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Difficulties and Dangers of Yoga
Comments and Quotations
Breath Control and Breathing Exercises |
Mantras and Meditation
Raising the Kundalini |
Mystical Experiences, Spiritual Crises, Psychoses, Demon Possession | 'Wrong' Methods? 'Incorrect' Practices? 'Mistakes'?
Websites and Recommended Reading
Associated Terms and Definitions | Some Helpful Scriptures
"Shortly before I left India to come to the United States, a young boy of perhaps sixteen or seventeen years of age joined our monastery to practice hatha yoga. When I returned to India after an absence of thirteen years, I visited one of our centers. While sitting on the porch talking to a swami, I happened to notice this young person in the distance. He was acting very strangely. he would prostrate fully on the ground, rise to full height, then repeat the performance - over and over again. The swami said that he had lost his mind. When the fellow approached me I was amazed to see that he still looked the same as when I knew him thirteen years ago! So it was true: certain exercises did keep one youthful. Yet how costly! Then he showed me various exercises, many which I knew to be difficult to master. ... Finally, however, he became so unmanageable that he had to be confined" [Swami Prabhavanada, Yoga - True and False].
"When referring to his encounters with individuals who went mad, [Gopi Krishna] says that it is widely known in India that hatha yoga practices can lead to insanity: 'The power, when aroused in a body not attuned to it ... can lead to awful mental states, to almost every form of mental disorder, from hardly noticeable aberrations to the most horrible forms of insanity, to neurotic and paranoid states, to megalomania'" [Gopi Krishna, The Awakening, p.124, quoted in: source].
"Physical yoga, according to its classical definitions, is inheritably and functionally incapable of being separated from Eastern religious metaphysics. The Western practitioner who attempts to do so is operating in ignorance and danger, from the yogi's viewpoint, as well as from the [practitioner's]" [David Fetcho, quoted in source].
"For those who practice Hatha for purely physical ends, outside of a total context of spiritual discipline, most of the classic commentaries issue dire warnings. The Ananda Marga Yoga Society's manual for teachers sums them up well: 'Indeed from the practice of Hatha Yoga, without a proper effort to the mind, mental and spiritual degeneration may ultimately occur'" [source].
"I advanced in the occult sphere so fast that I soon became the youngest guru in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most advanced and powerful. Twice a week I taught yoga on television. Hatha-Yoga sounds like a nice simple set of exercises; everyone thinks it is just gymnastics. ... After I became an instructor in Hatha-Yoga, my guru showed me that the only thing these exercises do is open your appetite for the occult. They are like marijuana; they usually lead you on to a drug that is worse and stronger, binding you so completely that only Christ can deliver you. Many people think that occult power is just the power of the mind. This is not true. there is a point beyond which the power of the mind ends and the demonic power takes over" [Quoted in Dave Hunt, Yoga and the Body of Christ, (2006), p.70].
"Consider the following letter, typical of many we have received over the years: 'My daughter, age 43, for the past 10 years has been involved with Hatha Yoga and at the present time she is experiencing ... violent shaking, hallucinations, murderous impulses ... uncontrollable rage ... trying to commit suicide... She says she would like to give up Yoga and be released from the spirit of her last teacher that is currently inflicting excruciating pain upon her. We've taken her to see several doctors, but they have been of no help. Her mother and I are at our wits end ... Please help if you can.' Of course, nothing like this horror was even hinted at by those who taught her yoga as a supposedly healthful daily practice, which was promoted as purely physical. Demonic invasion of her mind and body was the last thing she had in mind when she began to practice Hatha Yoga, but it happened to her - and she is typical of many, many others" [Dave Hunt, Yoga and the Body of Christ, (2006), pp.70-71].
"Now we come to breathing exercises. Let me caution you they can be very dangerous. Unless properly done, there is a good chance of injuring the brain. And those who practice such breathing without proper supervision can suffer a disease which no known science or doctor can cure. It is impossible even for a medical person to diagnose such an illness" [Swami Prabhavanada, Yoga - True and False].
"I know of one individual who complained to me of constantly experiencing headaches; and though he had gone to a number of doctors, they were unable to do anything for him. I asked him, 'Have you been practising breathing exercises?'. 'Yes', he said, 'I have'. At once I knew the source of his problem - breathing exercises" [Swami Prabhavanada, Yoga - True and False].
"As regards breathing exercises, I know that Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi, and all the disciples of Ramakrishna have warned us again and again not to practice them" [Swami Prabhavanada, Yoga - True and False].
