Yoga is Spiritually Incompatible with Christianity

Although some Christians practice yoga, they do so not realising that yoga and Christianity are spiritually incompatible.

According to Drugs and Society by Hanson et al, “the word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word for union, or yoking, meaning the process of discipline by which a person attains union with the absolute”.

Yoga is a Hindu spiritual practice which would then imply that if there is any yoking achieved by the practitioner, it would be to Hindu gods.

The bible, however, instructs us not to be yoked in such a manner (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; NIV; emphasis mine):

14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God,  and they will be my people.”

17 Therefore,

“Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”

18 And,

“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

Indeed, as I had written in a previous post, Christians who practice yoga open themselves up to Kundalini spirits.

Is Yoga Safe for Christians?

In my previous posts, I examined whether yoga is safe from a physiological perspective (I think its purported safety is inconclusive), as well as from a mental health pespective (where there apears to be a connection between yoga and some symptoms of mental illness). On the latter, I noted that this is related to the Kundalini awakening associated with yoga.

Just to recap on what ‘Kundalini’ means:  in Hinduism, the Kundalini refers to the dormant spiritual power or energy that resides at the base of the tail bone. The base of the tail bone is believed to be the location of 1 of 7 energy centres (known as ‘chakras’) in the body.

The Kundalini is represented as a coil, or a snake, which will rise with the practice of yoga, and will pass through and activate 5 other energy centers, until reaching the last one (which is located on the top of the head), and at that point, full enlightenment happens.

In physical terms, the Kundalini experience is commonly reported as a feeling of electric current running along the spine (Wikipedia). Some people experience intense involuntary, jerking movements (known as ‘kriyas’) of the body. Unfortunately for others, their experience of Kundalini awakening is so disturbing that they require psychiatric attention (for details, please read my earlier post).

I personally know of Christians who practice yoga, percieving it to be merely a form of exercise to keep fit. However, what they seem oblivious to are its spiritual dangers, particularly, how it opens a doorway to the entry of a Kundalini spirit.

Pohshon Choy, who was a yoga instructor and who opened her own yoga centre in Singapore in the 80s, wrote in her book ‘Confessions of an Ex-Yoga Teacher: . . . And What They Don’t Reveal to You in Yoga Classes‘: “In my yoga classes, I would introduce the ‘Kundalini’ spirit’ to my students, because the Kundalini (snake) spirit is central to yoga and you can never sever the ties that bind the spirit and the yoga poses. Every yoga pose is meant to stimulate or awaken the Kundalini.”

She adds: “Many of the non-Hindu yoga teachers these days do not or have not even heard of the Kundalini spirit! So just because now they (the teachers) do not mention about the Spirit of the Snake, the students are led to believe they are merely doing ‘physical’ exercises, and have nothing to do with meditation or the spiritual aspect of yoga. Be informed that the moment you start on the yoga poses, you have opened your spiritual doorway to the Spirit of the Snake.

In 1992, during a Christian evangelistic and healing outreach, Choy witnessed a Kundalini spirit being expelled from a lady, who had also been a yoga practitioner. After being prayed for, this lady started writhing uncontrollably on the floor like a snake. The incident so affected Choy that she severed all ties with yoga, including throwing away all of her yoga books, which had cost hundreds of dollars.

Given the risk of opening their souls to the entry of a demonic spirit, I think that Christians should refrain from yoga. Indeed, the scripture (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; NIV) tells us:

14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God,  and they will be my people.”

17 Therefore,

“Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”

18 And,

“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

Yoga and Mental Illness — Is there a Connection?

In my previous post, I examined whether yoga is safe from a physiological perspective (I think its purported safety is inconclusive), and concluded that although it seems assuring that there has not been a substantial number of yoga-related adverse events reported in the medical literature, this could be due to under-reporting of such events, and therefore, more studies are needed to establish its safety.

