Saturday, August 13, 2016

Thoughts on Yoga

I would make my posts more linear, but currently I have a lot of thoughts and the way they flow isn't quite like an article or official paper would be. I am not sure it would be worth it for me to put myself through trying to do that. Instead, I would rather get my thoughts out there onto my blog where they can be read instead of procrastinating forever and ever.
So in this post, I am going to discuss my thoughts on yoga after some thorough research that I had done.


Around a year ago,  my mom and I discovered yoga and we were both really enjoying the relaxation and meditative calm that it gave us. Yoga had always been a good thing to us. Then, we began to frequently hear heard from orthodox friends that yoga is against our religion to do and it is "bad".  I was particularly curious about this because I know my religion to be good and nourishing and I felt that yoga was the same, so what was the issue? I began to study and explore the topic online and through various resources during my free-time (this lasted a couple of months).

First, I listened to a good portion of a podcast about it on ancient faith radio. After that,  I thought it was a good thing to be aware of how yoga originated and that it can be used in a way that is against our religion,  however I resolved that it would still be okay if I was merely very conscious of the situation and my mind when doing yoga.

Later that day,  I hung out with some young adult orthodox people from various parishes in the Seattle area at a park for the first time. I was talking with one of the lovely young woman when the topic of yoga was brought up again; although briefly,  I took advantage of that and decided to ask her what she thought.  She told me about how she used to do yoga and she always felt kind-of guilty about it but wasn't sure why, then she learned that it was against our religion.  She also told me about an experience she had while doing yoga.  She said she wasn't sure if she made it up or not because supernatural-type things tend to be passed off in our brains as imaginations or tricks of the mind, but that she remembered being in a yoga class and when her eyes closed, seeing this demonic, angry face and then hearing an inhuman, monstrous breathing.  I listened,  very openly and acknowledged it. I was not really thinking much except continuing to be curious about whether it was okay for me to still do yoga somehow (basically). I have a lot of respect for the rules and suggestions of the orthodox faith. There has never been a suggestion or rule without a good, logical reason. This faith has never let me down. There are always little things which are mere preferences that some take more seriously than others, but this was not one of those things. Instead, this was something that kept coming up and I knew I should investigate.
I remember I had a bad feeling when we had this discussion. 

Some time passed and it wasn't until that evening when I had got home and I was settling down when I realized that I was pretty darn sure that I had experienced the exact same thing when doing yoga once before.  I suddenly felt fear and dread,  as I vividly remember a monstrous growling type of breathing when doing yoga with a group of people in a class once. At the time, I had shrugged it off.  It was certainly ominous, but I was convinced that someone in the room was just breathing strange from the stretches,  there were strangers there after all, and the demonic face thing...  there is a good chance that I saw such a thing, but I have always been a person with a wild imagination and grew up having to train myself to ignore when I get scary images in my head for any reason.. I say the Jesus prayer silently to myself, or cross myself when I can, and this is a protective ritual that I do. So, I believed I could be making it all up too. I had shrugged it all off and nearly forgotten in order to be okay with yoga. I can't deny, yoga makes me feel great. 

Side Note: This whole experience and discussion brings up a topic that I struggle with very greatly in my own life. From a spiritual perspective, that is knowing when to trust your feelings..  When are your gut feelings actually trying to tell you something or when is it just the devil trying to manipulate you or scare you for no reason?
This experience reminded me that as orthodox christians, we do believe in demons. Demons exist. But God loves us and will always protect us when we turn to him. So, it was startling. We like to think about the saints and the guardian angels watching over us, but demons also exist. They are terrifying, but God and the trinity are there to give us ground and strength and to protect us from them. So I had a deep existential moment about the things we know and do not and the things I believe and do not.

Time passed and I read more and more articles, finally coming to a conclusion. Not at all about whether I would do yoga anymore, but a conclusion about what yoga was and how it affected you and how it could be dangerous. (So I guess that's something right?)

In many ways, yoga is dangerous. 
It is like masturbation in that it takes you to a mind-less self-seeking state.
The Christian idea is that through our faith of him, God gives us opportunity for freedom from troubles, cares, and anxieties while still having our consciousness and strength without the need of turning to earthly things for self-satisfaction. He gives us peace. We have but to accept it.
But the bottom line is this: Self-gratification is a dangerous thing.
There's significance in the difference between our culture's beliefs (and that is one of focusing on self-building to be better, healthier, more relaxed) and the beliefs of our church which is to turn to God for peace and health in everything. The focus of yoga in some ways takes that self-love to an extreme which is unhealthy and leads to being more self-focused and less focused on God and others like true Christianity teaches.
That being said, I believe that the things on this Earth and in this life have been given to us by God to use as tools and it is the spirit of things that have to most importance. It is our duty to harness tools as gifts and judge the spirit of them and utilize them as tools to so good. 
 It may be harder, with something like yoga, to harness that as a tool to do good because the themes of self-gratification are somewhat deeply entwined with the ritual and the history which is also entwined with false gods which might very well be demons, some of them. It is playing with fire in that sense.
The fact that modernized yoga has sometimes been dumbed down to something much more focused on loving of oneself and caring for your body in a sense is a blessing, and a tool which theoretically should be taken advantage of for finding peace and gentleness (As Jesus teaches) in each present moment and a renewed resulting energy. Unfortunately, the ritual consists more of out-of-body experiences and meditation in a way which may be quite unstable in terms of the spiritual realm because it is self-focused and demons take advantage of comfort and self-focus to manipulate and exploit. Another thing which I think is important and worth mentioning is the word "Namaste" which is said at the conclusion of almost any yoga practice means something along the lines of we respect and acknowledge and reflect upon the divine within you.

All in all in the end, I decided that I would rather learn to meditate on scripture or prayer, that at least for me, I would rather be safe than sorry. The Church gives many healing opportunities to us which don't involve out-of-body experiences or self-gratification. Self-reflective practices which should be just as relaxing, if used properly. Among them, prayer, (prayer ropes), the saints as family and inspiration, confession, communion, and even marriage. (so many things to be discussed at a later time)

Of the many articles I viewed, this was one which I saved because I thought that it was the most helpful in broadening my understanding. http://www.pravmir.com/yoga-and-the-christian-faith/

-Rosemary

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