Paul Derengowski, ThM
It’s all the rage in today’s politically correct, focus on health and wealth, religiously tolerant of just about anything (except biblical beliefs) society in which we live. What was once understood as a strictly Eastern mystical and religious practice is now viewed by many from the youthful to the elderly, the poor and middle class to the rich and famous, and the uneducated to the academic in the most prestigious schools around the world, as a mental and physical discipline that only has a passing reference to religion. It is called Yoga and it is taking the world by storm. But, is such faddish interest really nothing more than a physical exercise designed to bring mental ease, or is it something much more sinister?
This article will endeavor to explain just what yoga is, where it comes from, and what it is genuinely designed to do. For while many may be under the impression that yoga is nothing more than a physical workout in a heated room with a group of other people wanting to shed a few pounds and get into shape, the reality is that yoga is a religious discipline which uses the bodily poses to prepare the mind to become unified with the divine. And that those who involve themselves in the practice of yoga are actually opening themselves up to occult involvement, including, but not limited to, astral projection and demonic possession. They are just two things which ought to cause one to reconsider signing up for a yoga class, since obviously most yogi practitioners will not be upfront in warning his clientele that he or she is about to take them on a trip that they may not return from, and that under the guise of promoting good health.
What is Yoga?
Visit any one of a multitude of gyms, schools, nursing homes, churches, strip malls, or just about any location where someone has decided to open up shop to offer the curious, the health conscious, or simply the naïve a course in yoga training, and one is also likely to receive an equal number of definitions of just what yoga is and what it is supposed to do. Primarily the idea in the West is that yoga is only about physical exercise, intense stretching, and stress relief. Anything more than that is usually scoffed at or denials are made that as long as the practitioner has been doing yoga, no one has mentioned, let along emphasized, the spiritual or religious nature of the practice. It is asserted here, though, that much of what transpires under the rubric of “Yoga” in the West is not really yoga at all, but more of a neutered form of yoga, devoid of any spiritual mention. 1 But, just because the quasi-yoga instructor has chosen to fail to mention yoga’s spiritual roots in no way makes it any less ominous.
The word “yoga” is a Sanskrit term which means at its basic level “union.” When considered in the fuller context of religious practice—and yoga is all about religion, denials by some to the contrary—it means “union with God,” a deity, higher consciousness, or Purusa (“Supreme Consciousness”). Patanjali, who is the most recognized authority on yoga practice and commentary, defined yoga as the “…removal of mental and physical disorders, and reflection of mindstuff—buddhi, ahamkara, and manah—in Purusa, union and identity of reflected individual consciousness with Purusa, Pure Consciousness, is Yoga.” 2 Eknath Easwaran, in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, affirms that yoga is, “Union with God, realization of the unity of all life; a path or discipline which leads to such a state of total integration or unity.” 3 “Yoga—the process of linking with the Surpreme,” was A.C. Bhaktivendanta Swami Prabhupada’s short, to the point, explanation of this widely used word which few understand.
Of course, yoga does incorporate physical exercises (asanas) in its practice, but it must be kept in mind that the exercises are not exclusively for health reasons. All the stretching, twisting, and contorting of the body is for the further conditioning of the mind to eventually detach from the body and be unified with “God” or the Self. Swami Vishnudevananda outlined an eight-step course that yoga was to take a person who was truly practicing the discipline as it was meant to be. His insight should cause one to pay special attention, given the occult connection involved in arriving at the stated goal. He wrote,
We can divide Yoga as follows: 1. Directions for the purification of the body inside and outside. 2. Practice of postures. 3. Practice of Mudras and Bandhas, which are similar to the postures and produce a sort of electrical current or force, called kundalini shakti (Serpent Power). 4. Control of vital breath and through Yogic breathing. 5. Stilling of the mind and its modifications by cutting off the sense perception. 6. Progression in mental control or concentration. 7. Meditation on various nerve centers, which makes the mind steady like a candle flame in a sheltered place. 8. The last stage, the superconsciousness, when the little ego “I” merges with the Supreme Ego or God. 4
Therefore yoga, although it promotes physical exercise, is in reality a spiritual discipline which uses the physical to attain a spiritual goal, namely union with God. Yet, how is union accomplished? Should one be alarmed? After all, we are all going to die one day. So, if yoga does offer a way to be unified with God, would not that be a good thing?
Although recently there has been an influx of self-styled yoga practices that have cropped up in the West, there are basically only about six which are most commonly practiced by yogi practitioners and their adepts. Those are Raja, Hatha, Bhakti, Jnana, Karma, and Tantric. Each one has a specific emphasis with the ultimate goal of altering one’s consciousness and at times leading to occult experiences.
