Yoga A Cautionary Tale
This is a personal story and a warning about yoga. The story takes place over a three-year time span, with a number of different events that all recently came together in a moment of grace. But in order to tell it, I need to go back to the beginning. So first we will go back to that very beginning and then, to the more recent convergence of events. So come join me on this journey through time and events to arrive at a startling conclusion.
My Yoga Story
This story begins a little over 3 years ago, when I was in my early 40’s, overweight, and had permanent restrictions for physical activity because of surgery on a torn rotator cuff. At this same time my younger brother, a military vet with a back injury, found a video about an American paratrooper who went from 2 leg braces, 2 arm canes and back brace to running in 10 months. This fitness program promised no impact cardio, weight loss and overall better health.
We decided to give this ‘purely physical’ yoga a try and decided on the beginner program with three workouts a week. Within that first week I was hooked and ended up doing it every day. Shortly after I began, this particular style of yoga introduced a certification program to teach. I joined up as soon as I could.
Soon after I started doing yoga, I started writing about it. A few fellow Catholic, and other Christian authors and friends warned me about the perils of yoga. Those perils included the spiritual elements, the religious undertones, and the opening of oneself to outside influences. It also includes the idols that are prevalent at yoga studios. I took their advice to heart, prayed about it, and spent a lot of time researching what the church taught about yoga. I came to the conclusion that it was permissible but with caution. I also approached a friend who is a pastor at a local Pentecostal church, and she informed me that she had done yoga years ago, but something in her spirit checked her and she stopped. Needless to say, by that point I was blind and addicted and just kept going.
In my first 8 months of daily time on the mat I lost 65lbs and felt better than I had in years. And I ended up doing over 400 days in a row before missing a day on the mat. Fast forward a few years and I had done over 800 hours of yoga in under 3 years, tried dozens of styles, numerous instructors and various live classes and DVD’s or online workouts. At this point I was teaching 6 classes a week in the fitness facility at work, teaching private classes and had even branched out into teaching live online classes. I had become a disciple of yoga.
A few events coming together in a short period caused me to rethink my yoga practice and teaching and to make a radical decision. First my wife and I were out for a drive and passed a yoga center that looked like the David Koresh compound. My wife asked me about it, and I said from the look of it, it would appear to be a full-on cult. And immediately I started thinking. There was and uneasiness in my spirit. So I started praying about it, and reached out to men I trust and asked them to be praying also. Second, a few days later, one of my students at work who was also Catholic, mentioned he was going on a yoga retreat vacation. He had never done yoga until attending my class. Had my teaching become a near occasion of sin? And third a few days later I introduced myself to someone new at work, and he said ‘You’re the yogi’? And that was when it clicked. I want to be known as a lot of things, a good husband, father, son, brother, Christian Catholic. Those mean far more to my identity and my eternal purpose! And yet I had invested a lot of time and money to become known as a yogi. I even had my own website yogabyaccident.ca (which now points to an interesting page) and branded clothing and more. I was already struggling with an old knee injury but stopped teaching and practicing yoga instantly. I asked friends for prayer and once I was certain I shared with my wife.
I had written over 40 articles, dvd reviews, book reviews and updates about my yoga journey on my site, I went through and redacted all of the posts with a request for prayer.
Yoga is Dangerous to Your Spiritual Life
I have come to the conclusion that yoga is dangerous to your spiritual health for a number of reasons. Yoga is progressive. You may start with a style that is mostly physical but I know very few people that do not end up exploring other styles. Many styles are a spiritual trap. As you practice yoga you will seek out teachers and styles, and keep pushing the limits of what you can do. Yoga is also highly addictive. I started with a plan to do 20-25 minutes three times a week and at my peak was on the mat for over 2 hours every day. I loved the emotional high of hot yoga, and the exhilaration or achieving a pose I never imagined I could get into. Yoga can also provide a lot of temptations, in live classes, dvd’s or streamed classes. There is often the temptation of barely clothed women, and in instances men on the disks and often clad in less in live class. The temptation to spend more time, and money. The temptation to push yourself harder and harder. Now I took my glasses off for live classes to reduce the temptation but it was there aplenty.
It was like I was in a tunnel that was getting darker and darker and only once I was out did I realize how dim the light had become. Or another way to put it was I was only seeing the forest and could not see the trees. Now if you do a search for Christian Yoga you will find organizations, and groups that support it and have even rebranded it. And I just think it is too risky.
Moments of Grace
I really believe it was a moment of grace that allowed me to get out of the quagmire of yoga I had been ensnared it. It was a conscience that listened when the Holy Spirit triggered a few events in a short time that helped me to question something that had become core to my day to day life. It was extreme grace that gave me the strength to stop cold turkey; both teaching and practicing; and to give up the income from teaching and the investment in the cost of certification. It was grace that helped me reach out to men I trust for prayer and discernment. And it is grace that helped me write this article even knowing it will stir up a hornets nest of reactions. And if you search you will find lots of arguments for Christians doing yoga and lots against. Ultimately it comes down to your conscience, but I pray you will heed my warning.
Yoga Just Not Worth the Risk
Looking back yoga was a slippery slope; it slowly consumed more of my time, emotions and energy. I was reading books, teaching, and practicing and writing articles and wanted more. I wanted to certify in at least another style to open up more teaching opportunities. Even if it seems innocent at first it can lead you astray. I now do not recommend anyone take up the practice of yoga and hope that my experience will serve as a warning.
Yes, I had a number of interim benefits, lowered heart rate, lowered weight, reduced pain and more. But there are numerous ways to achieve those results. Currently I am using a combination of rebounding, 7 Minute HIIT workouts, walking, TRX and weights. I do not regret moving on.
I cannot stress it enough – if you are serious about your spiritual life I highly recommend that you not give the enemy a foothold through the practice of yoga. Your spiritual health and authority are not worth it.