St John Paul II said: “For this reason it is not inappropriate to caution those Christians who enthusiastically welcome certain ideas originating in the religious traditions of the Far East — for example, techniques and methods of meditation and ascetical practice. In some quarters these have become fashionable, and are accepted rather uncritically.” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 1994)
These words of St John Paul II are particularly topical today, as yoga is one of the most popular forms of “relaxation”. It is not restricted anymore to mushrooming “yoga schools”, but has entered the public space: yoga is practised in parks, forms part of school curricula and is prescribed to pregnant women and senior citizens …
Many devout Catholics even let themselves be carried along by the wave of the “beneficial power” of yoga, claiming that for them it is only relaxing physical exercise which does not tie them to any specific philosophy. Yet is that really possible?
An answer to this question can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which stresses that: “It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them” (CCC 1756); this is also borne out by the words of St Paul: “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22).
Many scholars studying Eastern cultures have made it absolutely clear that yoga by definition is immersed in the world of gods and spirits and involves summoning their presence (which may end in possession), while individual yoga positions are devoted to various deities. So yoga gestures and exercises cannot be spiritually neutral. As a result, when practising yoga, we are exposing ourselves (not always consciously) to evil spirits and are drawn into a kind of idolatry (see Exod. 23:24).
What is yoga about?
Father Joseph Marie Verlinde — a Catholic priest — lost his faith as a young and promising scholar. Drawn by the popularity of the philosophy of the East, he was attracted to yoga and meditation. Having met the guru of transcendental meditation at that time, Maharishi Mahesh Yoga, he spent several years in Himalayan ashrams [an ashram is a monastery or a religious school, ed.] as a student of his. It was there that he studied Eastern philosophies and that his conversion took place. In his testimonies, Father Verlinde explains what yoga exercises are exactly about. He says that the purpose of yoga is to lift earthly energy in our body up to the very top of the head, the rationale for this being the fusion of earthly and cosmic energies, making the “illusion of an individual person” disappear. Father Verlinde emphasises that there are various kinds of yoga, but all have the same purpose.
For instance, the purpose of hatha yoga, based on physical exercises, is to lift that energy in your body by assuming various positions.
What kind of energy is it?
Interestingly enough, this is none of the known physical kinds of energy. It is occult energy; that is, one that can be neither measured nor weighed. This “energy” is known as kundalini and is represented as a small snake (see Gen. 3:1). It supposedly moves from the base of the spine to the top of the head. Since the point of departure is the base of the spine, yoga is practised while sitting down, in the lotus position.
Where exactly is this energy supposed to move to?
It supposedly ascends along occult channels; that is, ones that do not belong to our physical bodies. According to Eastern beliefs, we have three such channels, which intersect seven times. It is those intersection points that are interesting, as they are the location of the chakras, which are like energy pumps that supposedly suck the energy (kundalini) upwards.
Many scholars studying Eastern cultures have made it absolutely clear that yoga by definition is immersed in the world of gods and spirits and involves summoning their presence
To facilitate the process, besides physical exercises, yoga recommends breathing exercises, or pranayama. Their purpose is exactly the same: they are meant to lift the energy. So how is this done? For instance, with the help of precise breathing techniques, we bring ourselves to a state where the energy is pushed upwards.
The third kind of yoga has to do with concentration techniques, involving mentally repeating mantras, words that are specially selected to produce resonance in those pseudo energy pumps (chakras).
So yoga is centred around the chakras. The bodily movements, breathing and concentration is all designed to activate the chakras and bring the energy (kundalini) to the top of the head, because when this is achieved, the personal self disappears and is replaced by a sense of unity with everything.
When you know this, it is easier to understand what Grzegorz Fels writes about in his book Niebezpieczna joga [Dangerous yoga, pp.31-32]:
“Some followers of yoga maintain that there is no harm in practising it, because they reject the philosophy behind it. Yoga thus understood is believed to be merely a set of exercises, serving the purpose of relaxation. An Indian yogin, when asked about this, allegedly replied with a smile: ‘Let them practise. Chakras will open in them anyway.’ Yoga promoters make it absolutely clear that philosophy and practice are in this case inextricably tied to one another.”
Do yoga exercises bring us closer to God?
By no means! One man in whom yoga caused serious demonic enslavement said: “I am convinced that yoga — any yoga — is Satanic. Anyone who practises it exposes himself or herself to demonic activity.”
