Yoga is not mere physical exercises. It is a spirituality, which caused me a lot of terrible physical and spiritual suffering, made me turn away from my friends and that which I had truly enjoyed
My first contact with yoga was several years ago. The first class – an hour and a half, mats, incense … I was one of two men among over a dozen women, so I felt slightly ill at ease, but I considered that a minor disadvantage in comparison to what yoga was to offer me – relaxation and strengthening of the body …
The exercises seemed to me a bit unnatural, because I was not one of those really flexible guys. I started to exercise, unaware that there were many varieties of yoga … For me yoga was simply yoga. The variety I was practising, as it later turned out, was Hatha-yoga, probably the most popular variety in our country.
I also bought a book of instructions, and with time I began to exercise at home as well. Body postures (asanas), often called by animal names such as dog, cow or turtle, seemed to me ideal for calming my nerves and relieving stress after work. After yoga classes, I felt an upsurge of energy and I could sleep less; earlier I had slept for 8–9 hours, but after a month of yoga 5–6 hours of sleep seemed enough.
My immunity grew stronger as well. In my youth, I was very susceptible to colds, but now I had grown stronger physically. Fascinated with the new hobby, I learned from the book that besides exercising, it was good to start meditations or breathing exercises (known as Pranayama); I could repeat in my head phrases (mantras) to quiet my mind or arrange my hands into a special locking of energy with the fingers, known as mudras – all for the purpose of living a healthier, fuller and happier life. With time, I started visiting health food shops, vegetarian bars and natural medicine fairs. I gave up on traditional medicine, doctors, antibiotics and other medications; I took an alternative path. Herbs, acupuncture and acupressure were remedies for any health problems I had.
After some yoga classes, doing one of the asanas, I damaged a lateral meniscus in my knee. I faced a choice: surgery or avoiding greater knee loads as in skiing or playing tennis. It did not put me off.
Looking for even more methods of quieting the mind and controlling light depression, at a health fair, I came across a widely-advertised school of meditation, bhakti-yoga, involving mantra intonation, guitar playing and singing. With hindsight, I regret that I did not ask what the mantras meant at that time. I shall return to that.
Already earlier, through asanas, mudras and breathing exercises, and now by repeating mantras, I tried to control my mind, in which there was lots of anxiety and stress caused by personal and professional problems.
After some time, I realized that the circle of my friends had changed. I was socializing more with people who “worked on themselves” by using such methods as yoga or tai-chi (Chinese physical exercises); I had less and less contact with old friends. I quit alcohol, as it contaminated my body and modified my consciousness. Due to the knee injury, I stopped practising sports which I had greatly enjoyed as a kid: tennis, basketball and volleyball. I was increasingly concentrating on myself, on signals sent by my body. In the meantime, I turned vegetarian. That was one side of the coin …
I see Jesus heal me with his love, despite the fact that physical suffering is still there
The other side was that I felt increasingly lonely, and despite a better physical condition (my intestinestomach problems had disappeared as well) I did not feel well mentally. I remember, for instance, when after meditation or yoga exercises I felt drained, sad and depressed, which looked to me like a contradiction of the idea of the method that was said to help self-development and improve quality of life.
For instance, after intensive meditation, on the next day at work, I would withdraw completely and not talk to anybody all day, even to people who were kind to me.
I also remember holidays on which I took some individual yoga classes. After them, I felt mentally devastated; thoughts started coming to my mind that I could not get rid of: negative thoughts about myself. They are medically called obsessive- compulsive neurosis, I guess.
After some time, I got into reading about incarnations, reincarnation and karma; later I learned about chakras – points of spiritual energy that every man has – and finally about the energy itself, which is activated by exercises, mantras, mudras and meditations. For several years, I did not pray; I was convinced that I was selfsufficient and that I would get over any problems on my own by awakening inner strength.
The Bible practically ceased to exist for me; actually, I had an aversion to reading it. Confession: yes, but the problem was that despite going to confession and receiving Holy Communion, my obsessive thoughts did not go away. Today, I know that already at that time I needed prayer to set me free or contact with a priest well versed in the subject of spiritual threats.
With hindsight, I can say that the yoga I practised left me internally distraught and very lonely and made me turn away from that which I had once enjoyed. I became a selfish loner, extremely concentrated on my body and on my mind as an instrument of controlling my body and the way I felt.
I did not care about such things as the will of God or his plan for my life. The element of soul had been left out; that is to say, I did get into spirituality, but it was Hindu spirituality. As a Christian, I was increasingly harmed by it and turned away from my original nature.
The change of diet emaciated me and caused a loss of weight. I was over-concentrated on health food. My will was more and more restricted. I realized that I was held captive: I could not do what I wanted, even with respect to such basic human needs as eating. I could not choose freely.
One day after exercising, I lost consciousness. Physical problems started, as well as neurological conditions … Medical tests came out well, but I felt worse and worse.
I remembered a homily by a Franciscan which I heard a couple of months earlier. He spoke of spiritual threats such as meditation, acupuncture and other practices originating from India and China. Then, I did not take the homily as a warning. Now, I resolved to find that friar.
When I finally did, we had a long conversation. It transpired that I was very strongly spiritually entangled and held captive not only by yoga but also by many things related to the occult. The friar suggested that I make a general confession, go to a retreat, read the Bible, especially the Gospel according to Saint Mark and receive sacraments regularly, so that Jesus could start to purify me internally of the spirits and spirituality take over from other cultures and religions.
In my own body, mind and especially soul, I experienced how dangerous yoga is. After an initial admiration for it and an improvement in the way I felt under its influence, finally I was left completely devastated…
Yoga is a system of philosophy, hence the practice of it entails the adoption of the tenets of Hinduism. Today, I know what was withheld from me in the classes several years ago: for instance, that mantras recited in Sanskrit may contain the names of Hindu deities or spirits who are thereby summoned.
By reading the Bible, I renounced the faith in karma and reincarnation. I believe in what God tells us through the Bible and Church teaching. Jesus is everything to me. The only way, the only truth and the only life. The best doctor.
Yoga is not mere physical exercises. It is a spirituality, which caused me a lot of terrible physical and spiritual suffering, made me turn away from my friends and that which I had truly enjoyed. This spirituality cannot be reconciled with Christianity.
I returned to the Church like the prodigal son from the Gospel according to Saint Luke, knowing that God had forgiven me. This year, I have entrusted all my life to Jesus, my past, my present and my future, by declaring him my Lord and Saviour. Thanks to the Bible, I know that the old has passed away (cf. 2 Cor 5:17).
I see Jesus heal me with his love, despite the fact that physical suffering is still there.