Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How About Yoga?

 It is not uncommon for Orthodox Christians to participate in a yoga class. It is normally seen as good exercise for the body. But are you aware of the source of this practice and the purpose of many of its exercises?


There was an article recently the NYT about yoga and sex scandals. It was about the founder of Ansura one of the world's fastest growing yoga styles who is accused of sexual impurities with female students. But this is not why I reference this article. It goes on to highlight the nature of yoga practice and it's roots.


Did you know that this practice began as a sex cult? Hatha yoga is the root of these practices and it began as a branch of Tantra. This was a group who sought to integrate the male and female aspects of creation into a blissful state. Their rites included group and individual sexual acts. Hatha yoga was developed as a way to accelerate the Tantra agenda. The article says, "it used poses, deep breathing and stimulating acts -- including intercourse -- to hasten rapturous bliss. In today's yoga practitioners, such as B. K. S. Iyengar, worked to remove much of the Tantric influence. But the reality remains that the practice of yoga increases sexual passions. Pelvic regions feel more sensitive and orgasms more intense.


Scientists have studied this practice measuring testosterone levels, brain wave patterns, and blood flow through the genitals. They found the effects of such exercise "was strong enough to promote sexual arousal not only in healthy individuals but among those with diminished libidos." Other clinical studies in India report "wide improvements in sex lives." Others at Rutgers University show participants can think themselves into states of sexual ecstasy, a form of masturbation.


The article points out that baby boomers of today who experience the arousal, sweating, heavy breathing and states of undress found in yoga classes have led to the following action. "In 1995, sex between students and teachers became so prevalent that the California Yoga Teachers Association deplored it as immoral and called for higher standards." Numerous famous teachers have been accused of molesting women including Swami Muktananda, Swami Rama and Swami Satchidananda.


The article concludes, "But perhaps--if students and teachers knew more about what Hatha can do, and what it was designed to do--they would find themselves less prone to surprise and unyogalike distress.
The Orthodox way of life involves taming the passions, not enhancing them, so that we can better make choices in our actions that are Christ like. With true faith, we love God and have an intense desire to follow Him and to become like Him. Yoga can be a dangerous practice for one who is serious about developing their relationship with God following the Orthodox way. If you are involved in a yoga program, I advise you to study the roots of the exercises and to seek more conventional forms of exercise.


Elder Paisios comments on yoga:
They strive and they strive, and what do they achieve with it? Orthodox self-restraint and spiritual ascesis in general always aspire to a loftier spiritual purpose: the sanctification of the soul.  Their satanic, worldly ascesis is only implemented to give them a flexible body so that they can contort arms and legs like a paper puppet, and so that other foolish people might admire them and the silly demons can ridicule them.

Note: William J. Broad is the author of the NYT article and also the author of “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards,” published this month by Simon & Schuster.  for more on this you might want to consult his book.
Reference: Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here

22 comments:

  1. Fr. Charles, very interesting - and surprising - article. What is the source of this statement?

    > this practice began as a sex cult

    Here's what Wiki tell about Yoga - not that it's the absolute truth source, but I believe we could find a similar description in many places:

    > Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline, originating in ancient India. The goal of yoga, or of the person practicing yoga, is the attainment of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility...
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga

    This is far from passions and sex. I tried to search for the latter word in there and did not find it. The same is true about hatha yoga - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatha_yoga

    Also, hatha branch can't be "the root of these practices", as yoga itself is thousands years old, while hatha was introduced only in the 15th century.

    I'm not a defender of yoga, the statement of this article just looks conflicting with common knowledge to me.

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  2. Thanks for your input Sasha. Hiduism is a very complex religion with many different facets and traditions as you probably know. It is my understanding that Tantra came very early in Hinduism, hundreds of years before Hatha or other yogi forms. Tantra focused on the physical practices such as are used in what we experience in this country today. Therefore it it seen as the root of such physical practices which had their purpose to stimulate bodily passions.

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  3. Note: William J. Broad is the author of the NYT article and also the author of “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards,” published this month by Simon & Schuster. for more on this you might want to consult his book.