In the study published by Cramer H, Krucoff C, and Dobos G. of the 76 unique cases of yoga-related adverse events that has been reported in the medical literature between 1969 to 2012, there was 1 case that involved a psychotic episode, and another that involved a manic episode.

I was unable to obtain further information on the manic episode (because a paid subscription to the journal is required), but further information on the psychotic episode was available in a letter published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The psychotic epside involved a 33-year-old man who became psychotic while participating in a Bikram yoga instructors’ training seminar that lasted several days. The man, though, had a history of brief hallucinogen-induced psychosis 10 years before this event.

In the days leading up to the episode, the man felt dehydrated, ate poorly, and slept only 2–3 hours per night. He then developed auditory and visual hallucinations (he reported seeing owls speaking to him, “cat-like slits” in people’s eyes, and a cross on his own forehead), paranoia, and a disturbing sense that there was “a battle for control of [his] mind” and that he had “betrayed God.”

He was subsequently treated with aripiprazole (an antipsychotic), and had robust improvement in his psychosis after 1 week, and complete recovery by 1 month.

“This case demonstrates that while yoga may have physical and psychological health benefits, it is not devoid of side effects. Intensive forms of yoga such as Bikram may in particular have a liability for psychotic decompensation among those individuals who are more psychosis-prone because of stress, sleep and sensory deprivation, and dissociative experiences that can arise from meditation,” noted the authors, in their letter to the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Apparently, this is not the first peer-reviewed paper that has observed a connection between yoga and mental illness. In the paper ‘The Physio-Kundalini Syndrome and Mental Illness’ that was published in 1993 in the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, the author (Bruce Greyson) cited Yogi Gopi Krishna, who claimed ‘countless’ cases of spontaneous yoga-related kundalini-awakening that led to insanity or less severe mental illness: “Apart from psychosis. there are also many people in whom the awakening of kundalini leads to neurosis and other psychic d1sordcrs. They lead an unbalanced hfe without cross1ng the border mto the territory of the incurably insane.”

In Hinduism, the Kundalini refers to the dormant spiritual power or energy that resides at the base of the tail bone. The base of the tail bone is believed to be the location of 1 of 7 energy centres (known as ‘chakras’) in the body.

The Kundalini is represented as a coil, or a snake, which will rise with the practice of yoga, and will pass through and activate 5 other energy centers, until reaching the last one (which is located on the top of the head), and at that point, full enlightenment happens.

In physical terms, the Kundalini experience is commonly reported as a feeling of electric current running along the spine (Wikipedia). Some people experience intense involuntary, jerking movements (known as ‘kriyas’) of the body.

Unfortunately for others, their experience of Kundalini awakening is so disturbing that they require psyhiatric attention. Specifically, they may experience symptoms resembling schizophrenia — they hear internal voices (which resembles auditory hallucinations in schizophrenia), or become locked into unusual positions/postures (which resembles catatonic rigidity in schizophrenia), or have intense mood swings for no reason (which resembles the schizophrenic symptom of inappropriate affect), or experience thoughts speeding up or slowing down in kundalini awakening (which resemble the formal thought disorder of schizophrenia).

It is not clear why some individual experience psychosis (that is, a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality) during Kundalini awakening, while others don’t.  In the paper published in the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, the author (Bruce Greyson) noted: “Some authors have asserted that kundalini awakening, or inappropriate treatment of it, is a frequent cause of psychosis; while others maintained that mental illness occurs only in individuals predisposed to it or already suffering from borderline or narcissistic pathology prior to a kundalini awakening.” Nonetheless, according to Greyson, “symptoms of the physio-kundalini syndrome (i.e. physiological symptoms associated with kundalini awakening) are reported far more often by individuals known to have experienced kundalini awakening than by psychiatric, and particularly psychotic, patients“.

