I have been examining three different blog posts (not from our group) warning of the dangers of yoga leading to possession. The three blogs come from three slightly different perspectives. The first one, which instigated this investigation, is by a woman named Corinna Craft, M.A., J.D. Her blog: “What’s the Matter with Yoga” (https://whatsthematterwithyoga.wordpress.com/) and is devoted to her personal experience as a Christian and former yoga teacher and body worker (shiatsu) who claims to have exorcised two personal demons related to her ‘Eastern’ practices. The second blog comes from a non-christian who uses the obvious pseudonym of Bronte Baxter (https://brontebaxter.wordpress.com/). He/she is a former member of the Transcendental Meditation movement who claims that all mantra yoga and meditation is surrendering the self to demonic possession, including Christian prayer. The third blog is a more standard Catholic anti-yoga blog that uses kundalini as its main evidence to show that all yoga leads to demonic possession (http://www.churchmilitant.com/news/article/awakening-the-serpent-within).
All three of these blogs attract a large following of paranoid individuals looking for anything that aligns with their powerful confirmation biases. Comment sections on all three are filled with a variety of strawman arguments to paint yoga as an ancient theological practice that is completely inseparable from the Hindu deities of whom they are only vaguely acquainted. These various attempts to malign an alien practice and often loosely connected faith as demonic, which are tolerated despite their apparent xenophobia and intolerance, manage to be construed as a large conspiracy that needs to be revealed. This same reliance on completely unconfirmed conspiracy theories, as we have seen this year more than ever, can lead to large-scale intolerant behavior, letting Christian and other groups justify unjust behavior towards other groups by viewing their own values as under attack. This misses the irony that they are the ones who are leading the attack, and replaying old models of colonial entitlement.
Our first blogger, Corinna, goes into great detail to describe her past as a yoga instructor who :
thought my yoga practice was kosher. After all, it was touted as a non-Hindu style for people with western sensibilities, devoid of Hindu elements, strictly reformulated as a good workout through the superimposed grid of exercise science. Moreover, I only taught in secular venues: city rec centers, gyms, and colleges, never in yoga studios rife with roving spirits of far eastern religions. In the privacy of my own home, I worshipped Jesus on my mat: I sanctified and reconsecrated the practice to Jesus, or so I thought. But yoga had originated in India for communion with the Hindu divine and the goal of realizing the self as god and for liberation from the treadmill of reintarnation (oops, reincarnation). How did I reconcile that with my Christian faith?
She then details how unhappy her life was, which of course is blamed on a long standing possession she was hitherto unaware of. It is only upon meeting an exorcist that she comes to realize that “shiatsu is satanic”. After being ‘saved’ from paganism by a confession of faith in 1990, she began her Christianized version of a yoga practice. But it was only upon meeting one particular minister that she had an experience that confirmed her belief in possession.
I attended an inner healing and deliverance workshop and volunteered as a demonstration subject. The minister, Gary Hixson, followed the usual protocol, interviewing me about possible entry points of the demonic in childhood and adolescence—any physical, verbal, sexual abuse, neglect, and so on. In the middle of his intake, he stopped.
“I’m getting a word,” he said.
“Oh yeah?” I said, “What’s that?”
“Shiatsu,” he said, […] “It’s demonic,”
Mr. Hixson, who runs a website called Deep Healing International (which makes no direct reference to possession or exorcism) then proceeds to confront and exorcise the demon of new age healing that is somehow attached to this gentle, non-theistic massage modality. This encounter is perhaps one of the most telling parts of her blog:
Suddenly, I felt my eyeballs bulging out of their sockets and my teeth clenching. My face seized up like the kabuki mask of a Samurai warrior scowling grimly, crossed-eyed with rage, […] Next, my abdomen and chest began to heave—I mean really heave—with deep, bellows-like, diaphragmatic breathing, to the sound of loud vacuuming inhalations and horse wheezing exhalations. […] Abruptly, my right hand started slapping my right thigh over and over to the point of stinging, and my left foot started stomping on the ground like a homesteader having a tantrum. Somebody was pushing the buttons on the control panel of my being, overriding involuntary organ functions and voluntary motor functions that were supposed to be regulated by my central nervous system and me! I was horrified.