"In the first stage of Pranayama the body of the Yogi begins to perspire. ... In the second stage there takes place the trembling of the body; in the third, the jumping about like a frog; and when the practice becomes greater, the adept walks in the air" [Shiva Samhita 3:40-41].
"Just as lions, elephants, and tigers are tamed, so the prana (the alleged divine energy underlying the breath) should be kept under control. Otherwise it can kill the practitioner" [The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Chapter 2, verse 15, quoted at source].
"To practice pranayama [yogic breath control] without real guidance is very dangerous. I know of three persons who have died from it" [Sri Chinmoy, Great Masters and the Cosmic Gods, (1977), p.8, quoted at source].
"In kundalini yoga, if the breath or prana is 'prematurely exhausted (exhaled) there is immediate danger of death for the yogi'" [Hans-Ulrich Rieker, The Yoga of Light: Hatha Yoga Pradipika, (1971), pp.9,134, quoted at source].
"A possible effect of dramatically reducing the rhythm of respiration is hypoxia (the decrease of the oxygen concentration in blood below a certain limit of safety for one's health). The pathologic manifestations of hypoxia mentioned in medical literature are convulsions, body shaking beyond control, itching sensations, muscles contracting unexpectedly, headaches, and perspiration. The interesting fact is that such manifestations do appear during the practice of pranayama" [source].
"[K]nown mental experiences provoked by the increase of carbon dioxide concentration in the blood as a result of hypoxia: 'sensations of light and brightness, a sense of bodily detachment, the revival of past memories, a sense of communicating telepathically with a religious or spiritual presence, and feelings of great spiritual ecstasy and significance' (E. Hillstrong, Testing the Spirits, p.94, quoted in source].
"As stated before, nothing but dangerous, mediumistic psychisms or neurotic dissociations of personality can result from the practice of (yoga) meditation without the qualifications mentioned at the end the last chapter ... To practice it, as many do, out of curiosity ... is a mistake which is punished with futility, neurosis, or worse ('even insanity itself')" [Sri Krishna Prem, The Yoga of the Bhagavat Gita, (1973), p.xv, p.47, quoted at source].
"I plunged into meditative prayer. ... I began to have problems relating to the world around me. I had shifts of consciousness during my non-meditative hours. ... with thoughts of suicide. ... strange moods. ... I withdrew from society and had to rely on my family to care for and support me. ... My peaceful prayers changed to frantic spiritual cries for help. ... I was hospitalized three times in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital. ... I could no longer cope with my agitated mind. I was besieged with migraine headaches and no longer had any control over my life. ... [Once] I was jarred out of my prayer by what felt like a current of energy that seemed to enter my body through my left foot. ... With it was an increased feeling of great body heat. I felt as though I were burning up from the inside out. ... It was a frightening experience. I knew, intuitively, that I had somehow triggered this current through intense prayer, but I had no knowledge of how to stop it. ... Emotionally, I went up and down the keyboard of euphoria, joy, bewilderment, anxiety, depression, and ... despair. I was, at times, deluded and often disorientated. ... I gazed into a mirror and observed a 'wild' look" [quoted in source].
"Scientists have been studying the psycho-physiological results of sensory deprivation for many years. Many reports indicate that as sensory deprivation deepens, the hallucinations experienced by the subjects of such induced experiments become more significant, consisting in visual, auditory, tactile hallucinations, out-of-body experiences, visions of other worlds, and even more encounters with spirits (E. Hillstrom, Testing the Spirits, pp.60-63). Similar distortions of perception can be the result of performing extreme austerities (mentioned in the Yoga Sutra 4:1, as tapas), known long before Patanjali. These experiences seem to be very real because if the psycho-physiological conditions in which they appear, and also because of the expectations induced by the guru. Given the severe side effects of meditation, it is far from being an infallible way of grasping supernatural realities or ultimate truth" [source].
"A growing body of clinical and psychological literature notes the growing occurrence of meditation-related problems in Western contemplative life" [Quoted in comments section at: source].
Eastern meditation involves "a whole series of deaths and rebirths ... some very rough and frightening times" [Ken Wilbur, Yoga Journal, quoted in Dave Hunt, Yoga and the Body of Christ, (2006), p.69].
Practitioners of Eastern meditation can encounter "Frightening ESP and other parapsychological occurrences ... out-of-body experiences ... [encounters] with death and subsequent rebirth ... awakening of the serpent power (Kundalini) ... violent shaking and twisting" [David Pursglove, quoted in Dave Hunt, Yoga and the Body of Christ, (2006), p.70].
"No matter what physical benefits might be derived from the exercises themselves, yoga inevitably involves Eastern meditation. And Eastern meditation, unlike Western contemplation or reflection, accompanies an intentional dissociation from our conscious minds" [Dave Hunt, Yoga and the Body of Christ, (2006), p.158].
