AT A GLANCE
use of breathing exercises, particular physical postures, and
meditation for alleged improved mental functioning, health
maintenance, and spiritual enlightenment.
Founder. Unknown; one of
the major developers is Patanjali, compiler of the classical Yogasutras
of raja yoga.
How does it claim to work?
The physical exercises of yoga are believed to prevent diseases and
maintain health through bodily regulation of prana or mystical
life energy. Furthermore, because the body is viewed as a crude layer
of mind, various manipulations of the physical body (some severe) can
affect the mind, bringing alleged enlightenment In Hindu mythology,
the serpent goddess kundalini "rests" at the base of
the spine. She is aroused by yoga practice, travels up the spine while
regulating prana and opening the body’s alleged psychic
centers (chakras), finally reaching the top (crown) chakra, permitting
the merging of Shiva/Shakti and occult enlightenment.
Yogic (e.g., psychic) powers and abilities have been scientifically
studied, such as Elmer Green’s widely reported research with Swami
Rama. Because yoga is essentially an occult practice leading to the
manifestation of siddhis (psychic abilities), such research is
often parapsychological. Yoga, like meditation and visualization, can
have physical, psychological, and spiritual effects. Science may study
these, but it cannot evaluate the spiritual or occult claims made for
them (e.g., that they reflect evidence of "higher"
consciousness or spiritual "enlightenment").
Examples of occult potential.
Yoga practice involves occult meditation, the development of psychic
powers, and may result in spirit contact or spirit possession.
Major problems. The public
perception of yoga as a safe, spiritually neutral practice is false.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to separate yoga practice from
yoga theory. The one who engages in yoga practices for health purposes
may also find himself converted to an occult way of life.
Because yoga is an occult practice, it is prohibited.
Authoritative yoga literature is replete with warnings of serious
physical consequences, mental derangement, or harmful spiritual
Note: Different Eastern or
mystical religions practice different forms of yoga. Even in a given
religion there are various kinds of schools, depending on the
emphasis. In Hinduism, we find hatha (physical yoga), raja (mental
yoga), bhakti (devotional yoga), jana (the yoga of
knowledge), siddha (the yoga of psychic powers), karma (the
yoga of action or social responsibility), laya or mantra (the
yoga of sound), and other yogas. Kundalini may be labeled as a
separate yoga; however, all yoga has the potential to arouse
kundalini. Although the emphasis may vary, the basic goal in all yoga
is the same: union with ultimate reality, however defined. In Hinduism
this would be union of the individual self (atman) with the
supreme self (paramatman), itself one with Brahman, the highest
impersonal Hindu God; in Buddhism it would be union with Nirvana.
INTRODUCTION AND INFLUENCE
For millions of Americans, yoga is a
popular pastime. Yoga classes are regularly offered by the YMCA, the
YWCA, in New Age and business seminars, on TV, and in church programs.
Here the claim is often made that yoga practice is not religious and
that members of any faith or persuasion can benefit from a yoga
program. For example, several books attempt to integrate yoga practice
and Christian faith.1 Promoters make such claims as, "Yoga and
Christianity are founded upon a similar base of wisdom,"2 More
and more, health professionals are now advocating yoga as a safe and
effective method for physical and mental health. Dr. Norman Shealy,
who has taught at Harvard and is the founder of the American Holistic
Medical Association, recommends hatha yoga along with "the power
of crystals" as an "essential component" of national
health programs of the near future.3 Steve Brena, M.D., attempts to
merge yogic concepts and modern medicine in his Yoga and Medicine.4
A modern alternate health guide claims
that "all the chronic diseases are specially amenable to yoga
treatment."5 The guide asserts that illnesses responding to yoga
include asthma, backache, arthritis, bronchitis, high blood pressure,
obesity, sinusitis, nervous disorders, constipation, dysmenorrhea,
dyspepsia, and others. "The chief value of yoga... is in
prevention of illness.…"6 With claims like this widely
circulated and a growing health-care crisis, it is no wonder yoga is
extensively practiced in America today.
In the new spiritual climate of America in general,
the stress on yoga is both as a path to spiritual enlightenment and a
means to physical and mental health (so-called "therapeutic
The aim of therapeutic Yoga is to
maintain healthy minds and healthy bodies, but its practices are
being increasingly used to produce cures or alleviations of disease.
Yoga works on the premise that most illness is caused by wrong
posture, wrong diet and wrong mental attitudes, which imbalances are
under the control of the student (patient) himself.
Yoga is a philosophy embracing every
aspect of human life, spiritual, emotional, mental and physical. It
did not set out to be a therapy, but is being used as such today. It
is a system of self-improvement, or "conscious
Indeed, in modern America, people use yoga for a
wide variety of purposes:
People take up Yoga to reduce nervous
tension by learning to relax, to slim and to become more agile
mentally and physically. Eventually yoga leads them to meditation,
thence to modifications of personal and social behavior. Students
attending regular classes become more relaxed, more supple and clearer
headed, and usually begin to question the purpose of life in a way
they have not before. This holistic approach leads to better health,
and the improvement or eradication of psychosomatic ailments.
It is in the field of psychosomatic
ailments that Yoga therapy can be most effective. 8
(to be continued)
1. Thomas Matus, Yoga and the Jesus Prayer
Tradition: An Experiment in Faith, Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press,
2. Justin O’Brien, Yoga and Christianity,
Honesdale PA: Himalayan International Institute, 1978, p. 2. For a
critique of yoga see John Allan, Yoga: A Christian Analysis,
Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1983.
3. C. Norman Shealy, M.D., Caroline M. Myss, The
Creation of Health: Merging Traditional Medicine and Intuitive
Diagnosis, Walpole, NJ: Stillpoint Publishing, 1988, p. 58.
4. Steven F. Brena, Yoga and Medicine: The
Merging of Yogic Concepts with Modern Medical Knowledge, NY:
5. Brian Inglis, Ruth West, The Alternative
Health Guide, New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983, p. 144.
6. Ibid., pp. 143-44.
7. Ann Hill, ed., A Visual Encyclopedia of
Unconventional Medicine, New York: Crown Publishers, 1979, p. 221.
8. Ibid., pp. 221,222.