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  4. From the Book by William J. Broad
    "The Science of Yoga The Risks and the Rewards"
    The agonies of brain damage and the ecstasies of love making are extremes of human existence that seldom get associated with yoga. But as this remarkable book shows, the uncommon states embody a hidden world of risk and reward. Broad, a lifelong practitioner of yoga and a lead science writer for The New York Times, unravels more than a century of research to present the first impartial evaluation of a rite thousands of years old. He shows what’s uplifting and beneficial, what’s flaky and delusional, what’s dangerous and even deadly. In the end, he offers a compelling vision of how the ancient practice can be improved.

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  5. Thank you for writing this Father. It was interesting and informative. Although I don't know much about yoga, I think it is clear that it is connected to a religion and to that extent alone should be avoided. We have our own outward, physical movements that produce a spiritual, internal state - like bowing, crossing ourselves, and prostrating. These physical movements are not disconnected from our soul. And so, most likely the physical movements of yoga also evoke certain internal effects.

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    1. Sorry, that should be: certain internal and undesirable effects.

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  6. Thank you for your excellent observations on the physical activities in Orthodoxy. We do believe in an integral physical mental spiritual being.

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  7. This was a shocking find for me today, as I am an Orthodox Christian who uses yoga in my home for relaxation, for strengthening muscles and most importantly, as a protection for my immune system. Because our lymphatic system requires physical movement to function properly, I have found yoga to be a help in this area. I understand there may be yoga classes and/or instructors who utilize yoga to promote Hinduism or these obscene things William Broad has written about, but I believe you throw out the baby with the bath water in this case.

    Just as Christianity claimed or re-claimed pagan practices and places on the British Isles in the days of St. Patrick, Columba, Aidan, Brigid, etc on Iona, so, too can Christians know that the body is the temple of God and all exercise and stretching (which is what yoga is to me) is for the glory of Him. It is the same type of mentality and argument that has led some of my christian friends to not have Christmas trees in their homes or decorate eggs at Easter because they claim the origins in pagan practice. To which my response is the same, God is the Alpha and Omega... He was before paganism, before Hinduism, IS the Creator of all, and anything good for the body has potential to be twisted by sin. That doesn't mean we should avoid the good and healthy practice that yoga can offer. For some christians, yoga provides a way for people to be still and meditate on God's Word.

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  8. Amy I suggest your read his book. In it he gives you an objective overview of the history of Yoga, the way it has changed with commercialism and then summarizes the scientific evidence of it benefits and harmful effects. He is not a professed Christian so he does not approach it from a religious point of view but from a health viewpoint. But I would encourage you to also explore more deeply the age old wisdom of the Christian faith and its practices to become united with God. Yoga may make you still and have calming effects from some of its poses but it will not bring you union with God or salvation. The Orthodox way of life as summarized in the "Ten Points of an Orthodox Way of Life" leads you to true peace. Consider putting time into activities like daily prayer which includes the practice of the Jesus prayer combined with prostrations. Also participation in the liturgical cycle of the church and all of its sacramental life. Fasting is another important discipline that is proven to bring greater self control as del as a great focus on our God. It boils dow to how you spend your time. I encourage you to explore the great widow of the Church and the teachings of the Church Fathers. You will be amazed at the wonders you will discover. Also his book will give you confidence in the physical practice you choose knowing you are choosing those that are truly health beneficial and avoiding those which can be harmful. Do not discount the wisdom of the Church and how it will lead you to a true stillness where you will be united with God, the Trinitarian God. Make sure you know the difference between the baby and the bath water and follow the direction of your spiritual father.

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    1. Have you read Mr Broad's article in the NYT or the entire book? The article sensationalizes aspects of yoga practices, the book is very fair minded and Mr Broad practices yoga as well.

      Why any Orthodox is threatened by yoga is beyond me. To stretch the body and observe the breath as one tries to focus on this moment rather than letting the wild stream of past and future events distract thoughts is harmful? And while prostrations and blessing and kneeling are outward signs of humility to an Orthodox Christian, it is quite different that doing yoga poses.