"Mantras play a major role in yogic meditation. ... Any mantra (like the Catholic rosary) violates Christ's command, 'use not vain repetitions' (Matthew 6:7). ... yoga mantras are the names of Hindu gods. ... the ancient yoga teachers all declare that the repetition of a mantra is a call to the Hindu god it represents ... to come and possess the mediator" [Dave Hunt, Yoga and the Body of Christ, (2006), p.158].
"It was variable for many years, painful, obsessive, even fantasmic. I have passed through almost all the stages of different mediumistic, psychotic, and other types of mind; for some time I was hovering between sanity and insanity'" [Gopi Krishna, The Awakening of Kundalini, p13].
"These hot currents that reach the brain center heat the brain, make the mind fickle, bring insomnia, brain disorder, insanity and incurable diseases. For the hot currents keep the mind wide awake, and if a person does not know how to check the currents and to bring down the partly risen kundalini shakti to safer centers, one suffers terribly and it may ruin the whole life of a person or lead one to insanity. This is why we see many become insane, many get brain defects, and many others get some incurable diseases after deep sorrow" [Swami Narayanananda, The Primal Power in Man or the Kundalini Shakti].
"In a manner somewhat comparable to LSD, raising the kundalini is considered risky, with temporary madness, lasting mental instability or illness, and occult oppression being possible consequences. Many yogis thus warn against the practice for most people and condemn yogis who indiscriminately teach it to the public" [source].
"Gopi Krishna, an advocate of raising the kundalini, nonetheless vividly described how doing so unleashed for him seven years of severe psychological and spiritual disorders" [Elliot Miller, The Yoga Boom: Part 1: Yoga In Its Original Eastern Context, Christian Research Journal, Vol 31, Number 2 (2008)].
"When aroused, [the Kundalini] can rise through the chakras, ... creating physical symptoms ranging from sensations of heat and tremors to involuntary laughing or crying, talking in tongues, nausea, diarrhea or constipation, rigidity or limpness, and animal-like movements and sounds" [source] [October 2015: Website no longer available].
"Kundalini does not rise only in those who know about it and actively seek to arouse it. A variety of spiritual practices can bring it on, and it has been known to occur in people who have done nothing consciously to awaken it" [source] [October 2015: Website no longer available].
"Kundalini awakening can resemble many disorders, medical as well as psychiatric. The physical nature of the symptoms can bring to mind conversion disorder, and it might also lead to a misdiagnosis of epilepsy, lower back problems, incipient multiple sclerosis, heart attack or pelvic inflammatory syndrome. The emotional reaction to the awakening of Kundalini can be confused with disorders involving anxiety, depression, aggression, confusion and guilt" [source] [October 2015: Website no longer available].
"[S]erious mental and physical problems may result from improper practice (called Kundalini Syndrome)" [Quoted in comments section at: source].
"Both chanting and the customary relaxation period at the end of a yoga session also have an agenda that may surprise the weekend yogi. ... I remember numerous instances of 'traveling outside my body' during yoga relaxation periods. I wonder who - or what - checked in when I checked out? Whether you believe such phenomena can happen or not, some medical professionals claim such experiences have led to psychosis" [source].
"In the four chapters of [Patanjali's] sutras he explains the levels of higher consciousness (Samadhi) which the aspirant must experience before reaching Kaivalya (emancipation) and the end of this world's spiritual pursuit. The second chapter deals with the methodology which must be followed to reach Samadhi and the hindrances which may be encountered. The unusual powers that may develop are also described with the warning that their lure must be avoided" [source] [October 2015: Website no longer available].
"[O]ur society has no categories for these experiences and the people undergoing them, and the similarities to the symptoms of psychosis ... the difficulty of distinguishing the 'beliefs or experiences of members of religious or other cultural groups' from delusions and hallucinations" [source] [October 2015: Website no longer available].
"The result of the continuous practice of concentration, contemplation and enstasis [loss of self-identity] (together called samyama) is the appearance of practical results of the Yogi, the so-called psychic powers (siddhi). In the 3rd chapter of the Yoga Sutra the following are mentioned: knowledge of the past and future (16), comprehension of the meaning of sounds uttered by any living being (17), knowledge of the previous birth (18), knowledge of the mind of others (19), invisibility of the body (20), knowledge of the time of death (23), strength of an elephant (25), knowledge of the solar system (27), knowledge of the arrangement of stars and their movements (28-29), knowledge of the organisation of the body (30), cessation of hunger and thirst (31), entering another's body (39), levitation (40), superphysical hearing (42), and passage through space (43)" [source].
