NO, Yoga is NOT the Devil

Image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Every once in a while during my childhood, I got the sense that my parents were not quite as conservative as some of my friends and their families. Never mind their vehement pro-life stance, their frequent votes for Republican candidates, and even my mother’s serious consideration of anti-vaccination articles. My parents wouldn’t let me read Harry Potter for years, and still think oija boards can summon evil spirits, but they got one thing right during my childhood: they understood that yoga is a form of exercise, not devil worship.

I am aware that yoga comes from Hindu tradition and can involve religious practices if you choose to partake in them, but the form of yoga that Americans do in gyms is not really religious anymore, and Christians should relax about the idea that it’s putting them in “spiritual danger.” I’ve known this since my childhood because an uncle of mine, who is a practicing Catholic to this day, has done yoga for years. He finds it relaxing and considers it a good form of exercise. I remember watching him do stretches one Christmas, and finding nothing weird about that. People exercise, and that’s a good thing. The last thing anyone should do is discourage that unless they’re exercising in a way that’s genuinely unsafe.

Unfortunately, many Christians, including many of the Catholics I met in my childhood, mistakenly think that yoga is evil. As a teenager, I attended a youth group for homeschoolers where the host brought in a guest speaker, a former nonbeliever who said she regretted her abortion and had turned away from the evil sins she used to partake in like dressing in a worldly way, modeling, and doing yoga. I immediately wondered why yoga was being listed on the same plane as abortion. Catholics believe abortion is murder, but since when is exercise related to that? I understood why modeling and worldly clothing might violate a religious person’s beliefs concerning modesty, but people don’t have to wear a sports bra and booty shorts to do yoga. I don’t do yoga myself, but to my knowledge baggy t-shirts and sweatpants are just as acceptable as the aforementioned options. What was so bad about yoga?

That experience wasn’t the only one in which someone I knew freaked out about yoga. While attending the Steubenville Youth Conference in Ohio during high school, a Catholic homeschooling parent who was chaperoning my group brought up the subject. I told her about my uncle, the aforementioned proud, healthy, Catholic yoga practitioner. Her response? “I’ll pray for him.”

“You don’t have to,” I argued. “He’s not doing anything wrong. It’s just exercise.”

She shook her head. “Actually, there’s a spiritual component that makes it an unsafe practice for his soul. I’ll pray for his soul to be safe.”

“Whatever,” I said, “I still disagree, and so do my parents.”

She wouldn’t hear it, and for all I know she may still be wasting her energy by praying for my uncle (who, for the record, weighed a lot less than she did.)

I asked my mother why so many people kept telling me yoga was bad. Was I missing something about it?

My mom is a very well-educated Catholic when it comes to religion. While she doesn’t research other aspects of her life (like medicine) as thoroughly as she should, she takes her faith very seriously and does study up on what Catholic teachings actually say. She told me that according to Catholicism, doing yoga as exercise is fine, and the only way it conflicts with Catholic teachings is if you practice the religious aspects of it. She said sometimes it involves a form of meditation that conflicts with Catholic teachings, but what most people do in gyms really has no spiritual conflict with the religion. I fact-checked her just to be safe, and a Catholic apologist corroborates this in an article titled “The Trouble with Yoga.” The apologist explains,

As a spiritual path, yoga is incompatible with Christian spirituality. But if you can separate the spiritual/meditational aspects of yoga from the body postures and breathing techniques common to yoga, then you might be able to use those postures and techniques beneficially for health.

She even adds,

It is important for Catholics to know that yoga should neither be hallowed nor damned.

In other words, it’s really not a huge deal.

Knowing this, I couldn’t help but wonder why so many people were convinced that doing yoga at all would damn a person to hell.  I’m convinced it’s for the same reason that many Christians still to this day think Harry Potter encourages youngsters to seek out Satanism or Wicca, when really it’s just another fantasy containing wizards. The Harry Potter series is no worse for its magic than the conservative’s favorite fantasies like The Lord of the Rings. Maybe it doesn’t contain direct religious allegory like The Chronicles of Narnia, but that doesn’t make it any more dangerous than other fantasy stories that don’t. Unfortunately for young readers, many Christians believe in spiritual warfare. They believe Satan has a lot of influence on the world and secular culture, and expect to see the devil everywhere. When they don’t, they begin to imagine him in the most benign places, and shelter their children and themselves from completely harmless things.

The bottom line is, even if you’re a devout Catholic, you can relax about yoga. Seriously, go to the gym. Find a form of exercise that works for you. Maybe you’ll like kickboxing, or pilates, or rock climbing, or swimming. It doesn’t have to be yoga, but you should only eliminate it after research into what it entails, and maybe trying it once or twice. It’s not for everyone, but it’s no more dangerous for your spiritual well being than running on a treadmill or lifting weights, I promise.

Here’s a video about where yoga comes from and its benefits. In summation, it does come from a religion, but even just the exercise is really, really good for you.

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome, but please be respectful and think things through before posting.

Now go exercise. America’s obese for a reason.

-Nancy

Spiritual Warfare: How it’s All in Your Head

Many religious belief systems involve a good vs. evil situation—you know, the good supernatural deity fighting an evil supernatural being. In Christianity, this situation is a fight between God and the devil, also known as Satan or Lucifer. The devil is believed to be cunning, powerful, and have a whole slew of people under his control. Psychics, witches, gay people, teenagers who play Dungeons and Dragons or listen to Rock music—you name it, Satan has it. Yet somehow, God is always believed to be winning.