      Honestly, I find the wagging finger of the clergy tiresome.

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  9. Hi Fr Dn. how about Pilates?

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  10. I only have a very general knowledge about Pilates. But I would say as about yoga, that we have in the Orthodox faith all we need to attain the inner peace necessary for union with God. There is no need for other systems to find inner peace. The experts tell us that the best exercise for physical fitness is aerobatic exercise along with some muscle toning. This can be gained in a normal active life. Generally all breathing exercises are discouraged unless you are under the direction of a spiritual father. There is the risk of not only stimulating the passions but also enlarging the ego and or sense of self-sufficiency. True peace comes from God's grace. Such works done without prayer and a connection with God would not fit the Orthodox Way of life. In the monasteries they engage in prayer both corporate and individual and learn to practice the Jesus prayer. They have a cycle of prayer and physical work. In our culture where office work is very normal, there is need to introduce some kind of physical exercise into our daily routine to maintain a healthy body in addition to prayer. With prayer are prostrations which can be aerobic if you are doing many of them as we are asked to do especially during lenten prayer services.

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    1. Thank you. I'm a college student and so I'm merely seeking an exercise to keep my body fit for work.

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    2. Actually, Fr. I'm not too convinced yet. Anything, and almost everything, can excite the passions. Getting good grades, theological studies improperly done, and even ascetical works can excite prideful passions. However, none of these are inherently designed to raise the passions. Couldn't this be the same for breathing exercises, pilates, and even yoga? Aren't these provocation of these passions just the usual obstacles we face in any craft that we engage in our sinful natures? they are corrupting if performed properly?

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    3. Sorry, please ignore the very last question/sentence. It's a typo.

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  11. Ask yourself how much time is left for the Orthodox spiritual practices and how deeply do you engage in them. What is your aim in these other practices? Is it the peace promised by some other religion or a pleasure of the moment? Exercise can be beneficial if that is the aim and there are many exercises that have known health benefits to choose from when our lifestyle does not give us natural exercise. Meditative states found in breathing exercises and non Christian meditation practices are quite different than the bliss or peace that comes with union with God found in true prayer. My personal experience tells me that these other practices are hard to overcome. I once went down this path out of ignorance. It took me many years to overcome the self-centered aspect of such a practice. I found I approached prayer in the same way. But prayer is different. It's a dialogue of love and an opening of the inner heart to the flow of grace we have been given since our Baptism. This is what you are truly seeking.
    What is the nature of your daily prayer life?

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    1. "Long training is generally required to master Tantric methods, into which pupils are typically initiated by a guru. Yoga, including breathing techniques and postures (asana), is employed to subject the body to the control of the will. Mudras, or gestures, mantras or syllables, words and phrases, mandalas and yantras, symbolic diagrams of the forces at work in the universe, are all used as aids for meditation and for the achievement of spiritual and magical power. During meditation the initiate identifies with any of the numerous Hindu gods and goddesses, visualizes them and internalises them, a process likened to sexual courtship and consummation.[7] The Tantrika, or tantric practitioner may use visualizations of deities, identifying with the deity so that the aspirant "becomes" the Ishta-deva or meditational deity.[15]" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tantra#Practices

      Well, I guess you're right. Thank you for your advice.

      I used to seek yoga for inner peace and relaxation but not really anymore. I've been doing yoga and pilates just to release some stress and to keep fit. All I want to do is exercise. However, with the above quote mind, I do realize that even my yoga teacher slips in some overtly tantric methods in her classes. Thanks for the warning Fr. Dn!

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  12. Interestingly, a "Christian mystic" I used to know, with some of the crazier ideas I've ever heard, claimed to have been an atheist (as I was at the time) and "found God" in Yoga class. He also demanded that I seek an exorcism from a COG of COGIC institution when I didn't believe him.

    What I know of Yoga, from P90X, is that it hurts. For those seeking a "traditional" exercise program, I would first suggest Chinese Yoga or Tai Chi. It concentrates more on balance and the spine. It does extend from Daoist/Zen Buddhist religious and philosophic ideas but are easily separable from them if that sort of thing bothers you.