Raja (“royal) Yoga is typically, although not exclusively, practiced by the ascetic. “[T]he system of concentration and meditation based on ethical discipline” is “Royal Yoga,” explains Patanjali. 5 Hatha Yoga involves the regulation of one’s breathing (pranayama). “Or that calm is retained by the controlled exhalation or retention of the breath.” 6 Bhakti Yoga is devotional yoga in the sense that the practitioner chooses a certain deity to venerate with the express hope of overcoming material attachment to the world and self. Jnana Yoga is for the intellectualist who wishes to develop the mind “through the study of scriptures and texts of the yogic tradition.” 7 Karma Yoga encompasses the practitioner to attain “oneness by selfless service to humanity and society without anticipating the result.” 8 Finally, Tantric Yoga centers around ritualistic or “consecrated” sexual activity, or “to awaken and harmonize the male and female aspects within each person in order to spiritually awaken and realize the whole universe as an expression of the Cosmic Mother, the divine life force, or Spirit.” 9
The goal of yoga is quite simple: unite with “God.” This is done by a gradual denial through yogic practice, many of which have been listed above, of the individual self and its desires. Attachment to one’s personal identity (chittam) and those things (gunas) which help to shape it is anathema to a true yoga adherent. As Renée Taylor describes it, “The aim of it is to achieve truth wherein the individual soul identifies itself with the supreme soul or God. Thus it brings hope to the unhappy person, strength to the weak, and knowledge to the ignorant. In fact, Yoga is the secret key that unlocks the realm to deep abiding peace.” 10 In other words, for a person to identify with “God,” one must lose one’s self to be absorbed into the Self.
The absorption process, though, can lead one to engage in occult practices such as astral projection, which is best explained as a willful Out of the Body Experience (OBE) where the spirit or soul of a person leaves the physical body and travels the alleged astral plane of existence. Yogi Ramacharaka gives a lengthy explanation concerning the “The Astral World” and what is to be expected should one decide to make such a voyage into it. Part of that explanation is given here.
Before going into the subject of the several planes of the Astral World, it will be better for us to consider some of the general phenomena classified under the term “astral.” …we have told you that man (in the body), in addition to his physical senses of sight, hearing, tasting, smelling and feeling, has five astral senses (counterparts of the physical senses) operating on the astral plane, by which he may receive sense impressions without the aid of the physical sense organs. He also possesses a “sixth-sense” physical organ (the organ of the “telepathic” sense) which also has a corresponding astral sense.
These astral senses function on the lower astral plane—the plane next removed from the physical plane—and the phenomena of clairvoyance 11 is produced by the use of these astral senses…There are, of course, higher forms of clairvoyance, which operate on planes far above that used in ordinary clairvoyance, but such powers are so rare, and are possessed only by those of high attainment, that we need scarcely do more than mention them here. On this lower astral plane, the clairvoyant sees; the clairaudient hears; the psychometrist feels. 12
On this plane the astral body moves about, and “ghosts” manifest. Disembodied souls living on the higher planes of the Astral World, in order to communicate with those on the physical plane, must descend to this lowest plane, and clothe themselves with coarse astral matter in order to accomplish their object. On this plane moves the “astral bodies” of those in the flesh, who have acquired the art of projecting themselves in the astral. It is possible for a person to project his astral body, or travel in his astral body, to any point within the limits of the earth’s attraction, and the trained occultist may do so at will, under the proper conditions.
Others may occasionally take such trips (without knowing just how they do it, and having, afterwards, the remembrance of a particular and very vivid dream); in fact many of us do take such trips, when the physical body is wrapped in sleep, and one often gains much information in this way, upon subjects in which he is interested, by holding astral communication with others interested in the same subject, all unconsciously of course. The conscious acquirement of knowledge in this way, is possible only to those who have progressed quite a way along the path of attainment. The trained occultist merely places himself in the proper mental condition, and then wishes himself at some particular place, and his astral travels there with the rapidity of light, or even more rapidly.
The untrained occultist, of course, has no such degree of control over his astral body and is more or less clumsy in his management of it. The Astral Body is always connected with the physical body (during the life of the latter) by a thin silk-like, astral thread, which maintains the communication between the two. Were this cord to be severed the physical body would die, as the connection of the soul with it would be terminated.
Elsewhere Swami Prabhupada would write, “One can transfer oneself to many planets by this yoga system, but anywhere he goes he will find visa systems and customs systems. To go to other planets, one must be qualified.” 13 Of course, what he means by this is that there are some who are not ready for the higher astral planes, which is why there is a need for spirit guides—typically other more experienced human beings, or yogis—who are also astral projecting during one’s trip.