Theists who believe in spiritual warfare often expect to see signs of it, mini spiritual battles, in their own lives—and they do. As a child growing up Catholic, I was raised to believe in spiritual warfare, but I wasn’t really convinced. I noticed at an early age that only the people who believed that everything was attacking them seemed to get “attacked,” and people like me who were super religious but didn’t look for signs of the devil at the grocery store, never seemed to have to face him. At first I was disappointed—I wanted to show my faith and face the devil. But I also had a skeptical bone in me that said, he’d better make it clear that he actually is the devil before I go all “prayer-warrior” on him (because that’s what you’re supposed to do). I was also skeptical about the so-called “power of prayer.” But that’s a topic for another post.

Witchcraft, and any other form of “magic” is perhaps the most common thing to associate with the devil. This is probably because there are so many Bible verses preaching against it. My dad’s personal favorite was Exodus 22:18, which says, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” But there are plenty more. Leviticus 19:31 says, “Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I [am] the LORD your God.” See this link to read more, and if this isn’t your favorite version of the Bible, by all means look up the verses in yours. http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Bible-Verses-About-Witchcraft/ 

Having read Leviticus 19:31, it’s hardly surprising that Christians often freak out about the Harry Potter series–I mean, Harry Potter is a wizard, and the Bible says not to “seek after wizards,” therefore, wizards are against God, and anything against God is OF THE DEVIL! This is the kind of reasoning that got Harry Potter banned from my household and my reading lists for most of my young life, for fear that it might open up a door to the spirit world and taint my soul.

Luckily, either the panic about the Harry Potter books died down, or my parents gave into my pleading, because when I was around 12 or 13, they finally said yes and let me read the books–or rather, my mom said yes. My dad, who was and still is a very spiritual man to the point of ridiculousness, would never allow it, so my mom said, you can borrow the books from the library as long as you don’t let your dad see. And I did. And I got through most of the then 6 books before my dad caught on. Unfortunately though, one day I was careless and forgot to hide the book before he came home from work, and he had a fit. He said he felt extraordinary uneasiness and knew that evil had come into the house through that book, and I was to return it immediately. Instead, sensibly, I hid it again so that he couldn’t burn it in a fit of spiritual fervor (I didn’t want to lose my borrowing privileges). Then I thought about it, and I realized that the book had been in the house for several days, and the previous books had been in the house for days or even weeks at a time. I liked to borrow a book and read it, then read it again to remember it better, so I would keep them for the full length of the borrowing period when I could. I had even started reading the books to my younger brothers, so I sometimes had more than one Harry Potter book in the house at a time, and my dad never noticed “spiritually” that they were in the house until he saw the book. Even my middle school aged self thought, isn’t that funny? If it truly was the devil, and if the book were truly making him feel uneasy, shouldn’t the book have done that regardless of whether he consciously knew what was causing the uneasiness? I mean, if this was the same uneasiness that comes from Tarot cards, ouija boards, and playing Dungeons and Dragons, shouldn’t it not matter whether the person knows what’s there? Shouldn’t the spiritual person just feel the spiritual attack, and then have to tear through the house to find whatever’s the conduit of the evil?

Ironically, just last year I caught my dad watching reruns of the Harry Potter films on TV, and even tivoing them to watch later, so clearly his stance has changed. But as a child, that really got me thinking about the whole spiritual warfare thing again. I mean, it didn’t seem to affect people who didn’t believe, nor did it seem to affect people who believed in God but didn’t believe in spiritual warfare, so it seemed to me to be a self-perpetuating belief. And that seems to be the case for many things that theists freak out about.

Penn and Teller did a great episode on ouija boards, in which they did a great experiment that shows that it’s actually being controlled by the people using the board, not by a spirit. Long story short, if you blindfold participants and rotate the board 180 degrees without telling them, they will still move the board to where they think the “yes” and “no” options are, even though they can’t actually see them, and with the board rotated, they will be wrong every time. To see that experiment, go to this link and watch the video from about 2:00 in to 5:30. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JA5uYhXpa-E

Then there are psychics. Growing up I was always told that, as was supposedly the case with Harry Potter, psychics could open the door to the devil and other demons. I was taught that even touching something a psychic has touched can lead to possession by a demon, and that if I were to consult with a psychic, or otherwise communicate with the spirits, I could be letting evil spirits into the world and into my life, which was a very dangerous thing to do. There is a whole Penn and Teller Bullshit episode on psychics, and I highly recommend checking it out, but now I’m going to use a different example. There’s an episode of the show “Trading Spouses” where they brought on this lady named Marguerite Perrin, who is an absolute psycho. Frighteningly enough, she reminds me of my brother’s godmother, who believes strongly in spiritual warfare and often talks about “putting on her spiritual armor” and other nonsense. Here’s a link to the video. Try to focus on how she reacts to meeting the guy in the suit before she finds out he’s a psychic, and then how she reacts AFTER she finds out.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q86VBFjeMtY

Basically, this lady is totally civil to the man when she meets him initially. Doesn’t freak out about him having demonic traits. But then, when she finds out what he does for a living, she throws a fit.

This lady is so funny, yet such a perfect example of so called spiritual warfare, that I have to point out another clip, where she goes ape shit over a dryer that she seems to think is possessed or something. Seriously, it’s a dryer for crying out loud. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlNUU43md4A

If the devil has in his control all of these people, as well as tons of ordinary, everyday objects like broken dryers, then we’re seriously screwed. It often makes me wonder why so many people think God is winning.

It all makes way more sense when you think about spiritual warfare as a product of an individual’s imagination. In fact, it explains a lot of things.

Happy thinking!