In summary, there appears to be a connection between yoga and some symptoms of mental illness. This connection, however, is not entirely clear; for example, it may be that some who require psychiatric help already have an underlying mental condition that is exacerbated by yoga. Nonetheless, it has been noted that psychiatric (and, in particular, psychotic) patients are far less likely to report specific mental disturbances associated with kundalini awakening, than individuals who practice yoga that had previously claimed to have a kundalini awakening. Hence, the connection between yoga and some symptoms of mental illness cannot be rejected.

Is Yoga Safe? Examining the Medical Evidence

Recently, the founder of Bikram yoga was in the news for alleged sexual assaults which he has denied.

Bikram yoga founder denies sexual assaults

Other than the possibility of a unwated sexual advances by one’s yoga instructor (a risk which seems to be small), it appears to be generally safe to learn yoga. Or is it?

A PubMed (a popular search engine used by the medical community for scientific literature) search (performed today, 6 April 2015) for the terms “yoga” and “adverse events” yielded just one review article entitled ‘Adverse events associated with yoga: a systematic review of published case reports and case series‘, authored by Cramer H, Krucoff C, and Dobos G.

The authors searched the medical literature for adverse events associated with yoga, and reported that, between 1969 to 2012 (the authors published their scientific paper in 2013), there appears to be just 76 unique cases of adverse events associated with yoga.

Of the 76 cases, 66 [86.8%] had no preconditions that were associated with the adverse events while 9 case reports described an aggravation of existing preconditions (e.g. glaucoma, osteopenia, asthma).

The yoga practice that was most often associated with reported adverse events was Pranayama or yoga breathing with 4 reported cases, followed by Hatha yoga (an umbrella term for physical yoga practices) and Bikram yoga with 3 cases each. Siddha yoga meditation and Vinyasa yoga (a yoga practice that involves flowing sequences of yoga postures synchronized to the breath) were practiced in 2 and 1 cases, respectively. The other case reports or case series did not report the specific yoga practice.

Regarding specific yoga postures, the headstand (Sirsasana) was practiced in 10 cases [13.2%], the shoulder stand in 3 cases [3.9%], variations of the lotus position (Padmasana) in 3 cases, forceful breathing techniques in 3 cases, voluntary vomiting (Kunjal Kriya) in 2 cases, and postures that included putting 1 or 2 feet behind the head in 2 cases. Kneeling posture (Vajrasana), locust pose (Salabhasana), bridge pose (Setu bandha), seated forward bend (Paschimottasana), and downward-facing dog (Adho mukha savasana) were practiced in 1 case each.

Among the adverse events reported, twenty-seven (35.5%) affected the musculoskeletal system; 14 (18.4%) the nervous system; and 9 (11.8%) the eyes.

Fifteen cases (19.7%) reached full recovery; 9 cases (11.3%) partial recovery; 1 case (1.3%) no recovery; and 1 case (1.3%) died.

The authors concluded from their study that, “As any other physical or mental practice, yoga is not without risk. However, given the large number of practitioners worldwide, only relatively few serious adverse events have been reported in healthy individuals. Therefore, there is no need to discourage yoga practice for healthy people.”

One limitation of the study is that there could be gross underreporting of yoga-related adverse events in the medical literature.  This is reflected in the figure shown below (which is available in the paper published by the authors) where one can see substantially more case report/studies in recent years (2004-2012) than in previous ones, and based on this trend, it seems likely that more cases might surface in future.

Number of published case reports

Indeed, of the 37 reports of yoga-related adverse events in the medical literature, the overwhelming majority (n=19) originated from the USA, as compared to only 5 from India, the country that yoga originates from. As for the remaining reports, 1 came from Canada, 2 from the UK, 1 from Germany , 1 from Switzerland, 2 from Italy, 1 from Denmark,, and 1 each from Nepal, China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Australia.

In summary, while it seems assuring that there has not been a substantial number of yoga-related adverse events reported in the medical literature, this could be due to under-reporting of events, and more studies should be conducted to establish the safety of yoga.