“Is that enough for you?” G.H. said.
I bobbed my head yes. Blow me down!
“How did you enter her?” G.H. demanded, addressing the demon.
“Literature,” I heard in my head.
“It’s saying, ‘literature,’” I said, “and by that it means texts on Traditional Chinese Medicine that I had to read to write my book and teach the eastern paradigm of healing.”
Great! I thought. All that research and all that study came with hell’s hitchhiker! So books can be portals to spiritual attachments…I knew that, but I didn’t KNOW that. What a blooming chasm between knowledge and experience!
“Are you transferable through touch?” G.H. said.
“Yes,” I heard in my head.
“It’s saying, ‘yes,’” I reported. […] G.H. nodded and summarily cast it out.
As convenient as it would be to dismiss her experience, I will simply point out that the mystical experience of any individual is known to use familiar images and tropes that the mystic has prepared themselves to witness. Just as the Christian sees Christ, the Muslim sees Muhammad, and the yogi sees the cakras or deities their tradition teaches, and so on. What one might encounter with the conflicting expectations of kundalini awakening and Christian spiritual possession is hard to guess, but it is reasonable to expect someone’s growing Christian faith to lead to a cognitive dissonance that can be hard to resolve.
Her concept of Hinduism is as dismissive as one could possibly imagine.
I knew that yoga was a Hindu form of worship, one of several paths to enlightenment in the Hindu system: the path of bodily austerity or purification; the physical path of union with the Hindu divine. But after my conversion to Christianity, I knew that the Hindu supreme reality is not reality at all and that Hindu gods are not gods at all, and that YHWH is the one true God.
Yes, not only is YHWH the only true God, but she goes on to explain that the Hindu gods are not real, but that invoking them invokes evil demons attached to their practices. So Shiva is not real, but demons are… If she is working under these assumptions there is no other way for her to interpret her experiences, which makes her faith an extreme limitation on her ability to view other religions and traditions fairly or rationally.
The most remarkable things in this encounter in her world view are the belief that satan can spread by touch, justifying the accusation that shiatsu could be satanic, and the belief that she became possessed through literature. One of the most frustrating claims from any insular group like this is that reading opinions that disagree with theirs is detrimental. The Hare Krishna movement tells its followers only to read the writings of their group while they mercilessly attack their rival schools’ undefended strawmen. This is just like the far-right remaining insular in their news sources, never reading anything that would disagree with FOX news, because it is not about increasing their understanding, it is about confirming what they feel they already know. When a group teaches that dissenting opinions are harmful, this is one of the most blatant attempts to keep people too ignorant to ever disprove a group’s dogma.
She also has a second, self-led exorcism where she dispells a demon of yoga. In this epic encounter, she describes the demon’s resistance:
“Manifest yourself!” I demanded.
“I will not!” it said.
“Do I have authority over you?”
“Yes,” the demon said; then it backpedaled, “He’s not as powerful as I am.” (By that, it meant, “Jesus is not as powerful as I am.”)
Suddenly, I felt a pleasurable surge of energy from below erupt toward my head like a geyser—it was a full body rush that made me light up and tingle all over on the inside. I recognized this as kundalini energy.
And she goes on to explain how kundalini is supposedly an attempt by these demons to seduce us with the ‘inferior’ experiences of yoga. Her experience of kundalini combines incompatibly with her experience of a demonic presence. Of course we know that with sufficient conditioning, orthodox beliefs can make sex and chocolate into unpleasant confrontations with evil in the practitioner’s perception, despite their naturally pleasurable natures. Intention and expectation can be enough to totally transform our perspective of any experience. It seems likely that enough years of conditioning from one tradition eclipsed her conditioning from her half-baked ‘Christian’ yoga practice. It is well documented how moments of cognitive dissonance can lead to strong emotional responses, even violence when attempting to integrate or reject information that does not readily fit with a person’s preconceptions. This dissonance is, I believe, the source of all three of our bloggers’ vehement condemnations of yoga as demonic.