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger emphasises that “a characteristic trait of this type of mysticism (of a yogin) is the experience of identity: a mystic is immersed in the ocean of ‘a complete unity’ […]. At the ultimate stage of this experience, a mystic will not tell his God: ‘I am yours’, but his formula will be: ‘I am you’.” Unfortunately, this is the worst form of idolatry, suggested by Satan at the very beginning: “you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Curiously enough, the biblical text at this very place identifies Satan with a serpent.
Father Verlinde often warns against yoga: “The effects of Western and Eastern mysticism utterly oppose one another. This is not about different roads leading to the same peak; it is climbing entirely opposite peaks: the peak of humility and the peak of pride! Some reach the Truth, others reach illusion.” The peak of pride is ultimate selfishness or hell. The peak of humility is absolute love or heaven.
The testimony of Paweł
There are many testimonies of people who have experienced the destructive action of yoga. This is one:
“I remember a vacation during which I attended a series of individual yoga classes. After the classes, I felt mentally maltreated, I had thoughts coming that I could not get rid of, negative thoughts about myself. Medically speaking, this is called obsessivecompulsive neurosis, I guess. […] I stopped praying, I was convinced that I was self-sufficient and that I could cope with problems on my own by releasing internal strength. […] Yoga made me feel internally drained, give up what I once enjoyed, and, finally, suffer from desperate loneliness. I became an individualist, a selfish person focused completely on my body and on my mind, as a tool of controlling the body and the physical state I was in. I paid no attention to God’s will or his plan for my life. The soul had been left out. I was going deeper and deeper into Hindu spirituality. Being a Christian, I was increasingly harmed by it and alienated from my own nature. A change of diet emaciated my organism and made me lose weight and concentrate on health food. I realised that I had been enslaved. I could not do what I wanted even in respect of such a basic human need as eating. I could not choose freely. One day after exercising, I lost consciousness. I developed physical problems and neurological conditions. The medical tests came out all right, but I felt worse by the day. […] Yoga is a philosophical system the practising of which entails the adoption of the teachings of Hinduism. Today, I know what I was not told in the classes: the mantras repeated in Sanskrit may be names of Hindu deities or spirits. […] Yoga is not physical exercise. It is a spirituality which caused me great physical and spiritual suffering and alienated me from my friends and all that I once had truly enjoyed. (Niebezpieczna joga, pp. 16–18).”
I became an individualist, a selfish person focused completely on my body and on my mind, as a tool of controlling the body and the physical state I was in
Father Dr hab. Aleksander Posacki explains this by saying that as a result of practising yoga, a person “withdraws step by step into his or her interior and consequently is not able anymore to build relationships with others. As a result, this state of isolation is accepted as appropriate and good. This works against the human calling to do good in the service of love.” (Niebezpieczna joga, p. 66).
Yoga is a system of exercises derived from a religious worldview in which there is no place for a personal God. The purpose of these exercises is to activate occult energy (not accidentally identified with a snake) and lose one’s own self, which may result in demonic enslavement.
We must realise that we cannot win salvation for ourselves on our own — it is a gift that we receive. God, wishing to give us the fullness of happiness, loved us so much “that he gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). Any attempt to achieve salvation on one’s own, meanwhile, is a rejection of the gift of Divine Mercy and exposure to the action of evil spirits.
Thanks to the sacrifice of Christ, we may truly unite with him and be filled with his Spirit: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6, 19–20).
Activating occult energies is clearly not glorifying God in our body! It is a sin against the First Commandment.
What can we do?
What then is the best way of meeting God? How can we find peace and distance ourselves from everyday problems?
St John Paul II encourages us to receive Christ in the Holy Communion and adore him in the Blessed Sacrament as often as possible:
“It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the Beloved Disciple (cf. John 13:25) and to feel the infinite love present in his heart. If in our time Christians must be distinguished above all by the ‘art of prayer’, how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament? How often, dear brothers and sisters, have I experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support!” (EE 25).
Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta stresses, in turn:
“We must build our lives on the Eucharist and keep our eyes fixed on Him who is Light. May your hearts keep to His Divine Heart. Ask Him for the grace of coming to know Him, for love to love Him, for courage to serve Him. Look for Him zealously. Through Mary, the cause of our joy, you may discover that nowhere on earth are you more welcomed, nowhere on earth are you more loved, than by Jesus, living and truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. He is truly here, in His own person, and is waiting for you.”
Let us remember then that the best way of meeting God, the only source of joy, love and peace, is the Eucharist. Let’s avail ourselves of it as often as possible, and when we are downhearted and feel a need for peace, let’s simply pause in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Let’s give Jesus all our problems, suffering and wounds. Let’s allow Him to heal, transfigure and free us from selfishness, and teach us how to love.
Source: Niebezpieczna joga
(Poznań: Monument, 2015).