Yet it must be kept in mind that when one is engaging in disembodied space flight, “The purpose of the entire yoga system is to concentrate the mind on Visnu [Vishnu],” 14 because ultimately one is going to leave one’s body permanently, and depending on one’s preparation in the here and now will ultimately prepare one to either recycle into another life, or be absorbed into the great Supreme Consciousness. To break the seemingly endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is the yogis greatest desire. In Hinduism it is known as samsara, in Buddhism nirvana, and the most efficient occultic vehicle to attain either is yoga.
From a biblical perspective meditation is not about detaching oneself from one’s body, uniting with God while losing one’s personality, or making spiritistic trips into the astral world to lose one’s identity in the great nothingness of an unknowable deity. Biblical meditation is about contemplation on the things of a knowable, personable, revelatory God who has not only created all inanimate things, but all beings who can enjoy them, if they will recognize the source of their being.
The first clear indication of what meditation is about is found Joshua 1:8 where the Lord God informs Joshua, who was appointed to lead the nation of Israel into the Promised Land, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (NASB). Clearly such instruction is antithetical to the message of yoga, which instructs its followers to empty their minds in brainwashing-type fashion, along with a few obscenely grotesque physical moves to place one’s left heel inside one’s right ear, mentally condition the practitioner to leave one’s body. Biblical meditation invites unity with God without promoting the spiritual dissolution or physical contortion of the person to attain it.
A similar teaching is found in the New Testament as well. The Apostle Paul instructing a young pastor by the name of Timothy is told, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The King James Version translates the opening as “Study” rather than “Be diligent,” which is consistent with an “accurate” handling of God’s word, whether in teaching, preaching, or living it. In other words, Christianity was never intended as a mindless religious endeavor where God’s people turned off their brains and assumed that by a process of textual osmosis that God’s revelation would creep in as they attempted to escape their bodies through occult means. Christians are to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, souls, and minds (Matt. 22:37), with the latter part coming through a constant reading and reflection upon God’s revelation as the Spirit of God illumines the mind to understand and more fully love God for who He is. It is a crystal clear reason why no Christian should have a thing to do with yoga. One cannot achieve union with God with an empty mind, and an empty mind is partially what yoga is all about.
Identity not Idolatry
The Yoga system constantly and consistently informs the intelligent investigator that it is all about unity with God. The sinister aspect of such information is that it is not fully informative of just who or what God the real yogi instructor is referring to. Given that yoga’s roots are in the Hindu religion, the number of gods and goddesses that are recognized is upwards of approximately 330,000,000! Moreover, whereas at one time Brahman was the supreme deity in early Hindu theology, Shiva (the destroyer) has since taken the lead, but even at that, due to the relativistic nature of Hinduism itself, even Shiva does not necessarily capture the attention of all Hindus, much less yoga practitioners, as absolutely supreme. Therefore, union with “God” could mean just about anything when it comes to yoga. Yet, despite the ambiguity, one thing is for certain: contact with the spirit realm is ever present and promoted, which makes those who engage in yogic practice subject to spirit contact and occult phenomena.
If there was one sin that God Almighty has always hated it was idolatry. Idolatry is simply propping up a figure, whether mentally or physically, to take the place of God as an object of veneration or worship. There are several reasons why God finds idolatry offensive, starting with the misrepresentation of the idol itself. God told the nation of Israel in the second commandment He delivered to them on Mount Sinai, which followed on the heels of “You shall have no other gods before Me,” “You shall not make for yourself an idol” (Ex. 20:4). Why? Because there is nothing in the created world that can accurately reflect the infinite being of God himself, notwithstanding even the image that He created man in. Idols know nothing, cannot communicate, demonstrate no volition or purpose, except as they represent the fallen minds of those who create them.
Hence, perhaps the ultimate reason why God hates an idol is that it vainly exalts the creature to the same status as God, or to put it more bluntly, it propagates the same lie told by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, that if man would act independently of God by disobeying Him, man could become a god himself (Gen. 3:5). And when one takes a look at the yoga philosophy, it is all about the eventual progression, regardless of the number cycles one must go through during the reincarnation process, of man unto godhood. Man is encouraged to keep working at his own exaltation, and at his own choosing decides to be absorbed into a nebulous deity as he finally realizes that he was a spark of the divine all along. It is a philosophy that is rooted in idolatrous thought and practice antithetical to biblical teaching.
