Yoga—Is It for You?
By “Awake!” correspondent in India
PAIN from her lower back to her foot torments Anna. For relief she kneels bolt upright, sitting on her heels. And in front she extends her right arm with forefinger raised. Anna is in the yoga posture called thunderbolt (Vajra Asana in Sanskrit) because she believes that this position is therapy for her troublesome sciatic nerve. Anna could be one of millions who practice yoga for nonreligious reasons.
Why has yoga gained worldwide popularity? ‘Because yoga improves my health,’ many would answer. But is yoga primarily therapeutic? Some say it releases hidden talents. Does it? Others feel yoga promotes a tranquil state of mind or eases frustrating tensions. Is yoga the uncomplicated practice millions think it is? What is yoga? If yoga is popular in your country, or if you are thinking of yoga for health, then you really need to know.
Yoga is thoroughly Hindu. It is a complex system of Hindu philosophy. “Yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means “to yoke.” In the December 1981 issue of The Vedanta Kesari, the Ramakrishna Mission magazine from India, Dr. B. S. Surti writes: “The chief aim of the Yoga philosophy is to teach the means by which the human soul may be completely united with the Supreme Spirit.” Explaining and defining Yoga further, Hindu Swami Harshananda says: “Yoga or union of the individual self with the Supreme Self will result through Yoga or Samadhi [Yoga trance], when these [mental conflicts] are controlled, suppressed and eliminated, by the right kind of discipline and training. This discipline and training is also Yoga.” In short, for the Hindus Yoga is the union of self with God.
The Hindu holy book the Bhagavad-Gita is said to be “the most competent guide on Yoga,” and each of its 18 chapters treats a different form of Yoga. One of these types, called Hatha Yoga, stresses physical exercise and breathing and is widely advocated for health benefits.
A person who practices Yoga is called a Yogi. The chief hero of the Gita, Arjuna, is exhorted: “Be thou a Yogi.” Applying this advice to fellow Hindus, Indian Swami Chidananda states: “This is your chief duty. This is your highest Dharma [sacred law]. In this lies your real and lasting welfare.”
The Hindu deity Shiva is called the “lord of Yogis.” And Shiva is said to be the creator of the 84 bodily postures in Yoga. Therefore, the entire thinking behind Yoga is deeply rooted in non-Christian religion and Eastern gods.
What About Yoga for Health?
The ancient Indian sage Patanjali reportedly systematized Yoga philosophy by listing eight steps to achieve yoking with the “Infinite.” And this union is said to result in good health. According to Hindu belief, Patanjali listed 14 obstacles to obtaining Yoga’s goal, 2 of these involving physical ill health and “restless limbs.” Hence, health and bodily postures are a preoccupation of Yoga philosophy. Asana, or posture, is the third of those eight steps and is the one that receives so much attention in the Western world. Breath control, concentration and meditation are other steps that spill over into Western yoga.
Nonetheless, sound health is not the chief aim of Yoga. Hindu writer Swahananda says: “Spiritual seekers will always consider the health benefits as fringe benefits, subordinate to their primary Goal, which is Self or God realization.”
‘But I am not a spiritual seeker; I just want good health,’ you may be thinking. Then consider what Yoga advocate Siddhinathananda wrote about health and Yoga. In the Indian Yoga magazine The Vedanta Kesari he stated: “Its potential to provide physical well-being also contributes to its popular appeal. But to use it for any goal other than spiritual is a misuse.”
Does Yoga release latent powers as claimed? And if so, can they benefit true Christians? For an answer, note the caution Hindu Tapasyananda urges: “There is however one point about which the Yogi has to be extra-careful. When Yoga is practiced [supernormal feats] come.” He lists these feats as the powers of clairvoyance, clairaudience and weightlessness, and adds: “The power becomes a Frankenstein monster that annihilates its creator.”
Furthermore, the book Integral Yoga, by Haridas Chaudhuri, states: “The central psycho-physical power latent in man is called Kundalini, the coiled power (the serpent energy). When the Kundalini is dynamized, the individual experiences a tremendous upsurge of energy from within. Centers of extrasensory perception [ESP] are stimulated.” Is this source of energy the type you would want to tap, even if it does provide some health benefits?
Is Yoga for You?
The answer depends on two things: First, your purpose in life, and second, your spiritual values and principles. Before taking up yoga, or deciding whether to continue practicing it, you need to consider the identity of the “Infinite” with whom you will be yoked. Would you want an encounter with supernatural spirit forces that seek to control you? A practicer of yoga must be prepared for this possibility. Yes, in practicing yoga, you may be tangling with the occult. A former Western yoga practitioner said: “You think you are controlling other, hidden forces in the universe. But, frighteningly, I now believe they are actually controlling you.”
ESP, clairvoyance, clairaudience and levitation are all connected with spiritism. The Bible links spiritism with an unhealthy source—wicked spirit creatures, or demons. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Acts 16:16-18) Therefore, how can a Christian consider a physical health regimen beneficial when it has such a potential for injuring one’s spiritual well-being?
Some may think they can separate presumably harmless features of yoga from those they consider harmful. According to the following statement, made in A Dictionary of Hinduism, this does not seem possible: “No system of yoga exists in isolation, each being often combined with elements of another.” Is it any wonder, then, that some conclude that the practice of yoga is tantamount to sending an invitation card to the demonic spirits?
As an example of how people can unintentionally become involved in a harmful practice, consider this ancient parallel. The nation of Israel worshiped the God of the Bible, Jehovah, who ‘exacted exclusive devotion.’ (Exodus 20:5) The Israelites settled in a land where they were surrounded by worshipers of the Canaanite god of rain and fertility, Baal; and they were given clear warnings not to become involved in that false worship. Yet the Israelites did. How so, if they knew Baal was nothing more than a man-made statue?
Since the Israelites were an agricultural society, interest in improving their farming and husbandry would be natural. But they looked to the wrong source for aid—the Canaanites. Gradually they began to imitate the Canaanites and look upon Baal as a means to ensure fertility in their cattle and crops. Slowly the wedge of material desire slipped in between them and their exclusive worship of Jehovah until they were split off into Baal worship—wholesale apostasy! (Judges 2:11-13) If you are a Christian, would you allow your desire for good health to erode your relationship with God?
It stands to reason that regular exercise of the body develops muscle tone, relieves tension, improves poise and aids breathing. The Bible agrees that bodily training can be of value. But, unlike yoga, it separates such bodily training from religion, saying: “Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is valuable in every way, because it promises life both for the present and for the future.”—1 Timothy 4:8, Today’s English Version.
While choice of exercise and health regimens is a personal matter, a Christian would want to choose activities in life that please Jehovah God and shun those that would yoke him with religious ideas that are not compatible with worshiping Him. In this way the Christian’s manner of life will harmonize with Jesus Christ’s invitation to his followers: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls. For my yoke is kindly and my load is light.”—Matthew 11:29, 30.
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“To use it for any goal other than spiritual is a misuse”
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‘You think you are controlling hidden forces. But I believe they are controlling you’