The Reverend Dr. Ed Hird, an Anglican priest and long-time yoga practitioner, finally wrote the article he has been "intentionally avoiding" for years and admits that he now knows why yoga is so much more than just exercise.
Rev. Hird, who serves as the rector of St. Simon's Anglican Church in North Vancouver, BC, said that it was only after he reluctantly gave up yoga that he realized "the ritual motions and postures (asanas or katas) had gotten very deep into my psyche, shaping my very identity. Somehow over twenty years, they had become ingrained in me and even became part of me. Without intending it, I was to some degree serving two masters. This was a hard truth for me to accept."
But how could this be if yoga is just exercise? Because it's not, he learned.
"These yogic asanas appear to the uninitiated as if they are just stretching exercises. The more fully initiated realize that yogic asanas are worship postures to Hindu deities. The yoga insiders all know the real scoop. They also know that North Americans are not quite ready yet for the full truth about the religious identity of yoga. My question is this: Is it really honest and respectful to pretend yoga is just a physical activity without any spiritual implications? More importantly, should people get themselves bent out of shape over Christians doing yoga?"
Westerners are practical people who "rarely look under the hood of our cars." So long as it appears to be working, we don't question things much further. For this reason, "we naively think that we can arrogantly detach anything from its heritage, and snatch its alleged benefits without any downside," Rev. Hird says.
"Yoga has been carefully repackaged to appeal for North Americans to our strongly pragmatic side. The yogic philosophy is initially minimized. Some yoga advocates claim that asanas are just poses, and mantras are just words. Context becomes everything. To argue that asanas and mantras have no inherent meaning is itself an unquestionably reductionistic statement. It is meaningless to suggest that yoga is meaningless."
His research uncovered what every Hindu already knows - that yoga is the very heart of Hinduism. "Yoga is the Hindu word for salvation. Nine out of ten Hindus agree that yoga is Hinduism. Without yoga, there is no Hinduism. Without Hinduism, there is no yoga."
So none of us should be surprised to learn that in yoga asanas, "one re-enacts the story of a particular Hindu deity," he informs. "And because the Hindu deities rode on animals, many yoga asanas are devoted to these deified animals."
For example, "in the Sun Salutation asana, one is yogically paying direct homage to Surya, the Hindu Sun deity," Rev. Hird writes. "The Cobra asana is about identification with and worship of the Kundalini snake, yogically awakened in the chakras. The fish asana (Matsyasana) is the yogic worship and reenactment of the Hindu deity Vishnu who turned himself into a fish to rescue people from a flood. The Half Moon asana involves the yogic identification with and worship of Ganesh, the elephant-headed god who threw part of his tusk at the moon. The Tortoise asana is dedicated to the yogic worship of Kurma the Tortoise incarnation of the god Vishnu. The Downward Dog asana reenacts the Hindu worship of the dog as happens for five days each November. The Hanuman asana is dedicated to the yogic worship of the Monkey god, Hanuman."
He continues: "The Warrior asana is identified with the yogic worship of Lord Virabhadra who is described as having a thousand arms, three burning eyes, and a garland of skulls. The Corpse asana is the death or extinction of the person when yogic unification with the Hindu deity Brahman wipes out one’s own identity and existence. The Lotus asana is identified with the yogic worship of the Hindu deity Lakshmi who sat on a lotus. The Marichi asana is dedicated to the yogic identification with and worship of Marichi, one of the seven Hindu Lords of Creation and the Grandfather of the Sun god Surya."
Can anyone really call these moves "just exercise"?
But what's even more concerning is that what looks to us like simple stretches are in fact "powerful psychic techniques that have been shown to change the very core of our consciousness," Rev. Hird explains.
"The purpose of yoga is to produce a mind-altering state that fuses male and female, light and darkness, good and evil, god and humanity. Similar to the way that psychoactive drugs have mental, emotional and even spiritual impact regardless of what one knows about them, yoga also has a chemical impact regardless of one’s yoga knowledge or belief."
In other words, a person is impacted by the practice of yoga whether or not they are espousing its religious foundation. Could this be why some Christian yoga practitioners become so upset at the mere suggestion that they are engaging in Hinduism and ought to stop? Have they already begun to form bonds with the spiritual entities who are posing as the snake god, the sun god, etc.?
It certainly seems that way. In fact, Rev. Hird knows of one Christian "who is so entrenched in yoga that they have vowed to never give up yoga even if God himself told them to stop."
"Unlike Christian prayer and meditation on God’s Word, the purpose of Eastern yogic meditational practices is to ‘kill the mind'," Rev. Hird writes. "Mantra or breath yoga causes one to enter into a meditational trance state in which the mind is first silenced and then emptied. The ‘killing of the mind’ produces the experience of differences disappearing and all becoming one. Yoga was crafted and developed to enable an escape from rational thinking and a direct access by nonverbal means to a specific psychic state. Many would hold that yogic Hinduism produces a trance state through self-induced hypnosis. Is it fair to wonder if intensive yoga has effects similar to psychological brain-washing techniques? Is it merely accidental that yoga has the ability to cause a blanking of our minds, an actual cessation of our thought processes?"
He goes on to thoroughly dismantle the whole idea of "Christian yoga" whose classes involve yoga asanas while reciting Scripture, praying the Rosary, etc.
"Some Christians claim that 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 gives them the right to christianize yoga, saying that because Paul ate meat sacrificed to idols, then we can do yoga that has been dedicated to idols. They claim that because they are strong, Spirit-filled Christians, they can do yoga with no downside. Paul however never encouraged Christians to participate in idolatrous Greek or Roman temple rituals as a way of proving how protected they are by the Holy Spirit. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13, Paul stated that Christians needed to flee idolatry and syncretism. Sometimes the wisest thing to do is to simply say no, and remove ourselves from a compromising situation. Never did the Bible encourage us to Christianize idolatry or to hang around the idolatrous temple to prove how strong we are. Not everything can be redeemed. Some things need to be renounced. . ."
He goes on to say that "Because yoga physically embodies the spiritual philosophy of Hinduism, it inhibits the Lord’s command to take every thought captive in obedience to Christ. It also disregards Paul’s encouragement in Colossians 2:8 to not be 'taken captive by philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ'.” This is not at the same level of whether or not one chooses to have a Christmas tree in one’s living room, or what kind of worship music one prefers. Yes, there is great freedom on non-essentials for Christians. But on more essential issues like idolatry or immorality, the bible is clear that we are to have clear boundaries. Syncretistically dabbling in things that the bible cautions against leads to great confusion."
Just as there is no Christian Ouija board and no Christian astrology, he says, "so there is no Christian Yoga that is either truly Yoga or truly Christian."
Rev. Hird encourages everyone to do as he did and give up yoga to return to non-religious based exercise programs.
"This will not be easy for you, but it will be life-giving. Please pray about it, like I did. Prayer is the way forward. You will not regret choosing to serve one master. Jesus is Lord. Yoga is not."