Another remarkable aspect of her blog is an attempt to use Mark SIngleton’s book, as well as the book the Raja of Aundh wrote on the sun-salutation, to prove that yogasana is inherently religious, despite the fact that Mark Singleton does not really put that theory forward. In fact, his main point seems to be that the secular yoga practices Corrina combined with her Christian faith are of non-hindu origin, coming from the same Western dance traditions that first led her to yoga. Likewise, the Raja of Aundh’s book is used to point out the sun worship that inspired the sun-salutation, which simply proves that the Hindus honored astrological figures, which is also true of the Christian faith. Even the days of the week are named after the same seven planets and similar deities in the Christian West and the Hindu and Buddhist East. If she thinks worshipping God on Sunday does not have the same ‘pagan’ sun worshipping roots as the sun-salutation, then she clearly has not turned the same critical eye towards the roots of her own religion.
Our second blog is devoted to the theory that yogasana or eastern medicine lead does not lead to possession, but that the mantras used in yoga and meditation are a tool to steal our power by ‘astral beings’. His explanation is that after only 17 years in the TM movement, he discovered (which shows just how inquisitive he must have been) that the mantras that he was practicing contained ‘namah’ which “means I bow down to”. He then extrapolates wildly to say that all mantras and even all yogic meditations are devoted to different deities, including the Judeo-Christian God as “Jehovah was one god among many for the Hebrews. A self-righteous fellow fond of war and genocide, he had to compete with the other local gods for the Hebrews’ allegiance.” Furthermore, he claims that all ‘Eastern’ meditation is based on this.
While we lost some of the disturbing Christian condescension of our first blogger, we encounter an even worse misrepresentation of what Yoga is. Throughout this blog, he explains that all yoga is devotional (a blatant falsity) and that all yoga teaches dissolving the ego into that of a deity (another falsity, as most devotional schools are strictly non-dualist). This misconception may be born of the fact that the Maharishi’s yoga is non-dualist, though it is also largely non-devotional. It is clear that, like Corrina, we are dealing with an individual with a very incomplete understanding of vast category of yoga, who is working hard to bend this understanding to support a belief in spiritual possession.
How foolish and arrogant is it to laugh off the existence of a race of beings who appear in the annals of every civilization? I was amazed to see ex-TMers, who spent years feeding soma to devas through chants and mantras, whose walls are still plastered with pictures of Lakshmi, Kali and Shiva, dismiss with a toss of their head the idea that gods might exist as real persons.
That’s right, folks: your years of meditation and chanting feed astral beings who have presented themselves as God’s throughout history to trick you into worshipping them. This is a reconstruction of some of the Vedic concepts of how sacrifice feeds the Gods, that seems to have mixed with the science fiction of stargate. At no point does he explain how ‘offering soma’ to these ‘demonic beings’ is supposed to affect us negatively, but hinting that when all offerings are stopped, the power of these beings will disappear.
Remarkably, he then outlines his own form of meditation which is in no way different that mindfulness meditations taught by the very groups he attacks. When this is pointed out in the comments section, he uses more strawman arguments to depict the ‘devotionalism’ of non-theistic meditations. When atheistic mantras like ‘so-ham’ are pointed out, he ignores the point in his response, finding more opportunities to dismiss one concept of yoga while upholding another that he simply stripped of the title and claimed as his own. When he says these paths teach abdicating duties, one comment points to the karma yoga of the Gita, which prompts another user to point to the irrelevant example of the Buddha leaving his wife and son, ignoring the fact that the Buddha and Gita do not teach the same thing. Another post says the Gita teaches us to be content as slaves, despite the fact that the text was clearly written for Brahmins and Kṣatriyas, not Śudras. But like many of the radical voices on the internet, his partial understanding of a subject, combined with a vehement and unsupported thesis, creates a belief that he has a heightened understanding of a topic he barely grasps. Once this point is of ‘foolish wisdom’ is reached, it is almost impossible to talk someone down from there.
