfect, and the beauty of asanas (the actual name for yoga poses) is that the body limbers and responds to the mental discipline and physical practice required to complete them.
Those two accomplishments exemplify what has made asanas so popular in the secular world. Who, after all, does not want their hurts relieved, or, their balance improved? Yet as we look closer at this science we find that the purpose of asanas is to create harmony between mind and body. The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’, meaning ‘to join’ or ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’. As per Yogic scriptures the practice leads to the union of individual consciousness with that of the Universal Consciousness, indicating a perfect harmony between the mind and body. What, I wondered, is “evil or demonic” about that? As it turns out, I could find, nothing.
If one bothers to look beyond the singular aspect of this vast endeavor, they will see that the “exercise” portion is actually one part of this expansive discipline. Did you know that yoga actually has limbs and paths? Well, it does, and in order to be on the spiritual yoga path, one must do a whole lot more than just stretch and twist.
History – Divine Beginnings Lord Shiva is considered the Adi Yogi and the Adi Guru. He is the foremost among the yogis and the first teacher of the science of Yoga. It is believed that Shiva first imparted his knowledge to Parvati or Shakti, his spouse. Also, for the good of mankind, he taught the science of Yoga to the ancient rishis who passed on this knowledge to the rest of humanity. All yogic and tantric systems consider him as the first Guru. These teachings have come down to us in the form of Agama Sastras 4. From these teachings, came various traditions which still exist.
The word yoga was first mentioned in one of the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda, which is one of four ancient texts containing songs, mantras and rituals to be used by the Vedic priests, called Brahmans,
Besides yoga, three major religions came from those texts – Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Around 200-400 BCE, (some documents say 150 BCE) a sage called Patanjali codified the discipline, that had gone into all different directions, into a format known as the Yoga Sutras. His “eight limbs” of yoga still inform practice today and discuss posture, breathing, meditation and correct living. He is known as “the father of modern yoga.”
8 Limbs of Yoga I will cover these more in depth in a subsequent post. However this will serve as a brief introduction. The eight limbs work together: The first five steps — yama, niyama asana, pranayama, and pratyahara — are the preliminaries of building the foundation for spiritual life. They are concerned with the body and the brain. Dharana, develops inner awareness, dhyana meditation on God, and samadhi is union with God.
4 Paths of yoga In addition to the 8 limbs, there are 4 schools or “paths” of Yoga, and these are: Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Raja Yoga. While a Yogi or Yogini may focus exclusively on one of these approaches to Yoga, that is quite uncommon. For the vast majority of practitioners, a blending of the four traditional types is most appropriate. One follows his or her own predisposition in balancing these different forms of Yoga.
Jnana Yoga: Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge, wisdom, introspection and contemplation. It involves deep exploration of the nature our being by systematically exploring and setting aside false identities.
Bhakti Yoga: Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion, emotion, love, compassion, and service to God and others. All actions are done in the context of remembering the Divine.
Karma Yoga: Karma Yoga is the path of action, service to others, mindfulness, and remembering the levels of our being while fulfilling our actions or karma in the world.
Raja Yoga: Raja Yoga is a comprehensive method that emphasizes meditation, while encompassing the whole of Yoga. It directly deals with the encountering and transcending thoughts of the mind. From <http://www.swamij.com/four-paths-of-yoga.htm> 5
As I previously stated, I cannot find anything evil or demonic about this Godly pursuit, and my only regret is that for so long, I let my dogmatic enculturation deny me its benefits. I give this advice to anyone who is involved with the practice only on a physical level, but who feels that they might be practicing some “dark art”. Relax, you are not “doing yoga.” You are practicing physical postures or asanas. Had the practice been called that when it was first brought to the west there would probably be far less confusion and misunderstanding.
Next time I will continue this presentation with a closer examination of the paths and limb
2 http://flavyanson.com/2015/05/18/yoga-is-satanic-worship/ Copyright ©2017. Eternity with Jesus Christ 3 Ibid
4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C4%80gama_(Hinduism)> *Agama The term literally means tradition or “that which has come down”, and the Agama texts describe cosmology, epistemology, philosophical doctrines, precepts on meditation and practices, four kinds of yoga, mantras, temple construction, deity worship and ways to attain sixfold desires.5