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  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  14. There were typos on previous comment.
    Here it is now:

    When I prayed to God that he manifested to me, after having been raised atheist and followed a an Indian Guru (who did not practice Yoga) for many years (considering I was laughed at when trying to read the Bible as a teen, I was led to some spiritual books which led me to read the Bible and in three days I became celibate and free from suicidal depression (even following a guru I had not lived a pure life; which had been expected of me...). Part of the life I started to have after this cry for God was waking up at 4 am daily, praying and practicing Yoga for about two and half to three hours a day. That in fact helped my celibacy, there are even (regular) postures which specifically help that. That helped my prayers and my daily Bible reading. I lived almost like a monastic for about six years; the best, purer, most self-controlled time in my life.
    Finding a church later on was complicated because of the Christian general views about Yoga, etc., which only contributed to my confusion, and I lost of a lot of my self-controlled/ordered life.
    I know almost nothing about Tantra Yoga, but one thing that I knew about it was that orgasm was off (delayed to the point of not occurring, for the intensifying of the spiritual experience; like a type of fasting in two). I never looked for it as I thought it was strange, very much especially because I was not married. I am a Christian (Orthodox convert) looking to find that peace that God once gave to me in such a personal way which included order, reading, prayer, weekly fasting, a whole change in my way of living, in responding to others, in general, but specifically the opposite sex, a great withdraw from addictive foods and other things addictive.
    He revealed himself to me, saving me from the worst a human (even more so a girl) could live, and he utilized things that I knew from earlier years, like Yoga, vegetarian/vegan diet, etc., and many things called New Age, to bring me back to him. His power is above, and he knows the needs of his children. The type of Yoga I used was one from an old Indian book I found at the university´s library and totally directed to health, and over and over this has saved me from back injuries and major problems without having to resort to emergency rooms and dangerous meds. There are maybe other reasons not to practice it, but in my decades of practice I did not find that it brings me back to a mundane lifestyle or that it brings me, otherwise, away from God´s peace and the desire to read his words or do his prayers.
    In the last two years I became more of a Christian through Orthodoxy (even though I was living far from any church for two years). This started as me looking for God the same way as I did decades ago, and him answering very similarly, but this time I was led to search for the Orthodox church online, as well, and for the first time I started doing the Orthodox prayers (not only my own), and this changed everything. Maybe he will lead me away from Yoga, but I have great thankfulness for this tool which did so much for me.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your story. We al have differing and beautiful stories about our journey to know Christ and His unlimited love for humankind.

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  15. Thank you so much Fr Charles,
    I intended to edit a sectiion when I mentioned 'why I did not pursue Tantra'. In fact that was much earlier when I was in my teens and had started Yoga (in part, including as a help out of my worldly life), and I heard of Tantra Yoga totally from a different environment not related to my Yoga classes or interest in it. I did not know what it was for sure as an ancient, probably seen as serious, tradition in India (however that did not arouse my interest either), but in my city -in the west- that was being practiced as an 'interesting' possibility of being with the opposite sex and be 'spiritual' at the same time... even if (and usually) unmarried... I only heard of it, thought about it, and decided, no, there is something strange about this.
    Looking back, I think I yearned to come back to the experience of entering that church (which was Methodist) with my grand-ma for the first time on my own with her, perhaps, after my baptism, and being in awe with the size of the church, the choir (all in white...) the organ, etc... and later be there, probably a good number of times learning/playing downstairs with the kids. I yearned to be six so that I could learn the Bible in my own private little chapel (there were a few colored little chapels lined up, with colored Bibles, which remind me of the Orthodox church, where the kids learned from age six to twelve). That was my dream; but just before I turned six my family moved to a small town, away from the church... and I would see my grand-ma only on vacations). Before she died, two years later, she visited and we entered a Catholic church just because that was near the store we were buying knitting needles my size... it was a modern glass-walled AND beautiful church, and we walked all around... and I felt in awe again and wanted to return there, but could not).
    It was almost three decades later that the story about Yoga, etc, happened.

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