Our third blog is simply a classic example of a Christian presence on the internet that equates the kundalini experience specifically with demonic possession. In the wish to dismiss all Indian religiosity and spirituality, the blatant misconception is proposed that all yoga is about kundalini awakening. Combined with their scant evidence that kundalini awakening bears the same symptoms as possession (taken from another anti-yoga blog), this then becomes ‘proof’ that all yoga is a gateway to demonic possession.
Many Catholics think Yoga is simply harmless stretching, but is it?
In fact, Yoga is a religion, and its purpose is to awaken one’s Kundalini. What is “Kundalini”? In Hinduism, Kundalini is actually a goddess that resides at the base of the spine and is awakened by the practice of Yoga. In other words, according to St. Paul, Kundalini is a demon.
Given that the purpose of Yoga is to awaken one’s Kundalini, it can be said that Yoga is simply an invitation to demonic possession, contrary to what some ignorant Catholics are saying.
It gives a wide, poorly sourced list of symptoms of kundalini awakening, most of which are also symptoms of a panic attack, describing them as the results of yoga practice, glossing over its unsupported assumption that kundalini is the goal of all yoga. Luckily, most of his readers do not know any better, and happily swallow the misunderstanding whole.
I am happy to say that this blog has attracted a healthy mix of opinions in its comment section, which is still heavily edited by the blogger, and currently closed to comments. A number of presumably Christian voices were happy to give ubiquitous ‘your blog proves everything I suspected’ comments, from those who would believe anything that supports their non-empirical assumptions. These comments litter all three pages, despite their uniform lack of primary sources and even stated unwillingness to engage yogic sources. But we also find a few fun, if not still ill informed, retorts in the comments:
It isn’t the exercises themselves that do the harm. It’s the meditations and things they tell you to do like “become one with the floor” or “empty your spirit” or other weird talk. No exercise can get you possessed I don’t think.. Otherwise there would be people coming in to Exorcism saying “I don’t know why I’m possessed” and the exorcist would say “Did you, by any chance, lift your knee up to 46º exactly and look up?”, “Maybe, yesterday I was going up the stairs and someone called my name from the 2nd floor”, “Darn! You hit a Yoga pose. Instant possession!” hehe
Pilates I think is ok. Many bishops and cardinals do the Pontius variant 😉
Seriously though I don’t think there are issue with them as long as the dress code is modest and moves are not heading in any immoral direction.
These are all mixed in among xenophobic comments presenting as concerned community members:
Our local priest who was from India and thank God he is gone. He suggested to the congregation to practice yoga as part of their “spirituality.” I called him on this and he gave me some baloney how the Indian method was fine. Our new priest is also from India I hope he will not have the same mindset. They [sic] is so much to be on guard for these days and that’s just within our own Church!?
Funny to see here that the “Indian method” is suspect, that a priest’s defense of it is “baloney” (interesting spelling), and that she is worried her new Indian priest will also teach unacceptable yoga. As with others who complain about ‘new age’ practice in their church and community, she never specifies what exactly are the practices she views as ‘the indian method’ or ‘new-agey’. As with the blogger, she assumes a monolithic body of non-christian practices with a singular illegitimate base that can be dismissed wholesale.