"Hindu and Buddhist gurus, ... are typically possessed by spirits. They often describe themselves in that manner, although they refer to it as a 'divinizing' - not a demonizing - process. But when describing their spirit, or energy, possession, it is often directly linked to kundalini activity. This includes the experiences of Muktananda, Rajneesh, Rudrananda, Gopi Krishna, Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo, Vivekenanda, Da Free John, and many others" [source].
" I have personally interviewed people who became demon possessed through yoga and have heard heart-rending stories of countless others who, though not possessed, have been led into spiritual destruction. The ancient yogis all warn of the grave dangers involved in yoga - warnings that are avoided by most Western yoga instructors" [Dave Hunt, Yoga and the Body of Christ, (2006), p.158].
"The altered states that yoga/meditation produce - even the periods of madness - are now frequently defined as positive spiritual experiences capable of leading one to religious enlightenment" [source].
The following extended quote is taken from the book, Yoga and the Body of Christ, (2006), pp.47-52, p.159]:
"Sir John Eccles, Nobel Prize winner for his research on the brain, described it as 'a machine that a ghost can operate'. Famed neurologist, Wilder Penfold declared, 'The brain is a computer ... programmed by something outside itself: the mind'. Normally, one's own spirit (mind) uses the 'brain-computer' to connect with the body and the space-time continuum in which our bodies function. In an 'altered state', whether reached through certain drugs, under hypnosis, or induced by yoga (wittingly or unwittingly), the normal connection between spirit and brain is loosened. That disconnection allows another spirit entity to interpose itself and operate the brain, creating a universe of illusion, including the alleged 'self-realization' of being a god in complete unity with the universe. ...
"The scientific description of what happens to the brain in an 'altered state' could well explain not merely drug-related delusions but how humans could become vulnerable (or deliberately open themselves) to what is commonly known as 'demonic possession'. In fact, yoga was designed to do precisely that - but it was called 'spirit possession', and the 'spirits' were presumed to be Hindu deities, some benevolent, some destructive. Yoga is ... a doorway into the spirit world and contact with entities that may become one's guide, guardian - or destroyer. ... [T]he ancient yogis warned of the dangers that yoga posed to practitioners, declaring that one's guru must always be present during the 'awakening' that yoga was designed to produce. ...
"The Bible declares that we are not alone in the universe but that in addition to mankind, there are angels, demons, Satan, and God - all with individual minds that think and make decisions for themselves. Parapsychologists (especially those associated with the Department of Defense and government Intelligence agencies) have been involved for years in mind-control research. Some it has nothing to do with controlling minds through drugs or brainwashing techniques but with control of one person's mind by another person's mind. This possibility, of course, has been demonstrated repeatedly through hypnosis - even at a distance.
"There is, therefore, good reason to believe that, just as hypnotherapist can control someone else's mind, so the other minds mentioned above could do the same to humans. God would never do this Himself because it would nullify the freedom of choice He has given to mankind in the act of creation. It is also both logical and biblical that He would build protection within man to prevent a take-over of the human mind by any other mind. One could, however, voluntarily allow this to be done by willingly submitting to hypnosis. Moreover, deliberately entering an altered state, whether through drugs, hypnosis, or yoga, is giving permission to evil entities to take over, whether one realizes it nor not. ... The 'correct' pursuit of yoga is designed to call upon demonic power and influence; it invites inside us the very separation from God and ultimate destruction it claims to forestall"
"Yoga is not a trifling jest if we consider that any misunderstanding in the practice of yoga can mean death or insanity" [Hans-Ulrich Rieker, The Yoga of Light: Hatha Yoga Pradipika, (1971), pp.9,134, quoted at source].
"Swami Prabhavananda ... lists brain injury, incurable diseases, and insanity as potential hazards of wrong yoga practice" [Swami Prabhavananda, Yoga and Mysticism, (1972), pp.18-19, cited in source].
"Ulrich-Rieker lists cancer of the throat, all sorts of ailments, blackouts, strange trance states, or insanity from even 'the slightest mistake'" [Hans Ulrich-Rieker, The Yoga of Light: Hatha Yoga Pradipika (1971), pp.30,79,96,111-112, cited in source].
"[M]any yoga authorities openly confess the dangers of yoga practice. ... these dangers are often said to arise from 'wrong' methods. But, in fact, no one has ever objectively identified the specific mechanisms of 'correct' or 'incorrect' yoga; 'incorrect' yoga practice in one tradition is often 'correct' practice in another" [source].
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy
laden, and I will give you rest.