There is no doubt that yoga is taking the world by storm, with much of it being embraced and endorsed by those claiming to be Christians. To much of the naïve world it is nothing more than a vigorous physical workout that can be done during a lunch hour break, or perhaps after work at a local YMCA. What is missing from all the excitement and interest is an intelligent understanding of just what yoga is and where it ultimately wants to take people, should they fully swallow the Hindu, and yes, diabolical, worldview which is behind it.
Part of the reason why there is such naïveté is due to the number of yoga counterfeiters in existence. Instructors and shops are set up which advertise that what is going on is one form of yoga or another, but clearly without the spiritual goal being stressed which is what makes yoga distinct as an activity to bring one into “union with God.” In those cases, one might be getting a workout, but one is not practicing yoga either. In fact, one becomes a yoga dabbler, which may be worse than if one knew upfront what yoga truly is, since the dabbler is opening herself up to the spiritual side of yoga, at least in name, without even knowing it. Therefore, when certain entities come calling, such as when “the Serpent” during a kundalini exercise begins to unwind, and things start to go awry, the dabbler may not be able to connect the dots to yoga for the freakish phenomena that is occurring and causing mental and spiritual havoc in her life.
Perhaps an even more tragic reason why so many people are involving themselves in the occult practices of yoga is that they have already opened themselves up to it through their idolatrous lives. They have become their own gods and goddesses; therefore occultism fits their personality preferences. Or, if they do happen to claim to be Christians, they are living in abject rebellion against God by a willful ignorance of His revelation on such matters as the occult. And instead of taking the time to become informed on what God has revealed in contrast with the claims of the yoga proponents, the Christian becomes his own ignorant authority on the subject and involves himself in it.
The bottom line with yoga, therefore, is that it is not something to be messed with given its spiritual roots in the occult practices of the religion of Hinduism. Although some, including biblically ignorant Christians, will balk at such a conclusion, Hindu yogis have spoken clearly and definitively what the various methods of yoga are all about and what the ultimate goal is behind the practices. And none of it is worthy of human consumption, especially if one claims to be a Christian. Instead, it is something that a Christian should become informed about and then warn others about the spiritual dangers that are inherent within yoga. Otherwise, for a Christian to ignore what those same yogis have said and written is to promote the same mindless idolatry that is yoga, while denigrating what God has revealed, ultimately in the person of Jesus Christ, who set the Christian free from such idolatry at the cross.
- The late Hindu spiritualist and yoga practitioner A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada once echoed the same conclusion when he wrote, “One should not waste his valuable time simply in practicing some gymnastic feats in the name of yoga. Real yoga is to search out the four-handed Supersoul within one’s heart, and to see Him perpetually in meditation. Such continued meditation is called samadhi.” The Science of Self Realization (New York: The Bhativedanta Book Trust, 1977), 129. ↩
- Rammurti S. Mishra, The Textbook of Yoga Psychology (New York: The Julian Press, 1963), 59. ↩
- The Bhagavad Gita, translated for the modern reader by Eknath Easwaran (Berkeley: The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, 1985), 237. ↩
- Swami Vishnudevananda, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga (New York: Pocket Books, 1972), 13-14. ↩
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, translation and commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda (Yogaville, VA: Integral Yoga Publications, 1990), 244. ↩
- Ibid., I.34. ↩
- Mara Carrico, “The Braches of Yoga from Yoga Journal’s Yoga Basics,” <http://www.yogajournal.com/newtoyoga/157.cfm> (accessed 12/31/10). ↩
- Chennai Online, “Different types of Yoga,” <http://www.chennaionline.com/health/Ayurveda/2007/05ayur07.asp> (accessed 12/31/10). ↩
- “Tantra Yoga,” Mystic World Fellowship, <http://www.yogaworld.org/tantra.htm>, accessed 12/31/10. ↩
- Renée Taylor, The Hunza-Yoga Way to Health and Longer Life (New York: Lancer, 1969), 50. ↩
- “Clairvoyance is also called the second sight. It is the ability to ‘see’ mentally beyond time and space without the use of the five senses. Psychic information such as historical or future events and other phenomena are attained.” Mark Water, AMG’s Encyclopedia of World Religions, Cults & the Occult (Chattanooga: AMG, 2006), 776. ↩
- Psychometry. “Divination by reading an object. The psychic ability to identify characteristics, events or future events of another person by holding a material possession, such as a ring, watch, or article of clothing, belonging to that person.” Ibid. ↩
- A.C. Bhaktivendanta Swami Prabhupada, Easy Journey to Other Planets by Practice of Supreme Yoga (New York: The Bhaktivendanta Book Trust, 1972), 83. ↩
- Ibid. ↩