A number of other commentators, like our first blogger, Corrina, take particular issue with bodily postures, breathing exercises, and the visualizations they think of as yogic, showing a complete ignorance over the fact that all of these techniques are used in the practices of the first Christian monastics in Egypt, the Desert Fathers, and later developed into an almost identical practice used in Hesychasm as the Jesus prayer where one visualizes drawing Christ consciousness into the heart with the breath, while holding specific postures, focusing on bodily points like the belly button, heart, and visions of light in the head. When anything from their own meditative tradition is taught it is somehow assumed to be yoga. One commenter talks about their own experiences with a progressive priest:
We had a “new age” priest come to Australia last year, Fr Belitz, from San Francisco, who was preaching on all sorts of new age meditation nonsense. He was openly criticised by a friend, Eddie Russell of Flame Ministries, in his open letter to the Vatican (http://www.flameministries.org…. [dead link]
Needless to say, Fr Belitz was allowed to spread his dangerous new age nonsense around various parishes in Perth, and in the article/open letter, Mr Russell posts the update that Abp Costelloe has banned Belitz from preaching in the archdiocese moving forward.
Sadly, Fr Belitz is still allowed to do this elsewhere, even more recently, in Indiana, where Abp Costelloe is mentioned
Even when Hesychasm was growing in popularity, there were elements in the church who famously denounced it as polytheist (because of the divine association with the image of light). The ensuing schism led to the Eastern Church incorporating it while the Vatican banned it. Many Christians are still fighting any attempt to instill an experiential practice of meditation and prayer, without realizing they are just continuing a dogmatic argument that started between Barlaam and Palamas a millenia ago. But, when Galileo was pardoned by John Paul the II, we had a chance to see how quickly the church moves past old quarrels.
Before kundalini became an explanatory phenomenology within select yogic milieus for the mystical states achieved in practice, the techniques of the Yoga Sūtras, as one example, show that the Christian, Jewish, Islamic, and Yogic ascetic meditational practices were almost identical and certainly overlap much more than many Christians seem to realize. These practices are still central to the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition, though I will say remarkably, I have not seen one comment in all these threads that makes any mention of this. One comment even suggests that another poster should use the breathing exercises used by musicians because he ‘doesn’t know any wind musicians who do yoga’. There is already Christian breath meditation, but when they see breath meditation, they assume it is yoga and therefor not Christian. I also believe (from personal research) that the seven cakras, as well as the seven tiered cosmology of the puranas comes from the same Babylonian influences that shaped the Greek, Jewish, Christian, Zoroastrian and Muslim conceptions of seven heavens through which the soul ascends. The Biblical figures of Enoch and Elijah show stories of living beings entering heaven within their bodies (jivanmukti) through trance states. All that kundalini awakening really shows is an embodied form of the practice of mystical ascent that dominates all Indo-European religious soteriologies, not a demonology. Even the hierarchies of yoginis and demons that guard the cakras seem to exactly mirror the archangels who guard the seven palaces of heaven in Jewish merkabah literature like the Book of Enoch, or who move up and down the heavenly ladder in Jacob’s mystical vision in the book of Genesis.
So is there a way to change the minds of these individuals who view our yoga as demonic and other? How can one convince someone who does not believe in comparative religious studies, but will happily parrot the arguments of other descenters within their fold while condemning the liberal voices inside their own establishment. The effect of the walled garden is very powerful, leading to a small group of self-affirming radicals constructing a contained set of perceived facts that are interdependent, but not connected to or challenged by outside opinions. This is what happens within cults, where all dissent is considered unhealthy. The only way to break someone of these misconceptions is to actually coax them beyond the garden walls and force them into the unpleasant world of cognitive dissonance, which can be psychologically overwhelming.
Unfortunately, one of the most difficult tasks we will have to face is letting some people stay in their ignorance rather than attempting to violently dislodge their heads from the sand. Perhaps we can learn from the patient Jehovah’s Witnesses we sometimes encounter at our door. They proselytize because they believe that if we do not find their faith we will go to hell. They have an urgent mission that brings them face to face with hundreds of strangers a day who disagree with them, and each time they kindly give you their literature, talk with you if you are willing, and let you be when you wish.